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Wednesday February 1st, 2023

Sysco Labs: Enriching the DE&I Experience

Kushani Kalpage Director – Marketing, Sysco LABS

The Sri Lanka-based innovation centre of Sysco – the world leader in foodservice, has elevated its DE&I commitment to foster innovation by making a difference in people’s lives.

Kushani Kalpage, Director – Marketing at Sysco LABS focuses on driving diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the captive innovation centre for Sysco – a Fortune 500 company and the world leader in foodservice. With over ten years of experience in the tech industry and playing multiple leadership positions in the marketing arena, Kushani is passionate about fostering inclusivity in the workplace. In this interview, she shares insights into Sysco LABS’ DE&I strategy.

Why do you believe diversity and inclusion are so important in the workplace?

Diversity and inclusion should be mandatory elements that every company encourages and ensures throughout the organization. DE&I should cascade across all organizational activities, from hiring practices and internal processes to leadership and decision-making. When every employee’s unique and lived experience is valued and encouraged, that leads to diverse perspectives and enhanced innovation. Research shows that companies with cultures that foster diversity, equity and inclusion that demonstrate continuous commitment to ensuring employees feel heard, included and valued, such companies are six times more likely to be innovative and productive

Driving a comprehensive DE&I strategy also comes with other benefits. Employees who see actioned DE&I policies in their workplace are more likely to engage with their teams and the company, building trust and mutual understanding. Working in an environment enriched with a comprehensive DE&I framework and values can make employees happier and more comfortable in their working environment, enabling improved performance in the long run.

What does DE&I mean for Sysco LABS?

The impactful DE&I policy of our parent company Sysco inspired us to elevate our strategy, so we decided to use their model, combined with our contextual understanding, to derive our roadmap for enhancing DE&I. The first step in this process was to audit and understand the current status of our DE&I policies and identify areas for improvement. We did this using surveys, group discussions, one-on-one interviews and in-depth reviews of our existing policies and procedures. One of the milestones during this process was differentiating and defining key DE&I pillars for improvement while amending and implementing new policies and procedures. The key pillars identified are Females at Work, Ethnicity, Race & Religion, LGBTIQ+ People at Work, Persons with Disabilities, and Team Composition.

How are you investing resources to bolster DE&I across the organization?

After identifying these key pillars, we needed to establish an organizational commitment to driving a sound strategy. Although we are still in the early stages of our DE&I journey, we introduced a new DE&I policy to demonstrate leadership and commitment to building an inclusive culture. We also approached the roll-out of the strategy and action items with a phased approach – dividing the identified pillars into two phases addressing the first steps of awareness, learning and understanding within the first phase of the roll-out.

After agreeing on an overarching governance framework, we updated five policies relating to leave, discipline, grievance handling, maternity protection and parental leave, harassment and violence. To ensure Sysco LABS meets every need of our diverse associates, we introduced several new leave categories under the existing leave policy. New leave types include compassionate leave, which covers bereavement and domestic abuse, where associates may need time to sort out living arrangements, legal formalities etc. We also extended parental leave if mothers get sick postpartum and introduced adoption leave for parents who are adopting a child with the same entitlements as in the case of biological birth. Further, the updated disciplinary and grievance handling policies include clear responsibilities and timelines to resolve issues.

What are some of the ways Sysco LABS rolls out its DE&I strategy? How do you inspire your employees to internalize values in this space?

We encourage associates to understand that diversity, equity, and inclusion are a part of our DNA. It is a big part of our purpose to connect the world to share food and care for one another. As such, we are committed to providing equal opportunities in the workplace via diverse team compositions and structures. We also organize several workshops, forums and training programmes for associates around the area of DE&I to reiterate our commitment. Associates recently participated in a comprehensive training programme on sexual orientation, gender identities and expressions, and laws pertaining to LGBTIQ employees in the workplace. These awareness activities encourage employees to be their authentic selves at work without fear of discrimination or discomfort.

We launched the ‘Sysco LABS Collective’ which is used as an umbrella to share content which will educate associates on the different elements of our multicultural communities, such as diverse celebrations, festivals and values that define them.

How are you creating better opportunities for women to grow in their careers and become leaders?

Among the challenges confronting the tech industry are retaining women in the workforce and the lack of women in senior engineering roles resulting in a loss of opportunity for skilled talent. That is why organizations need powerful DE&I frameworks and strategies to ensure that every workplace is a welcoming space for everyone to grow. At Sysco LABS, we have made significant progress in empowering more female leaders to take on leadership roles. To support this, we launched a talent management and succession planning mechanism that included a framework to identify deserving, talented potential female leaders and fast-track their career progression to assure better gender diversity at the leadership level. Extending this program further and achieving gender diversity at all levels is a milestone in our roadmap.