The Power of Four: Diversity & Inclusion as a Path to Success
Rolddy Leyva
Rolddy Leyva

The current cohort of Gen Z students has many expectations regarding their campus experience, as illustrated by the Sodexo International Student Lifestyle Survey. One of the most important – and most positive for our society – is their deep commitment to multiculturalism, equal opportunity and respect for individuality as cultural imperatives.

The multiracial youth population has increased more than 50% since 2000. In 2016, ethnic minorities comprised 42% of students enrolled in undergraduate programs in the U.S., a 12% increase since 1993. Clearly, diversity and inclusion are critical; an important national study of 25,000 undergraduates at 217 universities revealed that institutional policies fostering diversity had positive effects on students’ cognitive development, satisfaction with the college experience and leadership abilities. By developing and delivering a multifaceted and customized diversity and inclusion learning experience, colleges and universities can enhance their students’ quality of life and support positive educational outcomes.

One of the best examples of how to manage these shifting expectations and meet students’ evolving needs is presented in the latest chapter of Sodexo’s President to President thought leadership series, “African American/Black Student Populations: Cutting-Edge Models for Best Practice” by Hillsborough Community College (HCC) President Kenneth Atwater.

While all college students experience challenges as they adjust to campus life — a fact that administrators are increasingly recognizing and addressing — Dr. Atwater’s students succeed despite obstacles that many other people simply do not encounter. HCC’s vision is to excel through a proactive response to the changing educational needs of its students, staff, workforce and community through assessment and continuous improvement. It achieves this through the Four Pillars of Academic Achievement that comprise a proven blueprint for student success: (1) Create a Culture of Academic Achievement; (2) Understand Cultural/Ethnic Differences; (3) Expose Students to New Environments and Opportunities; and (4) Provide Adequate Resources and Mentoring Experiences. These pillars constitute a comprehensive approach to student achievement that works.

For nearly two decades, Sodexo has been recognized as a global leader in Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), at the forefront of innovation. D&I is a strategic imperative that contributes to the quality of life of our employees and those we serve based on four scalable, replicable key elements that guide our culture: (1) Connection to Sodexo’s core business and branding strategy; (2) Leadership, commitment and engagement; (3) A simultaneous top-down, bottom-up, middle-out approach; and (4) Measurement and accountability. Like HCC’s four pillars, these four key elements form the foundation against which we measure our progress and hold ourselves accountable.

One of the many initiatives that supports our commitment is the Diversity & Inclusion Competency Behavior program, an important part of the performance management process for managers at all levels. Employees are measured on their demonstrable contributions, “championing” and “leading” behaviors and actions that advance Diversity & Inclusion and broaden understanding. These include mentoring, serving as a leader or advisor for an Employee Business Resource Group, hosting or facilitating a Diversity Learning Lab, and representing Sodexo in two or more D&I related external conferences or community events. These efforts have proven effective: 80% of our employees reported that they believe that Sodexo values diversity in the 2016 global Employee Engagement Survey.

Our experience can be beneficial. Our research reveals that 83% of students believe that a friendly, supportive campus atmosphere is more important than a university’s reputation. We apply our D&I acumen and innovative service solutions to improve the campus experience and quality of life for all students, faculty and staff that we serve. Partnering with Sodexo as a leader in diversity and inclusion promotes campus objectives, supports student success, improves student and faculty retention and increases graduation rates while strengthening an institution’s reputation and brand image. The process is initiated through a customized needs assessment, which guides the development of a strategic action plan. Opportunities include D&I Executive Planning & Development, Diversity Learning Solutions, supporting and augmenting existing D&I programming on campus and more.

There is strength in collaboration. Sharing best practices inspires further progress and paves the way for students’ – and future employees’ – success.


Rolddy Leyva is Vice President of Global Diversity for Sodexo and a subject matter expert on diversity & inclusion, organizational change, and talent management with over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and diversity & inclusion.

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