How different cultures helped this CEO find clear understanding

Burcin Ressamoglu
About the author : Burcin Ressamoglu

CEO of Sodexo Benefits & Rewards UK

Published on : 5/17/22
  • 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 Burcin Ressamoglu, CEO of Benefits and Rewards UK about her experiences, their challenges and the guidance she’d give to others who might want to follow in her footsteps.

    Platinum Jubilee sponsorship logoBurcin Ressamoglu heads up our Benefits & Rewards business, helping clients of all shapes and sizes to attract and retain great people. She understands client diversity like no one else, having lived and worked in many countries and cultures. Burcin explains how a lifetime of adapting has shaped her leadership style, and why you should strive for a clear understanding of the person in front of you.

    Light-bulb moment

    I started my career at the electronics company, Philips. They valued diversity a great deal, but it was still early days in the lighting division. There were very few women in the lighting industry, so, I just found a way to build trust and pushed on.

    It’s only when you rise up the ranks that you start to see people doubt you. It becomes less about your skills and more about whether ‘the market’ will accept you. As I sensed this shift, it made me even more determined to succeed. I think the English phrase is ‘digging your heels in’.

    Culture shocks

    Leading the company’s expansion into 13 countries across the Asia Pacific region meant moving my husband and two daughters to China. I was a senior executive by then, but it felt like being back at the starting point: learning what works and what doesn’t in someone else’s environment.

    Even without the cultural differences, no one in China, Korea or anywhere else I went, was expecting a Turkish married woman with two children to understand the business of lighting. Proving I did was incredibly hard. It took a huge amount of effort and lots of patience, but I eventually broke through, learning to adapt as I moved around.

    Mutual understanding

    These experiences have shaped the way I lead at Sodexo. When you have been separated by culture and language, you must invest time in finding connections. The person in front of you, who could be a client or colleague, has to feel you understand their concerns and care about their goals. In situations when confusion is likely, finding clarity and a shared vision is key. You build trust this way too, which is why I’m honest about problems and I don’t overpromise.

    I was not expecting any cultural challenges when I moved to the UK; I studied in Vienna, I was employed by a Dutch company, and I’ve worked all over Europe and Asia. I was wrong. I acknowledged I had to adapt to local culture. I saw how I could change the dynamic of a meeting by talking at the end, not at the start, and how often I was expected to read between the lines. Just by double-checking that everyone agrees on the next steps – and that no one is holding back because they don’t want to seem disrespectful – we are far more productive as a team.

    Supporting women in leadership

    Feeling like an outsider is something that happens to many women as their career moves forward, and it’s where I think I can help.

    That’s why I sit on Sodexo’s Gender Equality Advisory Council, helping to set our vision and our targets and to remove hidden barriers. If I had to summarise my advice to any leader struggling to push forward, it’s this:

    • Take action to understand mutually and learn to connect. Having a common understanding is essential it sounds so simple but both sides must take time to listen to each other, openly discuss and ensure the same understanding of what just happened. That requires caring and understanding the differences as well. 
    • Challenge at the right time. You must adapt, but not to the point where you accept poor behaviour. Develop trustful relationships, use the connection you’ve built to be clear about your feelings and you will have a bigger impact when you tackle it.
    • Remember it’s not personal. Everyone brings their preconceptions into a room, so remind yourself that much of someone’s reaction to you was formed before you met. Stay focused on getting to know them – not on explaining more about you – and you will change it.
    • One of the biggest concerns for women as they build their career remains children and their partners. I have moved mine several times, but I’ve also turned roles down that didn’t fit. My family has been my priority and I want women to know that there are many more choices than just ‘career or family.’ I’m a better leader because I have both.

    Find out more about gender balance