Faced with a challenging economic landscape, Sodexo, like many companies, sought to identify cost-effective innovations for delivering new learning programs designed to inform, engage and educate employees around diversity and inclusion. This goal was realized in 2011 when Sodexo launched its first Virtual Diversity Business and Leadership Summit (VDBLS).

The virtual platform was designed, developed and implemented to provide comprehensive diversity and inclusion learning solutions for all employees. A cross-divisional team was responsible for the planning and execution of the Virtual Summit, including subject matter and technical experts beyond the Office of Diversity.

Complementing the already successful in-person event, VDBLS was a perfect solution for Sodexo’s culture and highly decentralized structure. It was a creative way to connect employees and deliver diversity and inclusion training and development in a cost-effective manner with low environmental impact. VDBLS blended virtual solutions, including over sixty learning activities, offering employees the opportunity to engage in new learning experiences as well as connect with subject matter experts through facilitated live sessions and virtual chats. It also offered employees the flexibility and convenience to participate in summit offerings at any time and from any location.

The learning events and activities presented through VDBLS focused on building skills, knowledge, and awareness around different dimensions of diversity. In addition to learning events, live chats, and networking opportunities, participants could visit the online resource center to download and view diversity-related materials and research to support learning, development, and performance. Additionally, with the Virtual Summit being available for a seven-month period, the content was accessible to a wider audience for a much longer period than the traditional, in-person Summit.

Through VDBLS, Sodexo was able to promote cutting edge approaches to addressing diversity among a large, dispersed employee population while dealing with the need to balance time and resources. As a result, Sodexo increased diversity competency company-wide. Of the 2,243 individuals who registered, 84 percent participated in the VDBLS environment and 96 percent stated they would apply the learning to their job. A total of 2,151 training events were completed through VDBLS. Sodexo was also able to leverage the VDBLS Resource Center to house diversity and inclusion materials, which increased utilization of existing documents such as the Manager’s Reference Guide and the Diversity Annual Report, as well as promoted usage of new resources such as a Ramadan Tip Sheet and informative videos.

Overall, the feedback was very positive and provided the metrics needed to measure the value of the Summit to employees and the company as a whole. Today, the success of the VDBLS has resulted in increased interest in developing other virtual training and learning, and preparations have already begun for the 2012 VDBLS event.