Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your role at your company?
A: One of my key responsibilities is to accelerate our global efforts to create a more diverse workforce and equitable and inclusive culture, thus furthering Sysco’s position as an employer and business partner of choice.
I work closely with the executive leadership team and our DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] Global Advisory Council to drive the development and execution of our three-year DEI roadmap to ensure we are making important and lasting changes across Sysco, as well as progressing our company’s journey to be a better company — ensuring everyone has a seat at our table.
My role was expanded to include oversight for our culture, engagement and workplace experience initiatives. We understand that aligning our DEI strategy with the focus on an inclusive culture that respects and values all employees will produce better business results for our customers, our shareholders and the communities where we live and work.
Q: Why is diversity, equity and inclusion important to your company?
A: Our commitment to DEI was a natural extension of our Purpose — Connecting the world to share food and care for one another. When we launched our Purpose in early 2020, we also launched “Commitment to Inclusiveness” as one of Sysco’s core values because without it, we cannot achieve our Purpose. By tying our DEI initiatives to our Purpose, we are ensuring it remains a high priority in every part of our business.
We aspire to:
• Create a global culture that is decidedly diverse, equitable and inclusive.
• Foster belonging, as we care for one another, and connect the world through food and trusted partnerships.
By aligning our DEI strategy firmly with our Purpose, we can improve our company’s performance and deliver better products and services to our customers.
Q: How has your company’s DEI strategy evolved over the past couple of years as the spotlight has been on the country’s lingering racial inequality and social injustice issues?
A: Although DEI is not a new concept for Sysco, it became a company priority once Kevin Hourican, president and CEO, joined in 2020. It was through his leadership that I was hired as Sysco’s first chief diversity officer and accelerated our DEI efforts.
Sysco’s commitment to DEI is demonstrated by our board of directors and our executive leadership team. We don’t want to be just “good” or reactive; we desire to lead in this space and understand we cannot do so without a top-down commitment starting at the highest levels of the organization.
We developed our first-ever comprehensive DEI strategy — Better Together — which defines our initiatives and KPIs [key performance indicators] for the next three years. We have an enterprisewide approach that goes beyond talent management and representation. We have integrated our strategy into our company business strategy, impacting the way we do business and how we support our customers, employees and the communities we serve.
The challenge is to continue to engage all parts of our business and to continue to understand what it means to make sure our employees and partners feel included i.e., there’s a place for them at our table. We are in the process of conducting a full internal review of our retention and leadership development programs, as well as reviewing the composition of our senior leadership team. However, our efforts are not limited to the four walls of our organization; we are similarly focused on evaluating the ways we support our diverse customers and suppliers. That’s the kind of assessment that drives sustainable, meaningful change.
Q: What area of DEI is still a challenge despite increased visibility and acceptance?
A: Helping leaders understand the business impact, instead of the focus solely on the social impact. The world is becoming increasingly more diverse — employees, customers, shareholders — and business leaders need to be equipped to lead in this dynamic landscape. Due to the larger size and global presence, it is a more complex initiative to help them understand the benefits of driving our DEI strategy. But we continue to make progress and many of our leaders are genuinely curious to learn more and grow in this area.
Q: How does supplier diversity and minority business development fit into your company’s DEI strategy?
A: Supplier diversity is truly about economic inclusion. There is a business case for why it is critically important to the United States as a whole. It leads to the creation of disposable and discretionary income — particularly in underserved and underrepresented communities.
In early 2022, we announced partnerships with five organizations that help diverse suppliers with certification and connecting them with corporations like Sysco. Our partnerships are with Disability:IN, National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA), National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. (NMSDC) and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).
With support from these organizations, Sysco can connect with certified diverse suppliers and mentor them through building capabilities for mutual and beneficial economic growth and developing a long-lasting partnership with our company.
Q: What is the next step-change in DEI, and why is it important to reach that level?
A: We need to drive more accountability and transparency for continued progress and ensure initiatives are sustainable over time and continue to be treated as any other business imperative from an investment perspective. Too many times, DEI efforts are seen as an additive strategy, which can be de-prioritized as business challenges persist.
To reach true equity and belonging, these strategies must be firmly rooted in all companies’ business strategies and measured routinely to maintain sustainability. Businesses must implement initiatives that build in leadership accountability, measurable goals and external transparency for tracking progress to ensure long-term success.
To learn more about SYSCO, visit SYSCO.COM.
Sysco DEI roadmap Kevin Hourican Adrienne Trimble Chief Diversity & Culture Officer Vice President Disability:IN National LGBT Chamber of Commerce National Veteran-Owned Business Association NaVOBA National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. NMSDC Women’s Business Enterprise National Council WBENC NGLCC