Photo of Raj Jones.

We all perform better when we feel we belong

About the author : Raj Jones

Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Published on : 5/23/22
  • Through 70 years of leadership, The Queen has inspired us all. Sodexo features in the only official book marking the Platinum Jubilee pageant in recognition of how we champion women in leadership. To celebrate this honour, we spoke to some of these leaders about their experiences, their challenges and the guidance they’d give to others who might want to follow in their footsteps.

    Raj Jones is Sodexo’s Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which makes championing women a professional and personal goal. She sees her role as a ‘positive disruptor’, driving incremental change that can transform working lives. Raj explains how a feeling of belonging can make a material difference, both to individual well-being and the business bottom line. 

    Life as an outsider 

    I’ve got a leadership role in a company that genuinely values diversity, but I still get moments when I feel like an outsider. That’s because when you walk into an office, you bring your whole life experience with you. I’m British Asian, so I always bring something different to the room.  

    Being British born and of Asian heritage has completely shaped who I am. When my husband suggested I channel my childhood Scrabble-playing into Wordle, it made me laugh out loud. That’s not what Indian families did at the weekends!  

    Starting with representation 

    I started my career in learning and development, and you’d see women hesitating about taking certain roles because they couldn’t see other women. So their career stalled because they either didn’t think they’d fit, or thought they’d have to become someone else. Extend that across different ethnicities and LGBTQ+ communities for example and the problem is obvious: people aren’t making the contribution they could. 

    Watching people realise they can be themselves at work is one of my favourite things about this job.

    I don’t have the lived experience of a gay women, but I know what a sense of belonging can do for your self-esteem and your performance. That’s why it’s no coincidence when someone feels accepted and like they can be themselves, their career takes off; it’s what happens when you feel at home.  

    Focusing on equity 

    Seeing people who are ‘like you’ thrive at work is great for representation, but it’s not equity. Equity means a level playing field, and that’s the bigger challenge. However level we make it here at Sodexo, people might have joined us after a fun slide down or a tough climb up. Society isn’t equal and our lives aren’t mirror images: creating genuinely equal opportunity requires us to challenge our assumption that everyone starts in the same place.  

    That’s why I’m happy to be a ‘positive disruptor’ and take pride in small changes. If you like your transformations fast and furious, this isn’t the sector for you! But if you want to make life-changing improvements that feed into business success, it is. 

    Making progress 

    We’ve still got lots to do, but I’m proud of where we are and optimistic about the future.

    As well as our Gender Pay Gap, we’ve published our Ethnicity Pay Gap too. And our annual business plan includes specific, measurable work on diversity, equity and inclusion. That makes this work business critical and fundamental to performance: it’s not a ‘nice to have’ for anyone. 

    I’m also buoyed by a less tangible change: this stuff comes up a lot. I find people are far more tuned in to the issues and to the role they might play in delivering improvements. 

    Advice for women  

    I can’t separate my experience as a woman from my experience as a woman of colour. When I was younger, feeling like an outsider (and sometimes being treated as one) certainly slowed my career and limited my ambition. But I think some things hold true for all women, at any stage of their working lives:  

    Seek support when you need it. It could be from managers, colleagues or mentors. I used to think it looked like weakness, but in fact it created huge amounts of pressure that dented my confidence and held me back. 

    Be open about how you’re feeling. Telling people how their behaviours are affecting you is really important. It’s part of educating people that their life wasn’t, and isn’t, the same as yours. Nine times out of ten, those behaviours stop quickly. 

    Realise your worth. The more you get promoted, the more likely it is that you’ll be in a room full of people that don’t look like you. And so what? Remember that you’ve brought your whole life experience into that room, and it’s absolutely unique. 

    Find out more about gender balance