Steering the No. 1 Company for Diversity: 5 Minutes with Rohini Anand

Invited nine years ago to create her position as global chief diversity officer for Sodexo, Rohini Anand had her work cut out for her­—the provider of food and facilities management had nearly 400,000 employees in more than 80 countries. Since then, Anand has proven herself to be remarkably successful at establishing the firm as a benchmark employer in leveraging diversity and inclusion expertise as a competitive advantage in business. In 2010, Diversity Inc. magazine named Sodexo the No. 1 company on diversity issues. Diversity Woman spoke with Anand about her work.

Diversity Woman: How did you get into diversity as a field?

Rohini Anand: Coming to the United States from India, I experienced what it was to be a “minority” for the first time. That had a powerful impact on me and brought me to this work. My PhD at the University of Michigan was on identity formation and cross-cultural issues. It became important to me to help level the playing field for underrepresented groups. When I was interviewed at Sodexo, the CEO’s commitment and passion for diversity issues sealed the deal for me to get involved as a manager in this area.

DW: What characterizes Sodexoís approach to diversity?

RA: The company maintains a comprehensive, top-down, bottom-up, middle-out strategy that begins with senior-level commitment and role modeling, and extends to grassroots involvement through councils, network groups, and a distributed leadership model. That’s all coupled with measurement and accountability on diversity that’s linked to executive compensation. Even if the company does not have a strong financial year, bonuses are paid out for good work on diversity issues.

DW: What directions are you taking the company in?

RA: We’re focusing on enhancing diversity globally. It is a whole different ball game when you go outside the United States. We’re also driving the commitment to diversity deeper into the middle- management ranks. And we’re continuing to develop the pipeline for women and minorities from entry-level positions all the way up to senior management.

DW: What are you most proud of in your career?

RA: Making diversity a part of our business strategy and helping to increase the representation of women and minorities into the double digits. We’re particularly pleased about that during a time of economic downturn, when most companies’ engagement scores have gone down.

DW: What are your biggest challenges?

RA: It’s difficult to change organizational culture in a geographically dispersed organization. We’re talking about 40,000 locations. The service industry is also not the first choice for many people of color, so overcoming that barrier and attracting candidates have taken some work.

DW: Any advice for people working in diversity?

RA: Understand the business you’re in and figure out how diversity and inclusion can enhance the bottom line. Such efforts can’t be a human resources initiative; they can’t be separate from corporate strategy. This is about engaging the entire organization on issues related to diversity. You also need to hone your influencing and strategic thinking skills.  DW


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