Dr. Rohini Anand is Founder and CEO of Rohini Anand LLC providing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) advisory services to clients in the public and private sectors. She is a strategic business leader and trusted board member who has successfully transformed cultures and built an iconic brand with an enduring reputation, resulting in accelerating new business creation. With expertise that spans executive leadership, human capital, global corporate responsibility, wellness and diversity, equity and inclusion, Rohini brings a unique perspective on the critical alignment of the business culture and the triple bottom line to drive exceptional performance. Rohini is recognized as a pioneer in the DEI field and is a sought-after expert by leaders around the world. Her global experience, cultural dexterity, extensive network and ability to influence leaders result in a reputation for judgment, integrity, and accountability.
Rohini Anand is a thought leader and a published author. Her book, Leading Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: A Guide for Systemic Change in Multinational Organizations, has been endorsed by luminaries like Indra Nooyi, former Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo, Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO Chobani and Tent, Michel Landel, Danone S.A Board member and former CEO, Sodexo, amongst others. It is available on Amazon and Bookshop.org and on Book Depository for international orders.
Most recently, Rohini was SVP Corporate Responsibility and Global Chief Diversity Officer for Sodexo. She reported to the Global CEO and was a member of Sodexo’s North America Executive Committee. Rohini successfully positioned Sodexo as a global thought leader in DEI and Corporate Responsibility. Sodexo’s remarkable global culture change, led by diversity and inclusion, is featured in a Harvard Business School case study entitled Shifting the Diversity Climate: the Sodexo Solution.
Rohini has been featured in several articles in CNBC, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. Rohini has appeared on CNN, Bloomberg and CNN Money as well on National Public Radio. She is the recipient of many accolades including the Mosaic Woman Leadership Award, the Women’s Foodservice Forum Trailblazer Award, Webster University’s Women of Influence Award and the Who’s Who in Asian American Communities Award (WWAAC), amongst others.
Dr. Anand received her PhD from the University of Michigan. She serves on the boards of several organizations including WomenLift Health a Gates Foundation initiative, Aspen Institute’s Family Prosperity Initiative, Tent Partnership for Refugees and Galt Foundation. She also serves on the external diversity advisory boards for Sanofi and for Charter Communications and chaired the Catalyst Board of Advisors. Rohini is a Senior Fellow with the Conference Board and is on the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) Center for Inclusive Governance’s Advisory Council.
Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.
My family – my daughters and my spouse. My daughters are my biggest cheerleaders and my teachers. They keep me grounded, and their wisdom and deep values are humbling. My spouse’s unconditional support provided a platform for me to lean into my career, which for years involved 70% travel and working seven days a week. He took care of the big things and the little things, and for that, I am grateful.
And I will add to this list my boss, Michel Landel, the former Global CEO of Sodexo, who positioned me and DEI for success – he trusted me, gave me the resources and support I needed, and was my biggest sponsor. I was successful in large part because of his vision and commitment to DEI.
Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?
My move to the US as a young, single, immigrant woman was my inflection point in my literal and metaphorical journey. I grew up in Mumbai, India, where almost everyone looked like me. I belonged to the majority religion, Hinduism, and surrounded by others like me, had the privilege of not having to think about my identity.
With my move to North America, my identity shifted from being a person who saw herself at the center of her world, to being a minority—an immigrant—and a foreigner. And I was totally unprepared for that.
It was only when I was identified as a minority that I realized the privileges that came from being a majority. I was part of the majority growing up in India and had not recognized my privilege in that way. I was unable to until I was perceived as a minority, and I experienced things differently.
The realization that identity is situational and fluid informed my Ph.D. research and still informs my work.
This experience led me to the work I do today. Understanding what it means to be perceived as a minority—an outsider—is at the heart of DEI. My work is about leveling the playing field so everyone can feel a sense of belonging and can succeed as a result.
To move from performative actions to sustainable progress, organizations need to embed a culture of equity and inclusion. This requires transformation, which happens at the intersection of people and processes. Every employer should address bias in systems and influence leaders to recognize the value of DEI to themselves and the organization so they can lead with purpose and passion.”
What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?
When hiring someone to my team, I want someone who is a team player and knows how to work with and through people of all backgrounds. Being self-aware and cognizant of one’s areas for growth and strengths and, most importantly, of one’s privilege, is another key attribute I look for. Strong values, ethics, and being purpose driven are also important. This also encompasses the desire to pay it forward and to lift others up. And finally, I value creativity and vision but equally important is someone who knows how to get the work done.
Conversely, I avoid individuals who are self-aggrandizing and need to take all the credit. Someone who is just looking for a job without it being aligned with their personal values is also someone I would avoid.
Is there a time when you were told to change yourself, or hide some aspect of yourself to be accepted or successful in a situation? How did you react?
I don’t recall a time when I was told explicitly to change who I was. But I was given feedback that I came across as a DEI zealot. This feedback was hard for me as I am so passionate about DEI. However, I realized I could be more effective if I had allies deliver messages for me, which were more readily accepted, especially when they came from White men. For me, this was not about seeking validation from White men, but, instead, using their power to upend power.
I did, however, cover, in order to fit in and be more readily accepted. This included not bringing attention to aspects of my Indian culture and ethnicity. As I became more senior, I leaned into my authenticity, being more open about my ethnic identity, and encouraged other women of color to do the same.
Which three books, podcasts, or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?
Leading Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by Rohini Anand
This book is written by someone who has been in the trenches doing global DEI work and brings lessons learned and missed steps to avoid including scaling initiatives globally by mimicking one country, without attention to the local context.
Blind Spot by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald
The book posits that while we may consciously espouse egalitarian views, we may also possess unconscious biases—which undermine those views by contributing to discrimination. Being aware of our unconscious biases is the first step in addressing them.
How to be an Inclusive Leader by Jennifer Brown
Provides practical strategies for leaders committed to leading inclusively.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?
I like to say that my vocation and avocation are perfectly aligned. I come to DEI as a result of a personal purpose. After spending 18 years at Sodexo as Global Chief Diversity Officer and transforming their global culture to be more equitable and inclusive, I re-wired. I used the Covid lockdown as an opportunity to write my book, Leading Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as a way to share my lessons learned and give back to those doing the difficult and energizing work of making our communities and workplaces more inclusive.
Today, I spend my time sharing learnings from my book, coaching and mentoring rising professional women and diversity professionals, and being on nonprofit boards. Some of the boards I am on range from #Galt Foundation, whose mission is to place people with disabilities in the US – to #WomenLift Health, dedicated to advancing women globally in health care – to #Charter Communications and #Sanofi’s DEI Advisory Boards and #Pulsely, providing DEI analytic solutions to scale. And then there is the #Tent Partnership for Refugees, empowering refugees worldwide – so important in addressing the humanitarian crises of our times. As part of #The United Nations Anti-racism Implementation Steering Group, I have the opportunity to influence leaders who advance the SDGs. And as part of the #NACD’s Center for Inclusive Governance, I have the opportunity to impact diversity on US boards.
What do you find most frustrating about corporate DEI initiatives and what’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?
What’s most frustrating about corporate DEI initiatives is the fact that many of these are simply performative actions in response to current events. Hiring diversity professionals is laudable – but many are figureheads with no resources or appropriate positioning, which curtails their influence and effectiveness. Giving money for community causes is also merit-worthy – but sometimes this can seem like enough – and it is not. It is often the easiest thing to do.
To move from performative actions to sustainable progress, organizations need to embed a culture of equity and inclusion. This requires transformation, which happens at the intersection of people and processes. Every employer should address bias in systems and influence leaders to recognize the value of DEI to themselves and the organization so they can lead with purpose and passion.