Lorna Donatone was appointed Sodexo's Region Chair for North America and CEO of Schools worldwide in January, overseeing 133,000 employees and all Sodexo business in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.
Her rise in leadership at the company has been impressive, but she wondered early on if taking on a diversity role at the company would hurt her career. Clearly, it did not, and it actually helped propel career.
Here is the first in our new video series, Leadership Career Advice, where Donatone shares a story about taking on the role of leading Sodexo's Women's Network Group in 2002.
And the following is a Q&A with Donatone conducted by DiversityInc's CEO Luke Visconti.
LUKE VISCONTI: Studies show that women and minorities who support and promote diversity at their organizations often pay a career price. Clearly, that wasn't the case at Sodexo. Why?
LORNA DONATONE: The whole question about paying a career price for being focused on diversity and inclusion, I think, exists. I think I would be naïve to believe that it didn't exist. It was exactly the opposite for me, though, and I want to tell you a story, because it was a big concern of mine. I first got on the executive committee as a new division president in 2002, around the same time as we were starting our diversity and inclusion initiatives, and really getting focused on that, and Rohini [Anand] was here. And I was asked to chair our Women's Network Group. And we were launching. And I had never done any work in the diversity space. And I was concerned that being new on the executive committee, I was going to be labeled.
DONATONE: That was a big concern of mine. And so I went to my boss at the time, Michel Lendel, and I asked him, because by that time in my career, I knew if I have a question I just need to ask. And I said, “I am concerned I am going to get labeled as just focusing on diversity issues. And I want to be known for results." And he looked at me, in probably one of the shortest meetings in my whole life, and he said, “If not you, then who, Lorna?" And we concluded the meeting. I walked out. And I became chair of the Women's Network Group. And it was fantastic for my career.
VISCONTI: Now I don't want to minimize the role that Michel Lendel had in this. Not every boss is going to get it.
VISCONTI: So you have a global CEO who truly does understand the subject.
DONATONE: Yes, and I think it's why Sodexo has become the organization that we have become, because he has been laser-focused on that. He saw it early on. He pushed the organization. We hired a fantastic chief diversity officer who made us take a hard look at ourselves, at our processes, our procedures, our hiring practices, the inclusive nature of our organization or the lack of inclusiveness. And then he made it a safe space to do that. I could easily have had a CEO who didn't want that. And he was like, “This is the only way we are going to change, you know. You are sitting at the executive committee; who better to role model this behavior?"
VISCONTI: Well in essence, he was mentoring you. And so that goes to the second question: how do your mentors and your sponsors help you in your career? And were you a good mentee? And could you have advanced without a sponsor?