Article: When women do better, we all do better: Dr. Rohini Anand


When women do better, we all do better: Dr. Rohini Anand

In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, the Global Chief Diversity Officer for Sodexo talks about key challenge areas, interventions and cultural differences in addressing diversity related issues.
When women do better, we all do better: Dr. Rohini Anand

Dr. Rohini Anand is Global Chief Diversity Officer for Sodexo, responsible for the strategic direction, implementation, and alignment of Sodexo’s sustainable development and corporate social responsibility strategies. Under Dr. Anand’s leadership, Sodexo received the prestigious 2012 Catalyst Award and has ranked in the top ten for eight consecutive years on the DiversityInc business index of Top Companies for Diversity and Inclusion.

1.    Could you tell us about your career journey to your current role as the “Global Chief Diversity Officer of Sodexo”?

I grew up in Mumbai and moved to the US as a single woman to go to graduate before my 20th birthday. My personal experiences as an immigrant in the US led me to my graduate research on the movement of people and identity formation. I did my Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and both taught as well as worked in corporate America before I took a position with an organization to lead their cross-cultural consulting. My journey and academic work had prepared me well for this role, and it seemed like a great fit.

I consulted for many large organizations and when I had an opportunity to meet the (then) CEO of Sodexo, Michel Landel, and experience first-hand his commitment and vision, I knew that I wanted to work for Sodexo. The diversity function was new to Sodexo. Sodexo has afforded me an amazing opportunity to create an impact and to grow from establishing and leading the function in North America, to establishing and leading the function globally in over 80 countries with over 430,000 employees to leading corporate responsibility and wellness. Today, my vocation and avocation are perfectly aligned, and this is more than a job to me; it is my passion.

By incentivizing inclusive leadership, unlocking ‘hot jobs’ to accelerate women’s careers, including more women on the boards – role modelling and closing the wage gap, the problem can be addressed step-by-step.

2.    What are some of the key challenges that you see HR professionals struggle with while designing D&I initiatives? What should they do to overcome such challenges?

The topmost challenge is business ‘buy-in,’ across levels. One needs to prove the business case for it. At Sodexo, we have addressed it with the help of a gender balance case study. We now have over five years of data, covering 50,000 managers in 70 entities worldwide that suggests that gender-balanced teams outperform those that are not gender balanced. The optimal mix of gender is 40% to 60% women.

The other important aspect is setting the tone right. Demonstrate that diversity is a top priority. Commit to gender diversity, communicate it through the organization and set measurable goals. It is hard to change what you cannot measure – so it is vital to define and track the right metrics, and use these metrics to drive accountability. Based on our gender balance study, our CEO has established a target of 40% women in senior leadership ranks by 2025; currently, we are at 32%. And this is linked to 10% of our executives’ annual bonus. This target has been cascaded in India by the Country President, Rishi Gour.

Lastly, address unconscious bias in the systems and processes in order to level the playing field. This includes training, establishing flexible work arrangements including opportunities for women to “on-ramp” or return to work after a gap as well as mentoring and sponsorship to advance talent. It is critical to advance talent as well as create an inclusive culture where we retain the best talent. Companies should explore whether formal sponsorship programs are needed, and also create opportunities for informal interactions (for example networking events) through the organization. And managers need to be equipped with the skills to understand their employee’s needs and help support them.

3.    Among Indian companies, according to reports, nearly 25% of women on boards are still family members of the owners, showing that there is a lot of work that companies have to do, to realize the value of diversity. Implying that more ground needs to be covered. How can companies bring about meaningful impact?

Women are largely associated with jobs in support functions like HR, Legal, Taxation, and Administration. By incentivizing inclusive leadership, unlocking ‘hot jobs’ to accelerate women’s careers, including more women on the boards – role modeling and closing the wage gap, the problem can be addressed step-by-step. Also, the industry needs to work with academia to welcome women in STEM fields so that more women enter science and technology and make their careers there.

At Sodexo globally, we have 50% women on our board. This has taken intentionality. We have qualified women; board leadership needs to be open to this talent from different backgrounds. In fact, they need a diversity of experiences if they are to remain innovative. In companies, we need more women in leadership roles. And, that requires more and more women to take up Operations / P&L roles.

4.    According to research, most women drop midway in their careers for varied reasons. How can companies support women in their career journey? What is Sodexo doing at this level among its employees?

Well, at every level the challenge is different. We have seen in Sodexo India that by mid-management level women step back from their careers to take care of their family. At Sodexo, we focus on creating a conducive environment in the workplace for returning mothers and providing flexible work arrangements. But we need to also address mindsets, and male allies can help here; we also need families and partners to chip in. If there is adequate sharing of responsibilities that happens off-work, women can bounce back quickly and progress in their careers.

5.    Studies highlight the role of unconscious bias and mindset shift that’s required. What are some cultural imperatives that organizations (regardless of their size) need to be thinking about?

Companies need to ensure that men and women have access to the same opportunities. We are doing this by creating gender-neutral job descriptions, providing our managers with unconscious bias training and providing sponsors and mentors to women to guide their careers. Sometimes, because of our socializing, women create barriers for themselves. They don’t ask and are reluctant to take risks at times. So ask – for help and for bigger and challenging roles.

6.    What are the unique initiatives that have led Sodexo’s global recognition in D&I?

At Sodexo, we recognize that women’s empowerment and gender balance is everyone’s business, including men. When women do better, we all do better. We deliver on this promise with our leadership development programs, career enhancement sessions, flexible work arrangements and extensive engagement with gender networks worldwide. Sodexo Women’s International Forum for talent (SWIFt) has 35 men and women senior leaders dedicated to driving Sodexo’s gender balance strategy and creating a culture of inclusion. We have ambitious targets, and we work on it each day, with our clients, consumers, and suppliers.


•    54% of Sodexo employees are female worldwide

•    50% of the Board of Directors are women

•    43% of management positions are women

•    32% of the Group Senior Leaders are women

Our target is to have 100% gender balance, or teams with 40-60% women, across management by 2025.

7.    What are some differences between D&I behavior and practice in India vs. Global?

I believe that there are many similarities including the importance of shifting mindsets and engaging male allies. However, I would say that there are two key differences.

First, in India, the focus is on increasing the participation of women in the formal workforce. In many parts of the western world, in particular, there is strong participation of women in the workforce. The focus is more on advancing women to more senior positions, especially P&L roles and in STEM careers. Both these areas of focus require shifting mindsets; in the former, it extends to the family and partner and addressing gender roles, and in the later to addressing stereotyping of women in certain roles.

Second, depending on the country or region, the more mature the region, the more they are focused on inclusion of all marginalized groups including people with disabilities, LGBT, multiple generations and ethnic and religious minorities. In India, there is much work to do in gender, and the focus is rightly on empowering women in the workplace.

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Topics: Diversity, Culture, Employee Engagement

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