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Bringing Positivity and Inclusion to the Table: Sodexo’s Disability Hiring Program

Kevin’s Story

Kevin stands smiling in front of a black chalk wall with drawings on it, wearing his employee name tag, an apron, and a hat.Kevin will be the first to tell you that he is a people person — and it is easy to see why. His sense of humor, high energy, and positivity are hard to miss in National Geographic’s Food Court, where he works both in the front and the back of the house to ensure that the center’s employees are well taken care of during their lunch breaks.

“I love my job. I especially like speaking with our customers and making sure that they have what they need to be happy. My job is to make the customers happy and I take pride in that.”

Kevin is one of several employees with disabilities who were hired this year at Sodexo’s site at the National Geographic’s headquarters in downtown Washington, DC through a partnership between Sodexo and The Arc of the United States. Laura Monto, General Manager of Sodexo’s site at National Geographic, was inspired to create the internship program from the personal experience of being an aunt of a young man with autism. “Knowing how sharp, caring and eager to learn my nephew is, I wanted to provide people with disabilities with the opportunity to learn valuable professional skills and be part of an inclusive team of hardworking and dedicated individuals,” said Monto.

The Arc and Sodexo’s Long-Standing Collaboration on Disability-Inclusive Hiring

The Arc and Sodexo started a similar joint-disability hiring initiative in 2017 at a site in Philadelphia. The site’s General Manager, Dolores Abbonizio, has worked for Sodexo for three decades and has more than 20 years of experience in successfully hiring people with disabilities. More than just creating job opportunities for people with disabilities, Abbonizio believes that creating this program has positively impacted the lives of her employees without disabilities, a positive feeling which is also felt by guests and senior leadership alike. Abbonizio said that her site’s success at hiring and retaining employees with disabilities comes from her entire team’s buy-in to creating an inclusive working and learning environment. “There are certain things that need to happen and systems that need to be in place in order to create a disability-inclusive workplace, but it begins with the whole team’s commitment to making sure that all of our employees feel welcome and are set up to succeed,” said Abbonizio.

Managing a disability-inclusive workplace does have some challenges, but Laura Monto points out that these are no different than managing any other sites she has worked at in the past. “Whether an employee has a disability or not, there is always a learning curve and every individual has a unique work style and personality,” said Monto, “The key to creating a truly inclusive environment is to provide the right supports to your employees to create equity, while ensuring that you treat them all equally and with respect,” Similarly, Dolores Abbonizio said that understanding an individual’s skill set and career goals is critically important to setting them up for success in the workplace. “When you’re working with a new hire, regardless of their abilities, it is important to make sure that their skillsets are matched to the tasks and responsibilities given to them so that they can succeed, create positive momentum and grow,” said Abbonizio.

Bringing Disability-Inclusion to Scale at Sodexo

Back at Sodexo in DC, Kevin is now an integral part of Sodexo’s team at National Geographic and continues to improve his performance and gain autonomy. Aside from what he brings to the table professionally; Kevin’s positive attitude and energy is felt throughout his workplace. Kevin’s success at Sodexo is the result of his hard work, but also of the enabling and inclusive environment that Laura Monto and her team have created. The Arc and Sodexo plan to take the lessons learned from its local successes in Washington, DC and Philadelphia and work with other sites in Sodexo’s national network to bring disability-inclusion to scale at Sodexo.  “[Hiring people with disabilities] has always been a positive experience,” said Abbonizio.

Kevin poses, smiling, in front of the food counter at work.