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EXCLUSIVE PFM interview with Margot Slattery

Author : David Strydom

19 August 2015

David Strydom lunches with the FM sector’s trailblazing LGBT star, Margot Slattery, MD of Sodexo Ireland

Margot Slattery, MD of Sodexo Ireland, chortles delightedly when I ask her if there’s anything about her that would surprise her colleagues. “That I’m shy.”

I’m not buying it. “I’ve yet to meet a shy Irish person.”

“My partner Sarah would say I’m quiet and shy, so there's an introvert in there. But the extrovert comes out at times, too.”

They must have a different definition of ‘shy’ in Ireland. Not that Margot is unusually outgoing. But she does have what many would describe as the human touch – appropriate considering Sodexo quite avidly markets itself as a people’s business.

We arrange to meet for lunch at Hush Brasserie in Holborn but I arrive late: I blame my iPhone’s map function, but it’s probably got more to do with my lack of coordinates than any technical shortcoming on Apple’s part. Margot greets me with a lilting Irish accent and a warm handshake.

She’s been in the news recently for her inclusion in the Out at Work &Telegraph Top 50 LGBT Executives (she was listed number 10 in the list of the most influential Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender business leaders, and the only representative from the FM industry).

CEO of HSBC UK Antonio Simoes topped the list, followed by vice president and MD at IBM Claudia Brind-Woody at number two and chief creative and CEO of Burberry Christopher Bailey at three.

Margot is a member of Sodexo's global LGBT network leadership team, which promotes and champions LGBT equality across the world. She also chairs the UK and Ireland sexual orientation work stream, part of Sodexo’s diversity approach.

Outside of Sodexo, Margot was elected to the Board of GLEN (Gay and Lesbian Equality Network), a policy and strategy focused NGO in Ireland, and has participated in panel discussions with them in relation to the introduction of a workplace charter which is focusing on how LGBT diversity helps drive business excellence.

In October last year, Margot was named among the Top 100 business leaders by Outstanding, a not-for-profit professional network for LGBT executives and their allies, published in association with the Financial Times.

At the time, she said: “I’m very honoured to be included in an exceptionally heavy heavy-hitting list of high profile business leaders. People are at the heart of making organisations successful so it’s essential there are more visible role models out there to create an inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive.”

Today, we’re meeting to discuss her life achievements – professional and personal – and to share white wine over lunch (she goes for the beetroot and goat’s cheese salad for starters, the pan-fried salmon for main and a chocolate brownie dessert, which she insists on sharing with me).

She enjoys wine but as this isn't going to be a boozy lunch, she allows herself a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, pointing out that she has a weakness for French wines, particularly Saint-Émilion.

Margot has a long history in the hospitality sector. Her initial qualification post-primary was a chef’s course and for two-and-a-half years she worked in various hotels. “Following that I worked for a year in a hotel called The Deer Manor in County Limerick. I then went to London and worked in various hotels for about three years.”

After a stint at the Intercontinental Central Hotel in Hyde Corner, she returned to Ireland in the early ‘90s and joined Sodexo in 1991. “I was a junior assistant manager when Sodexo was called Gardner Merchant. It was catering focused and I had various roles in that capacity.”

She later decided to work on her management career by returning to college in order to complete a hotel and catering degree. “In about 1999 I escalated my career and got into a district manager role. In the 2000s, I completed a leadership programme with the Irish Management Institute (IMI) in Dublin. My career within Sodexo has changed over the past few years; I’ve progressed from operations manager to divisional director to MD today.”

She’s in the last stages of her Master’s with the IMI, although she plans to have completed it by September 2015. I note, with a hint of understatement, that she's crammed a fair bit into her short life. “I seem to be addicted to always doing something,” she says.
Margot reports in to Neil Murray, MD of Corporate Services UK & Ireland, who in turn reports to CEO, Debbie White. She (Margot) manages the whole business for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which she says entails ‘mostly corporate services with a bit of education’.

She says she enjoys working with and managing people – ‘that’s never changed, I love going out and meeting people. I’m probably very lucky, we have 2,000 employees in Ireland and I know a good percentage of them. I don’t know all personally but I meet many when I’m out and about and I get feedback from them’.

Given how much she has already achieved, does she have ambitions for the future? “Absolutely. I’d look at my next role being perhaps a global one, working for the UK and Ireland but something on a global scale. I’m very open-minded and I’m lucky I work with a large company.”

But there are those who say that, throughout the industry, opportunities for women aren’t as fortuitous as they are for men. Why, for instance does Margot think there are so many women at middle management but not at senior level?
“There are many factors – one might be the amount of time and energy required. If I take a personal reflection of Sodexo, there's nothing stopping women going to the next level – it's very much encouraged and supported. But people have to look at themselves and what’s happening in their own lives.”

She notes that over the past few years, and probably earlier, it was more difficult for women to progress in their careers because they had child-minding and other family responsibilities. “The change in environment and in the times is certainly helping alleviate that but that will take time to get through. In the past it was traditional but the future will be different.”

Given her position within the industry as a LGBT trailblazer, how accommodating does Margot feel the outsourcing sector is to minorities, particularly those with a non-straight orientation? “Very accommodating – I’ve never experienced a scenario where people aren’t accepting to minorities of any kind. What I hear and see are clients who are more interested in the output of what we deliver.”

Margot says she’s often approached by those in the outsourcing sector, expressing admiration for what she’s achieved. “I’ve had a couple of people e-mail or congratulate me. I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from people.”

As an example of the support she’s received, Margot cites the recent LGBT Awards in London, attended by her team and their partners. “I see this as a mark of how Sodexo encourages and supports me. I’d also pushback and say I’m as good as the company that supports me. I found nothing but positive feedback from people, but I see this as a mark of how people support me. I get great support.”

On a global scale, she names those she admires as a combination of Michel Landel, CEO of Sodexo, former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and Hillary Clinton, as well as various political campaigners throughout the world.

Time’s flown. We’ve got to the chocolate brownie and Margot has to be off, back to Dublin. Before she goes, I ask her if she was to attend one last conference for work, what subject would draw her in. “How outsourcers can make a difference to the outcome for clients,” she says. “I’m drawn to that level of discussion about how we differentiate outcomes and the value chain.”

And with that, she’s on her way, a delightfully affable, witty lunch companion, and an eloquent ambassador for both Sodexo and the many LGBTs in UK business.

+ Shortly after our meeting, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage by way of referendum. The ‘Yes’ vote effectively ratified the Marriage Equality Bill 2015 which was passed by Ireland’s parliament, the Dail. “I am thrilled and I believe it changes so much in our society in Ireland and into the future,” Margot said in an e-mail after our meeting. “It’s good for Ireland and business and our future, and especially good for quality of life companies like ours.”

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