Making it Happen: Creating New Pathways for Women Leaders
Lorna Donatone
Lorna Donatone
CEO, Sodexo Schools Worldwide President, Sodexo North America

Some people believe leadership is about genetics – you are born a leader. In rare cases, I’ve encountered people who have a natural talent and ability to lead others. However, the vast majority of successful leaders are made. Like me, they grow into their positions of authority through life experiences, lessons learned, personal development and a desire to always achieve more.

Similar to many women of my generation, I did not immediately recognize my leadership potential, nor were there a lot of senior women leaders in business that I could model my career after. In many ways, I had to chart my own course. I began my career with lots of enthusiasm, momentum and deep-seated desire to achieve success – not because I craved money or power or title, but because I wanted to have a positive impact. I needed to be the person that could make the process more efficient, the project exceed expectations or the transition smoother. What I didn’t realize at the time was I was learning valuable leadership skills, such as collaboration, influence, conflict-resolution and problem-solving that helped me grow into the person I am today.

As I have advanced, so too has my commitment to gender diversity and inclusion as well as my own senses of responsibility to create a culture where everyone’s contribution and perspective is valued. Cultivating gender diverse teams ensures a more cohesive, collaborative and creative work environment which fosters individual and collective innovation and ultimately drives growth. It has been well-documented that gender-balanced teams simply perform better. Bringing more women into the pipeline is a personal commitment and a business imperative for me.

My passion for developing future women leaders – helping them to unlock their potential and unleash their personal power started with my first management position. I find it so rewarding and inspiring to be able to coach, mentor and support others as they grow into their own unique sense of purpose.  My involvement with the Women’s Foodservice Forum was instrumental in helping me refine my mission and focus on where I could have the most impact – promoting networks among women leaders, advocating for mentoring relationships and guiding emerging women leaders.

That is why being honored with the 2015 Fritzi Pikes Woods Trailblazer Award from Women’s Foodservice Forum is more than a significant professional honor; it is also very personal achievement for me. And to receive it on International Women’s Day, a day that celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of women makes it all the more special. My advice for future Trailblazers? Be authentic and genuine. Let your team know that no one has all the answers, but as a team we can solve anything. Support the growth and development of others, above and below you. Recognize the importance of communicating at all levels and finally, be a good person. That may seem pretty basic, but doing the right thing goes a long way in how you are regarded as a leader.

There needs to be a sense of urgency around preparing women for leadership. It is essential to invest the time, energy and resources now into developing strong and capable future generations of women leaders. If we want exceptional results, we need leaders who aren’t afraid to think differently and who aren’t afraid to lead differently.


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