Women Helping Women—What a Powerful Concept!
Charlotte Jensen
Charlotte Jensen
CEO Sports & Leisure,
Sodexo North America

A few weeks ago, after a long week of meetings, presentations, various hotels and ensuring that I had no liquids in my backpack, I had the pleasure of meeting a young mother named Donya with her darling son, River.

Setting the stage: back of the plane, window seat, nice and cozy. Donya comes down the aisle with River hanging off one arm and all the accoutrements for a baby hanging off the other. Clearly frazzled as River wasn’t happy having been woken up at 4 a.m. for the flight—not to mention, air travel isn’t what it used to be—baby or no baby.

They sit next to me, middle seat, no seat for River as he is under two and my immediate sentiment is—Really? Why me? I can’t deal with this right now. Just want to sleep. What ended up happening was the complete opposite of my reactionary and selfish mindset.

Donya handed me a bottle and her bag while she got him settled, all the while not noticing or caring that I was clearly unamused. I obliged. Women have an unspoken connection when it comes to many things, caring for children is one of them. The next thing I know, the baby is reaching for me, wants to sit on my lap, wants me to feed him his animal crackers and hold his sippy cup.

Again, Donya was unfazed; chatting away, spirited, strong and feisty. She is a sous chef in Seattle. Our conversation naturally flowed into the food business. Her stories were incredible—visible burns and cuts on her fingers and arms, which I have learned this year is a rite of passage and a sign of success for any great chef.

As River was sleeping on me, we somehow got onto the subject of female bosses, in the kitchen and in the boardroom. Our experiences were similar although hers were a lot more intense being in a kitchen—we had been disappointed by the lack of support, by the perceived insecurities of having a strong-willed female employee, by the fear of not wanting to hand over the reins and therefore not mentoring or teaching.

I explained that as I approach my one-year anniversary here at Sodexo, I am amazed that I have finally landed in a corporation that provides me with all the hands-on support from all our male AND female leaders. And the support does not extend just to me as a top leader. We spend time discussing our scorecards with respect to diversity and inclusion, and it’s part of our DNA and in the fabric of what we do day in and day out. How refreshing to be supported as a leader and to have the entire organization supported.

Our job as leaders is to ensure that the Donyas of the world are given the exact same appreciation and opportunities. How do we push this mentality into the front line of Sodexo; how can we hold one another up instead of building barriers?

My flight ended up being so good for my soul. I gained a new perspective and greatly alleviated the stress of a 26-year-old mom, and was inadvertently reminded of what is important in life—sweet River who needed the most basic things in order to be happy. Donya and I had a special connection, we will stay in touch.

Each person unknowingly brought what the other needed, and as we celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I challenge each of you to open your heart and perspective, celebrate diversity and give the gift of welcoming our differences.

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