Flexibility crucial to business success

Sodexo flexible working

Sodexo flexible working

This post was created by Jane Bristow, managing director of Sodexo Education and Sodexo Women’s International Forum for talent member. The post was first published on the Opportunity Now blog.

For too long now, flexible working has been seen by many employers as a luxury. A favour they grudgingly provide for employees, who in turn will find it difficult to progress up the organisation.

Hopefully – for employers and employees, the one-year anniversary this week of flexible working legislation introduced in UK is one more step away from such regressive thinking. Research published earlier this month found 14 million people in Britain are looking for flexible work arrangements. Increasingly, offering employees flexible working is essential to keep businesses competitive with an ability to attract the best talent.

Sodexo is the eighteenth largest company in the world. The scope and diversity of our operation is so tremendous it would be impossible to operate effectively by locking everyone into a rigid ‘nine-to-five’ culture.

Employees who enjoy a positive work-life balance will perform well, and be far more likely to bring enthusiasm and humility to their role.

In my position with the Sodexo Women’s International Forum for talent (SWIFt), which brings senior leaders together from around the globe to drive gender balance, I have worldwide accountability for ‘flexibility’. This is one of six workstreams overseen by SWIFt.  This week I’m running a webinar for our UK business advocating flexible working, asking employees and line managers to consider the impact of caring for children and other relatives, and also for line managers in particular to consider the outlook of younger colleagues who just don’t want to work in the same way as previous generations.

We are also sharing a flexible working case studies booklet across the business, highlighting real employee stories from around the world and how they have achieved work-life balance.

Many employees can be reluctant to approach their manager about flexible working for fear it may harm their work prospects. It’s important organisations champion flexible working and the importance of diversity inside and outside the business not only to improve their employees’ quality of life, but to attract and retain the best talent.


My first Women Work conference

Hands up. I know it’s late to be filing my views on my first Women Work conference last month, but I was lucky enough to have a period of leave booked just afterwards for the duration of which I was encouraged to switch off from work. The habit of reading news stories and emails last thing before going to bed and first thing in the morning is a tough one to break – albeit most relaxing – but having returned from holiday I feel most recharged.

One thing I couldn’t get out of my head while away was how much I had enjoyed the conference. Dame Fiona Woolf as the guest speaker in the morning was incredible, and shared some stories of casual discrimination from her career that sounded like episodes from a toe-curlingly bad 1970s sitcom. How she overcame those barriers to become president of the Law Society and Lord Mayor of London is an inspiration. While thankfully I – and no one else at Sodexo – should share her negative experiences of the workplace, I did sympathise with her as a fellow tall person!

After Fiona’s talk, the 100 or so delegates split off into four groups depending on what development opportunities they had chosen at registration. Ever eager to brush up on my presentation skills, I found myself with a handful of colleagues taking a crash course in how to get your point across. In pairs we had to come up with a short presentation on a random object using a simple formula. We chose a pot of Tipp-Ex, but I wouldn’t have corrected a single second of the talks from my peers. Creative and passionate about their work, those who got up and spoke after such short preparation demonstrated the flair you can find all over the company.

During the day I met a few of these colleagues by encouraging them to take part in the Department of Work and Pensions campaign #notjustforboys, which raises awareness of women in traditionally male-dominated roles. I managed to talk Helen (above), Eleanor, Shauna and Jane into having their photos taken.

Held at a client site in Macclesfield, the Sodexo team there put on an excellent lunch before we dove into the second workshop. I took ‘beliefs and confidence’ hosted by Talking Talent, which turned out to be a very useful exercise in questioning your own internal barriers to forwarding your career.

Sylvia Metayer, president of Sodexo international large accounts, then presented the latest research from Sodexo Group. The findings offered an excellent business case for gender balanced management teams, with profitability, growth and engagement all higher where there was a 40 to 60 per cent gender mix. Sylvia’s own journey is fascinating. Responsible for what are no doubt Sodexo’s biggest and most complex global contracts, Sylvia makes time for her children, the last of which she had at 42. She found the largest challenge came not from male quarters but from female, and there was audible agreement from the conference that being made to feel guilty by other women about work/life choices was a common phenomenon. Sylvia’s advice: don’t feel guilty, whether you work or not ‘guilt is to motherhood as grapes to wine.’

The day ended with a captivating panel debate on encouraging men to engage in gender balance. Facilitated by the executive sponsor of Sodexo’s gender workstream Neil Murray, the panel consisted of Sodexo UK & Ireland chief executive Debbie White, author and military expert Tom Clonan and career consultant Chris Martin.

What stood out for me, and many attendees I’ve spoken to since, was Tom Clonan’s explanation of how gender balanced military units performed better than single sexed. Despite women being considered among their most dangerous enemies during the Northern Ireland conflict, state security forces fought exclusively with all male teams.

For the non-Sodexo panel members, the Q&A session at the end of the formal debate was a window into the openness of the company. Certainly, when one delegate questioned Neil on his all male senior leadership team representatives at a past event, one panel member was moved to comment as much!

I’m sure all the delegates would join me on insisting credit must go to Women Work network chair Janine McDowell, Vicki Franklin and the team for putting together such a fantastic event. Veterans are saying it was one of the best yet. It will be difficult to top next year, but so long as we build on the number of men there it will be a victory!

Row, row, row your boat…

Having arrived in London in 2002, I was fortunate to get a job and associated accommodation in the leafy area of Barnes, South West London. During the seven years I spent there, the annual University Boat Race became an unmissable fixture on my calendar, especially as I lived a stone’s throw from Hammersmith Bridge. Nowadays, having slowly migrated even further South West of London, the trip in to enjoy the race has become bit more difficult but this year (in fact, this Saturday) I’ll definitely be making the effort to head to the river to watch.

Picture courtesy travelodge.co.uk

It’s Boat Race weekend! Picture courtesy travelodge.co.uk

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The F Word



When I was first given the opportunity to contribute to this blog, I jumped at the chance. Women Work is a fantastic network and I was excited at the prospect being involved with it. But, in spite of the aim of Women Work, I certainly didn’t consider myself a feminist (this of course says more about my understanding of feminism than it does about the objectives of the network).

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A Busy Day – All Things PIE and Digital Media

Picture Credit: http://www.socialknx.com/tips-social-marketing-busy/

Image courtesy of http://www.socialknx.com

Just as the old adage about waiting ages for a bus only to have three turn up at once goes, I found myself in a similar situation this week with a number of interesting events taking place on the same day – all of which I would have loved to attend but found myself having to choose… Women 1st hosted one of their networking events at Fable Bar (a venue I’ve been dying to try out), Women Work ran a PIE workshop, Red Magazine ran a digital masterclass at the British Library Conference Centre, and we (the Sodexo team at UCL) hosted one in a series of cookery classes at UCL for the Vegetarian Society, a group I have been working with for the last few months.

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‘Tis the Season to be… Appraised

Amidst all the Christmas carolling and last-minute present shopping, it’s EPA season in Sodexo, and in our office that’s been cause for some serious debate. As my Sodexo colleagues will know, the Employee Performance Appraisal (EPA) focuses on a quality conversation with our managers around personal contribution, development and career aspirations. Various EPA deadlines have recently passed (with yesterday being deadline day for individual sign-off) and since EPA has been the number one searched-for item on Sodexonet for the last few weeks, I’m guessing there’s been a scramble akin to Oxford Street on Christmas Eve to get all the one-to-ones completed and submitted on time.

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Looking Back on 2014

This lovely tree went up the day after I got back from holiday!

This lovely tree went up near work the day after I got back from holiday!

I’m not sure where the year has gone (don’t we say that every year?) but, having just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to South America, the explosion of Christmas and winter is more palpable than any I can remember. I set off on holiday in mid-October – still enjoying the mild London autumn and not totally having accepted that summer was well and truly over – and spent three amazing weeks in various Latin American hotspots from the Andes to the Amazon. It’s always difficult coming back to reality after visiting far-flung places, but landing at Heathrow on that dull afternoon, those three weeks away suddenly felt like they had been three months. It was colder and darker, the clocks had turned back and the newest celeb on the block was Monty the penguin.

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