Sodexo, a food services and facilities management company, was founded in 1966 in Marseille, France, and today operates in 80 countries and has 420,000 employees worldwide; it is the 19th largest employer in the world. Sodexo serves many different sectors, including elementary schools and universities, assisted-living facilities, military bases, government agencies, private corporations and prisons.
Sodexo management has taken a fully integrated approach to hiring people with disabilities, focusing on all company processes, including recruitment, retention, professional development, training, accommodations, partnerships, communications, and accountability. SOAR stands for “Sodexo Organization for Disability Resources” and is an Employee Business Resource Group. Around the world Sodexo has three disabilities networks with 592 members in three countries and on two different continents.
To date, Sodexo’s disability initiatives reach 86 percent of its workforce in 25 countries. The company’s goal is to reach 100 percent of its workforce in 80 countries by 2025.
In the U.S., Sodexo works closely with organizations that focus explicitly on people with disabilities, and also recognizes that many military/veteran organizations are strong sources that fall into this category, because of the “visible” (often physical) and “invisible” (often psychiatric) disabilities that can occur with military service. The company builds relationships, holds career fairs, and posts positions with military/veteran-focused organizations including VetCentral – Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Representatives (DVOPs), U.S. Jobs Veterans, Veteran’s Enterprise, Military.com, Military Base Transition Offices and Military Network.
Sodexo has created a Disability Sourcing Team comprised of members of the Talent Acquisition Group, along with a cross-section of HR and hiring partners across the company. This team works in partnership with the Disability (SOAR) and Veteran (HONOR) focused Employee Business Resource Groups to assist in expanding the company’s recruiting reach.
Sodexo has also built relationships with colleges and universities that include a large enrollment of individuals with disabilities and also a focus on veterans. These colleges and universities are sources for their Future Leaders Internship Program and for entry-level positions. For the last three years, Sodexo has worked closely with the Disabilities Services Offices at Canisius College and the University of Buffalo to attract interns for the Financial Services operations, which is based in Buffalo, N.Y.
With its integrated approach to supporting people with visible and invisible disabilities, Sodexo has become expert at creating accommodations for employees who enter the company with disabilities, and also those who acquire them over time. For employee Claire Collins, who has been with Sodexo for over 13 years in the press and public relations department, living with a chronic condition means that she copes with long-lasting and recurring headaches and migraines. Over time, Collins’ migraines have become more and more disabling, and she takes medication in an effort to control them. Yet her condition has not hindered her advancement within the company; instead her managers believe that Collins is very talented at her job and that it makes good business sense to give her the flexibility she needs when her migraines present.
Sodexo’s management philosophy, which focuses on abilities and strengths, is established throughout the company, starting from the top corporate level and reaching to the directors of facilities Sodexo serves around the world. “Reach out and arm yourself with information up front. I think when people hear that someone has a disability, they may be a little afraid to bring them into their establishments, but it’s such a broad word that doesn’t do justice to the people,” says Jason Fibble, Sodexo’s director of retail operations at Tulane University. “Have a knowledge of the population you’re working with, and look for positive attributes. Always try to accentuate strengths and not just focus on shortcomings. We all have shortcomings.”