Count among those who used his power and position to create opportunities for others Dick Macedonia, a 1966 IUP graduate and former CEO of Sodexo. Eight years after Macedonia’s retirement, the global hospitality company continues to reap the benefits of the inclusion initiative he started. In 2015, Sodexo marked six years straight as a DiversityInc top-five company.
The inspiration for the inclusion plan came from epiphanies Macedonia had late in his career. The first was when an African American mentee revealed he took a lateral transfer to a different state just to escape a policeman who was harassing him. Growing up poor in Pittsburgh’s Manchester area, Macedonia believed profiling was an economic issue, not a racial one. “It changed my viewpoint,” he said.
The second epiphany came when an African American affinity group at Sodexo asked Macedonia to be its corporate sponsor. He asked members what they expected of him. Their answer: access.
“It blew my mind,” he said. “I thought they already had access.” Some were vice presidents, and all were at corporate headquarters. “Even with the success they had, they felt they weren’t inside the bubble.”
Macedonia described the bubble as that “gem of sponsorship”—an informal vote a senior executive gives a junior manager that leads to advancement in the company.
Equipped with new information, Macedonia set out to make Sodexo truly inclusive. To him, that means the playing field is level for people of any race, gender, or background—not just to get a job, but to advance.
One of the problems, he said, is that leaders tend to promote people of their own likeness. “That’s what I started to attack, and that’s where I got most of my traction.”
Macedonia laid out the argument that an inclusive environment was imperative to the company’s success, and deviating was not an option. “It didn’t take long,” he said. “If you put all those ducks in line, you can move a culture pretty quick.”
The inclusion initiative also addressed mentoring and put the onus on the company to give employees—often women—who tend not to join their bosses on the golf course or for drinks after work, opportunities to get that informal advising elsewhere.
For anyone entering the workforce, white males included, Macedonia recommends finding a place that’s inclusive. “It’s an indicator of the future success of that company,” he said.
“An inclusive company will unleash the talents of 100 percent of its rank and file. In the marketplace, that’s hard to beat.” It also helps the company keep the talent it has.
To Macedonia, talking about diversity and inclusion is “like reading verses from the Bible,” he said. He believes building those cultural sensitivities is possible only through exposure.
“You’ve got to make yourself vulnerable enough to sit down and listen,” he said. “If you do, you’ll get some epiphanies.”
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