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

Racism. Even the word itself can cause such discomfort that people shy away from participating in important conversations. It’s a complicated, pervasive subject that continues to create challenges in our nation and around the globe. But we cannot hope to address ongoing issues of racism without first opening ourselves to frank, honest discussion about the inequalities that persist within our society.

Overcoming systemic racism will require working together at all levels and across many diverse communities. Grassroots efforts have always been at the heart of social and cultural movements. However, larger organizations, such as businesses and universities, also have an important role to play. We have a responsibility to go beyond simply touting the value of diversity and inclusion and instead shift our focus to achieving greater equity for all. Large organizations wield influence and power, making them perfectly suited to address the persistent effects of long-standing systemic racism in the United States.

This idea is explored in detail in the latest chapter of President to President, a thought leadership series written by leading college and university presidents. In “Race in Higher Education,” George Mason University President Gregory Washington, Ph.D., explores ongoing racial disparities in the United States. He cites data regarding housing, education, employment and income to demonstrate the far-reaching effects of inequality. Washington also describes steps colleges can take to lead the charge for greater racial equity on campus and within the larger community. He describes these efforts as “a recognition of the reality that our society’s future lies in multicultural inclusion.”

Sodexo has always maintained a focus on diversity and inclusion. In fact, we’ve been honored for these efforts time and again, with DiversityInc listing Sodexo as a 2020 Hall of Fame company. College students are often passionate about social equality, and campuses strive to create an inclusive environment. Operating on both college campuses and in K12 schools gives us a unique opportunity to constantly interact with students at all phases of their education and helps us maintain our commitment to taking tangible actions that drive real improvements in people’s lives—including making inclusive progress towards equity.

Recent events have brought to light a difficult truth: we must do more. Diversity and inclusion are important, but they are not enough unless we also focus on equity. Sodexo recently reimagined our approach in this area, transitioning from a focus on diversity and inclusion to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I)Equity ensures fair treatment, equal opportunity, and access to information and resources for everyone. It is about removing barriers at all levels, from individual obstacles to systems that perpetuate inequality.

As a large global organization that employs more than 400,000 people, Sodexo is uniquely equipped to be a driving force for greater equity. We focus on training our senior leaders to identify barriers to equity and create inclusive workplaces that remove some of those barriers. We encourage managers and executives to have open, honest discussions about race and educate them on how to have these difficult conversations in a way that is productive and beneficial. Sodexo provides a wealth of tools and resources to help employees excel, despite any challenges they may face. We also train employees at all levels to identify and understand racism in the workplace and encourage them to address these issues as they arise.

Creating a more equitable society is a journey, one that we cannot complete overnight. The roots of these issues run deep, and it will take time and conscious efforts to achieve positive, meaningful change. I’m proud to work for an organization that understands the need to evolve our approach and recognizes the immense good such a large organization can do as we all work together to meet essential daily needs and serve with care in the communities where we live and work.

November 30, 2021