By Brett Ladd, CEO Universities and Government, Sodexo North America

Social mobility is defined as the “movement of individuals, families or groups through a system of social hierarchy or stratification.” More broadly, it refers to the ability to improve one’s station in life through professional and economic progress. The concept is a prominent feature of American culture, which often depicts hard work and dedication as the avenue to success. However, these virtues may not always be enough. As the events of the past 18 months have illustrated, the roots of inequality run deep. From the far-reaching effects of systemic racism to the cyclical nature of generational poverty, sometimes it takes more than a solid work ethic to move up the socioeconomic ladder. It takes the right opportunity. 

Businesses, schools, universities, and other organizations have a responsibility to promote social mobility through programs that provide such opportunities to members of traditionally underserved or underrepresented communities. 

The latest chapter of the President to President thought leadership series explores this issue in detail. In “Higher Education’s Responsibility to Generate Social Mobility,” DePaul University President A. Gabriel Esteban, Ph.D., shares insights about his institution’s efforts to promote success and achievement among low-income and first-generation students. Innovative programs on campus help these students explore potential career paths, identify opportunities, and develop the skills necessary to succeed in their chosen field. In addition, focused recruitment and hiring practices help ensure that DePaul University’s faculty and staff reflect a dedication to diversity and inclusion. 

Sodexo is committed to playing an active role in supporting social mobility as part of our primary mission to improve quality of life in the communities where we operate. Creating opportunities for students and employees to better their lives through professional development and career advancement are core to the company’s values. 

One example is Sodexo’s new scholarship program, created in partnership with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). The company has committed to providing $10 million over the next 10 years to help frontline employees and their dependents pursue college degrees. Scholarships are awarded based on merit and financial need, and they are available to employees and their dependents who attend approved Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Helping these students afford higher education is essential to supporting social mobility, as college graduates earn an average of 70% more in their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma. 

For students already pursuing higher education, Sodexo offers a robust campus internship program that helps them explore their interests and identify viable career options. Each semester, Sodexo employs more than 250 student interns at campuses across the country. These paid positions enable students to gain hands-on experience in fields such as nutrition, sustainability, marketing, graphic design, and business management. Interns graduate with relevant job experience as they embark on their professional journeys, and many go on to obtain full-time positions with Sodexo after graduation. The internship program serves as a springboard into rewarding careers with high earning potential, exactly the types of jobs that make social mobility possible. 

As we continue working together to address the social inequities highlighted by recent events, it is vital that we work together to find creative solutions to meet the needs of our most vulnerable community members. Are any of us perfect? No, but together businesses, universities, and communities must continue collaborating to help traditionally underserved and underrepresented students overcome barriers by providing opportunities that enable social mobility. At Sodexo, we’re all in!

October 05, 2021