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Introducing Ms. Sophie Bellon,
Chairwoman SODEXO

„Diversity is an opportunity to appoint and promote talent and to benefit from a variety of profiles and perspectives: it fosters creativity and innovation and ultimately drives better business results. It’s an ongoing journey. You can never let go. But for the start, just ask yourselves one simple question: what is the percentage of women on the board or at a different executive level? It opens up the agenda.”

„None of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children.“ – is the alarming finding of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Even worse, in terms of economic participation, the gender gap will take 257 years to close. All this despite the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted already in 1979. If the understanding of the plethora of societal and economic benefits was clear back then, why are we still struggling to implement the rights-based approach some forty years after? To fight inequalities with a notable success, countries and businesses need to measure the state of the affairs and the progress made, in parallel with setting targets and providing such working conditions that foster equal participation. Different countries have chosen different approaches to pursue gender equality on national level. Some went as far as instituting a gender quota for boards of directors to correct the gender imbalances, with Norway being the first country in the world to do so in 2003, followed by Belgium, France and Italy.

EWoB 2019 Gender Diversity Index overall findings (on STOXX 600 companies) further evidence inequalities on corporate level across European Union underlining the great gaps in how different companies recognise and approach this issue. In addition to measuring the indexes, EWoB is approaching the GDI Best Practice Leaders in order to provide those who wish to accelerate on their journey to equality, with an actionable advice. One by one, EWoB will introduce to you these companies and leaders, facilitating the experience sharing, helping you to avoid pitfalls and find even stronger motivation for this great cause. One of the first companies we have approached to open our best practise sharing series is SODEXO and their Chairwoman of the Board of Directors, Ms. Sophie Bellon. SODEXO ranked as Nr.3 in the EWoB GDI 2019 out of 600 companies included in the research.

Ms. Bellon was very kind to share some of the insights revealing a truly inspirational and unique path towards diversity in her company. ‘Diversity is an ongoing journey. You can never let go.’ Pursuing gender equality is not a journey of an individual, it requires a collective effort to change the company’s culture: ‘It is important that the tone is set at the top of the company. But of course, it is a collective topic everyone must be engaged in. It cannot depend on one individual alone. So, you need both – a commitment from the top level and then from everyone in the company.’ Companies that are just about to consider their Diversity and Inclusion agendas should not feel overwhelmed: ‘It’s good to start with asking one simple question: what is the percentage of women on the board or at a different executive level? It opens up the agenda.’

‘In 2017, I was among the first to appoint a Chief HR Officer to our board. It wasn’t just a question of appointing a woman, it was about appointing talent and expertise. Diversity is about benefiting from having different profiles and perspectives around the table, which fosters creativity and innovation and ultimately drives better performance. And this is true at all levels of the company. We carried out our own internal research, from top leadership to site management, and it showed that gender-balanced teams consistently perform better, both on financial and non-financial indicators. We are aiming to have gender balance at all levels of organization by 2025. This is also true for our leadership teams where we want women to represent at least 40 percent by that date – and Sodexo’s top executives are incentivized on this target.‘ To the current policies in place, Ms. Bellon has admitted to being a quota believer for boards: ‘Personally, I think targets for boards in France had a big impact. I am deeply convinced that what gets measured gets done.’ Ms. Bellon then added: ‘Companies keep benchmarking themselves, but that is just a beginning. The important thing to know is what lies behind the numbers, how the collective effort changed the company and its culture.’ While having targets, creating mutually respective environments, and sharing practices is necessary for achieving gender equality, getting recognition for their initiatives also matters for companies. To this, Ms. Bellon noted: ‘For us, it is very important to know that what we are doing makes sense, and that we are making a real change. We often get rewarded in the US or France, and EWoB Gender Diversity Index is really meaningful at the European level.’

Congratulations, SODEXO, for scoring among top 3 out of STOXX 600 companies,
it is an exceptional achievement.