First “Firm Talk” of 2020 provides great insight

Diverse organisations are more profitable, enjoy better employee retention and engagement, and outperform their competitors across a range of other measures. This was the core message delivered by Margot Slattery, Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer with Sodexo, at the first ‘Firm Talk’ of 2020 organised and hosted by hospitality industry recruitment consultants The Firm.

“Hospitality is an industry in disruption”, she said. “Where people stay and what they call accommodation has changed vastly, as has how people procure food and how our customers eat and where they eat. I visited one of our sites in the UK recently; a university where we have to try to provide meals for 19,000 people every day. At the same time, we are seeing Deliveroo and Just Eat and other services coming along. There is something new coming along every day to disrupt us and we have to change and adapt to that.”

Failure to change and adapt will have serious consequences. “It’s all about the experience people are having now”, she added. “Look at influencers on platforms like TikTok. They will tell the world within two minutes if they have had a bad experience in a hotel or workplace. That’s generation Z and they are going to be our customers and employees in future. We have to ask ourselves if we are able to compete in the hunt for talent? Young people are who we are looking for. In the past, people may have followed family members into the industry, but there is so much choice now we have to be able to go out and compete and look at how we can create an environment where everyone feels truly welcome and where they belong.”

Revealing the findings of an industry survey carried out by The Firm Micheline Corr Director said inclusion and diversity are now a critical driver with over 80% of survey participants rating it as extremely important when it comes to attracting talent. Equally important is having a positive working environment with great vision, leadership, values and behaviours being the core ingredients

Expectations of leaders is also changing with survey participants expecting most leaders to be visionary, great managers, good listeners, great diversity and inclusion ambassadors, have high emotional intelligence, be open to change, respectful, empathetic, adaptable.  

The findings really highlight that “Having an equal opportunities employer tag outside your door is not enough”, Micheline Corr added. “In the war for talent strong culture and inclusion and diversity wins out in candidate choices.  In 2020 the talented high value candidate we represent want to know about career path and culture”

Margot Slattery went on to say that Sodexo’s journey to creating that environment began 18 years ago with the creation of the role of Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and the appointment of Dr Rohini Anand to take it on. “She is a wonderful lady from India who did the job for 17 years and advised President Obama and other leaders on diversity issues during that time. I was honoured to take over the position last year. We have 480,000 employees in 80 countries around the world and I am responsible for driving strategy and everything we do around diversity and inclusion.”

Welcoming Margot Slattery, Micheline Corr, director of The Firm, said she has been a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace for many years. “She currently sits on Sodexo Global LGBTQ+ leadership team and has been influential in ensuring LGBTQ+ considerations are included in Sodexo’s global diversity and inclusion strategy. She progressed through several roles in the company and became country president for Ireland in 2015. In that role she oversaw all operations for the organisation which employs 4,000 people on the island of Ireland.

“Margot has won many senior management awards in Ireland, including the Business Leader Award at the 2018 WXN 25 ‘Most Powerful Women in Ireland’ Awards. For her work in promoting diversity and inclusion as well as women in business, she was honoured by the French Ambassador to Ireland in 2017 and she is incoming President of the French Chamber of Commerce in Ireland.”

Margot Slattery said those findings were echoed in another survey carried out for recruitment site IrishJobs.ie, which found that generation Z students wanted to work in places alongside colleagues with the broadest possible mix of backgrounds. “The survey found that having a workplace committed to diversity was increasingly seen as a key to recruiting and retaining graduates.”

And diversity was not seen as simply a matter of age, ethnicity and gender equality, but includes openness to different personality traits, nationalities, work experience, and socio-economic and educational backgrounds.

She advised organisations to challenge themselves and examine their own biases if they wish to become truly diverse. “Do we walk the talk and make people feel they belong? What is happening beyond the cead mile failte?” she asked.

She recounted some of her personal experiences as a gay person in Ireland to highlight the issue. “The times I have arrived at a hotel reception desk in Ireland with my partner Sarah where we haven’t been recognised as a couple. Where they have given us a twin room instead of a double and we have to spell it out for them that we are a couple. I certainly don’t feel included in those places and definitely won’t return. Wedding brochures in Ireland are the same. They are mostly his and hers, but that means there is another 10 per cent of the population that doesn’t fit in.

“Look at how we treat people with disabilities”, she continued. “Irish activist Sinead Burke speaks about the negative experiences she has as a small person with door handles being too high and so on. We tend not to think about wheelchair users beyond the ramp at the front door. We need to think about the width of doorways and so on. And having handicapped rooms in hotels… how insulting is that?”

There is a clear incentive for organisations to address these biases. “McKinsey did some research in 2015 which produced some staggering statistics”, said Margot Slattery. “Companies which were radically diverse outperformed industry norms by 35 per cent. We did our own research into gender balance across 50 of our locations around the world. We found where the balance was around 60/40 we had increased retention, improved engagement, profitability and performance. What really surprised us was the scale of the difference – it was up to 9 percentage points in each measure. It hasn’t been a hard job to sell the importance of diversity, inclusion and belonging. These results and the 80 million other reasons make a very powerful case.”

She concluded by advising businesses to get to know their people better, devote more time and attention to them, and create a space where diverse views and opinions are valued.

“By following these simple action items and communicating the importance of diversity, inclusion, and belonging to your organisation, you are well on your way to ensuring your people have the best possible experience and have the tools and platforms to outperform your competition.”

For more information visit The Firm website.