Setting the agenda for diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Jacqui Bainbridge
About the author : Jacqui Bainbridge

Head of Indigenous Affairs, Diversity and Inclusion at Sodexo

Published on : 11/16/20
  • Fairness and equality. It’s the drive for so much social change where there has been injustice or under-representation. From media to social activities and workplace, inclusion is important. It tells people they are seen, they are heard and they are recognised.

    Indigenous people in particular need representation, need inclusion and need reconciliation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are vibrant, derived from 70,000 years of rich history, passed on to the current generation, teaching the community about kinship, spirit, identity, connection, environment and Country. Striving towards reconciliation encourages all sectors of the Australian community to play their part in building trust and strengthening relationships between those with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and those without.


    In October 2020, I joined the Sodexo team in Australia as the Head of Indigenous Affairs, Diversity and Inclusion. I have always been driven by working with people to help them achieve their best and looked for new ways to improve upon what I do, and help others further themselves as well.

    Since stepping into the role at Sodexo, I have been astounded by the company’s investment and approach to supporting Indigenous Australians, and diversity and inclusion more broadly. If every business took a similar approach to Sodexo, reconciliation in Australia would be much further progressed.

     For a company the size of Sodexo, it’s important the right practices and policies are in place, benefiting the team as a whole. From day one, Sodexo was an organisation grounded in supporting people and the improvement of equality. Founder Pierre Bellon’s two-fold vision for Sodexo was:

    1. To improve the Quality of Life of People, not only the people we serve, but all lives we touch, and
    2. To contribute to the economic, social and environmental development of the communities, regions and countries we operate.

    Both these visions have enabled Sodexo to lay the groundwork and foundations required to embed reconciliation and inclusion into the DNA of the organisation. Since Sodexo began operating in Australia back in 1984, we have continued to engage with, and provide opportunities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.

     I am proud and excited to have joined Sodexo where they take diversity, inclusion and Indigenous affairs seriously. Since I’ve joined, I have hit the ground running, looking at how Sodexo operates and its current diversity and inclusion strategy can be even further amplified.


    Sodexo has many initiatives which work to achieve authentic diversity across multiple areas of underrepresented groups, including disability, gender, race, sexuality, culture and origins.

    At Sodexo, we prioritise employment of First Nations people and we’ve established six points of entry into Sodexo to build this connection. This includes:

    • Direct recruitment for Indigenous people with previous hospitality experience
    • Ready to Go Program which is funded and owned by Sodexo, focusing on those who have been unemployed for six to 12 months and lacking experience for direct entry into a new workplace. This program in particular has seen 56 of the 58 program participants employed just last year
    • Vocational Training and Employment Centres (VTEC), funded by atWork Australia allows prospective candidates to complete a three week TAFE course followed by one week on site. It also delivers a Certificate II in Hospitality to long-term unemployed Indigenous people with 300 employees onboarded since its inception in 2015
    • Justice to Work looking at offering an employment opportunities from the justice system to stop recidivism
    • Traineeships and Apprenticeships
    • A partnership with the Clontarf Foundation, which has seen 19 candidates hired since it started.

    Clontarf academy students

    Recruitment is one important element, but we also look at how we support employees beyond getting them in the door. From work groups to mentoring, learning to leadership, we have a number of initiatives that focus on building inclusion for all employees including LGBTQ communities, those living with a disability and tackling mental health. Examples of this are Sodexo’s Australian Pride network, partnerships with disability employment support organisations, and collaborating with outlets like Beyond Blue and Benestar.

    These initiatives are an important way for us to build a strong connection with our people and show that no matter what life journey they are on or where they have come from, they are supported and have fantastic opportunities to learn and grow further in the workplace.

    I find these incredibly important because if we aren’t continuously improving and creating strong connections, opening up a dialogue within and without Sodexo, these opportunities can dissipate quickly. From a business perspective, we achieve better productivity when working together as a cohesive whole, higher retention rates and a stronger drive shown in our teams, giving them the tools to realise their greater potential.

    Our procurement space is another area where we have gone above and beyond to engrain supplier diversity into the DNA of our organisation. Sodexo consistently supports more than 50 different Indigenous businesses as part of its supplier and partners list. In the 12 months to September 2020, we’ve spent $39 million on Indigenous suppliers, smashing our Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) target of $10 million! More than 50 percent of these businesses we support operate in regional and remote communities, meaning the dollars bounce around the community a lot longer.


    Without true diversity and a spirit of inclusion, a team is just a collection of different people, working at different goals at different paces. When you work closely with everyone, find what their needs are, how they work and how they want to progress, you can start to find commonalities and ways to bridge the gap between them all.

    In 2019, Sodexo released its latest RAP to help drive reconciliation. While this was an important moment for our business, it is an alarming fact that only 24 companies in Australia are progressing with their Elevate RAP, with only 10 in their second Elevate RAP. 

    Businesses across Australia need to continue to progress reconciliation. Many organisations could take inspiration from how Sodexo operate from the ground up, altering their infrastructure to allow these opportunities to happen. For any company who invests in achieving diversity within their workforce, the progress you see will inspire you to keep going, and give your team the tools they need, allowing you to work together in cohesion.

    But there is always more we can do, particularly when it comes to reconciliation. I’m excited to be a part of the Sodexo team in Australia and to continue to build upon the important work they have achieved thus far.

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