Our friends in Business in the Community UK spoke to Margot Slattery , Managing Director Ireland and Northern Ireland, Sodexo and winner of the recent winning Woman of the Year at the Women 1st Shine Awards.
BITC – Can you tell us about winning Woman of the Year at the Women 1st Shine Awards?
MS – Oh, I was absolutely thrilled. I genuinely was surprised, because I wasn’t living in the UK and there were so many very good people shortlisted. For me it meant a lot, but at Sodexo we’ve been doing a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Council for a number of years now, and trying to push gender issues, so it was a reward for the hard work that’s been going on.
BITC – What will you winning the Award mean to Sodexo?
MS – First, there’s a huge investment by the company on our women’s network, gender training and around empowering people, and this is a great return on that because the company gets good PR, so that’s brilliant.
The big thing for me is that the women who are members of the network and who I’ve worked with, and other people at various levels will see this and think, “You know what, you get yourself involved and put in the effort and the time and there are rewards.”
BITC – Can you talk me through the work you’ve done establishing the Women Work network at Sodexo?
MS – In about 2008 I got involved in the UK and Ireland Diversity Council for Sodexo, representing Ireland. It’s quite a high end thing, involving senior management and the board, and was really about rolling out a diversity agenda for Sodexo.
One of the things we decided early on was that we’d have a real focus on gender – it was set as an objective by the CEO, and we had an objective to get to 25% of our board being women by 2015.
We decided that we’d form a women’s network because there was a real requirement for that from the business. So we spoke to people at all levels, and we got about £30,000 of seed capital from the company to go and start that off which was fantastic.
We put together the whole framework for the Women Work network, set up and managed our first conference and invited a load of people, and before the year was out we had about 500 members.
I spent the first two years of that network trying and doing things that really looked at empowering women on the front line, and people in junior management roles. We ran a mentoring programme with Women First, we did an internal mentoring programme, we did reciprocal mentoring, everything to try and give people an opportunity to step up. We had a huge amount of events, so there was also a bit of a fun element to it. And over the last couple of years that’s really grown, so now we’re hitting nearly 1,000 members.
I stepped down from the leadership at the beginning of this year, because I’ve done my turn. I’m now a senior advisor, which means I’m on the board and I get involved in help and support.
And through all of that, here in Ireland I’ve been promoted to MD, and I’ve been very actively involved with organisations such as IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation), and BITC Ireland, hosting things like gender breakfasts for our clients, to raise the topic of gender with some of the people we deal with.
BITC – What are the key challenges of your sector in terms of equality and diversity?
MS – First, in the service industry we find that the women themselves tend to not stay. A lot of people, if they have a family or other commitments, don’t find the service industry as flexible [as other industries]. So making it a more flexible workplace is a challenge.
The second one is that you get a lot of people whose education is not maybe traditional, people who’ve started off in the hotel industry or tourism. Therefore, it’s very important to make sure that we do everything we can to help them develop themselves and have power and confidence – we meet a lot of people who just don’t have that confidence to step up. Probably the hardest part is to have enough role models, women who have made it at the top levels.
BITC – How do you report on your achievements?
MS – We internally inspect, we do reviews. For things like the Better Tomorrow Plan, our sustainability strategy, we audit every piece of the business annually. [For] diversity we report to the D&I Council, and then things like quality of life we partner with the OECD to support its Better Life Index.
For us, in a business that’s selling its services to clients, it’s very important to have stats and reporting so I think everything that we do on that side of things is worth it. Everything needs proof source, and therefore I think it’s absolutely essential.
What has been your proudest achievement?
Well, winning the Women Shine Award, not for me personally – sure it was great, but this to me was the culmination of a huge amount of work by a lot of people, and investment by the company. I’m just a person – it’s all the parts behind that made it happen.