06. How to facilitate diversity and inclusion?



Sophie Criquelion of Decathlon talks about how diversity and inclusion start with each of us, as individuals, and reach across organizations and into life around us. (19:12)


Sophie Criquelion, a gig mindsetter

Sophie is an example of that bold new breed of employee inside organizations. One of the traits of gig mindsetters is that they dare to challenge the status quo. Sophie does that, and in fact has “outlaw” as a key word in her LinkedIn profile.

I interviewed Sophie in April 2021. I had met her a few years earlier when she invited my Paris-based practitioner community to have one of our monthly sessions at the large Decathlon store at La Defense in Paris.


  • Use networks to unite people and build a grassroots movement

  • Include communities around you

  • Integrate initiatives with competitors to help change the world

  • Start with yourself

About Decathlon

Decathlon’s mission is to “We aim to sustainably bring the power of sport to everyone, everywhere by designing the best products at the best prices, innovating for quality and performance so everyone can play.” https://www.decathlon.com/

It’s a French company founded more than 40 years ago and has become a global company. https://www.decathlon.fr/

1,647 stores in more than 57 countries.   The particularity of Decathlon as a sports retailer is that it is managed through research, design, production, logistic, and distribution of its products in its own stores.

Link to LI group: Decathlon Diversity & Inclusion International https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8979187/

Key points in our conversation

Networks trigger conversations and change

Decathlon Belgium, where Sophie is based, is organized as a network, not a hierarchy and a group of employees decided to tackle the challenge of diversity and inclusion. They reached out to people across the global company, in particular Hungary and Italy and realized they needed to talk to other countries and find ways for the countries to talk to each other.

Sophie and colleagues organized international online meetings to trigger conversations and share successes as well as challenges. This grassroots initiative took off and it was discovered that different countries were working on different issues: Brazil on racial discrimination, India on women’s experience, Hungary on disabilities.

Why are horizontal flows more important than bottom-up?

Sophie and her team deployed a horizontal strategy, not bottom-up. This is the missing flow in organizations today. This approach is important because it overcomes a common obstacle in many global companies: top down is frequent, bottom up is starting, but horizontal is often lacking. Why? Because it goes across silos and by-passes silo owners. One of the key traits of gig mindsetters is that they cross borders without asking permission.

We all have responsibility for the communities we live in

When I asked Sophie if participating in this movement is bringing something to the individual people themselves, she says “Everyone has a big smile on their face. It’s really a safe and happy place.”

She goes on to say that as a company, they need to be useful to people and to the communities they are living in. She believes diversity and inclusion are where sustainability was five years ago.

The pandemic fast-forwarded work on inclusion

When I asked if she thought the pandemic has influenced the success of her program, she said it fast forwarded it, and that the people the most impacted by the pandemic already had challenges. She believes the Black Lives Matter movement has also helped gain momentum as it has around the world when it comes to raising awareness about inclusion.

The imaginary notion of the perfect leader

She triggered a meaningful change at Decathlon when she raised the question of what is the “imaginary notion of the perfect Decathlon leaders”. It led to the creation of a new list of soft skills, updating the one created 17 years ago, and includes things like curiosity and active listening.

“Challenging the status quo, having fresh eyes on the way we have been doing things for a long time is actually a great way to improve where we want to go.”

Networking with outsiders helps change the world

I asked Sophie about another essential gig mindsetter trait: networking extensively with outsiders. I had noticed that she included outsiders, even competitors in the online sessions.

She explained that working on values for society is larger than any organization. “It is bigger than us. We are not going to change the world by ourselves. We must go beyond that and we are stronger together.”

She adds: “Companies should actually look at their mission, their purpose and the community they are part of and try to improve the life of everyone in this community… linked to their mission, of course.”

Don’t forget to focus on yourself

“If you’re using the talents or the skills you have, and it is aligned with your company’s mission, and is useful to the world, then you’re going to be where you can create the most value and have the most fun.”

She adds: “I do feel like diversity and inclusion are about making each person unique. So by focusing on yourself, you’re actually already working on diversity and inclusion.”

First published May 11, 2021

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