CEO, Sodexo Schools Worldwide President,
Sodexo North America
International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1909 to recognize the efforts of women who were campaigning for change during a time of oppression and inequality in America. You may wonder if this observance is still relevant today following a century of incredible progress. Legislation has given women the right to vote, to get equal pay and bans gender discrimination in education programs. Women have crossed the Atlantic and flown into space. In 2013, Janet Yellen was confirmed as the Board Chair of the Federal Reserve System and this year, Mary Barra was named CEO of General Motors. Pretty impressive.
But we still have a long way to go when we look at the campaign for women’s rights. Around the world, women are still fighting for the right to an equal education, for safer laws and cities, and for access to health care. Here in the United States, we are facing gender disparity in our workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up nearly half of the US labor force. And yet the numbers quickly diminish as we move up the corporate ladder. Only 14.6 percent serve as executive officers and 4.6 percent are CEOs.
Clearly, there is a need for change.
We can inspire change when we lead by example in our personal and professional lives. I am proud to be the mother of recent college graduate who is an advocate for women. As a teenager, Catherine was inspired by my passion for empowering girls and women. I was a mentor for women, volunteered with Girls, Inc. and served on the board of the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF). This year, I was inspired by Catherine as she began her career with WFF, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing women leaders.
Soaring with WiNG
In my 15 years with Sodexo, I have had the privilege of being mentored and inspired by female leaders. In 2003, I served as a co-chair of WiNG, Sodexo’s Women’s Network Group whose mission is to “foster a culture where enhancing women’s individual and professional growth contributes to the global success of our company and the communities we serve.” WiNG now has over 1,500 members who benefit from our networking and professional development opportunities. WiNG also supports important women’s causes including Susan G. Komen, Girls, Inc., Dress for Success and the Avon Walk.
Sodexo understands that the advancement of women is essential to its economic, social and environmental development. That’s why Sodexo was recently recognized as Top Company for Executive Women by the National Association of Female Executives (NAFE). Our workforce must reflect the global marketplace, which is shifting to include more women. In fact, women now represent 59 percent of Sodexo’s total workforce. Our goal is to have women represent 25 percent of our top 300 leaders by 2015 – and we’re nearly there. To help achieve this ambition, female executives from around the world have formed SWift, Sodexo Women’s International Forum for Talent. From flexible work arrangements to mentoring and education around gender differences, women at Sodexo really can soar.
Every successful change always starts with two things: the need for change and a group of people willing to make it happen. Margaret Mead reminds us, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.” This International Women’s Day, what can YOU do to inspire change?