CCO Profile: Sarah Campbell Donia, Randstad NV

This is the latest in a series of posts featuring CCO stories, examining their priorities and challenges and sharing their experiences. 

Sarah Campbell Donia inherited her wanderlust from her Australian mother. Her childhood summers while living in the U.S. were spent traveling instead of attending a typical day camp, so it wasn’t out of character for her to book a tour through post-communist Eastern Europe after graduating college with a degree in politics while her friends were lying on a beach in Cancun. At 22, she bought a one-way ticket to Australia to embark on a career that would take her through Asia, the Middle East and Europe. 

She knew early on what she wanted to do in life. “The notion of working together in harmony to make the world better was something that really attracted me,” she told me from her cozy home office with a pitched, white wood panel ceiling. “I studied politics and international relations knowing that maybe I would never get a job with that degree. But it was what really drove me and what I found really interesting, and it's remained my biggest passion to this day.”

When Sarah joined Randstad as the global chief corporate affairs and chief communication officer three years ago, her mission was clear: to bring “harmony” to a function working independently across markets. While the company had enjoyed decades of success, the pandemic increased the necessity of a coherent global identity and centralized communication capabilities. Sarah’s first step was revealing; she asked each market team to submit their company boilerplate and received 39 different versions.

Randstad, a 65-year-old Dutch talent company, remains the world leader in HR services. Over 600,000 people work on its behalf daily across various industries, languages and cultures. Its vision is to be “the world’s most equitable and specialized talent company.” In a world demanding more skilled labor, the specialization component is vital, driving initiatives for upskilling and reskilling employees. However, its focus on equity is what sets it apart in attracting and retaining top talent. It is a unifying principle for an inherently diverse and dispersed company.

Randstad’s “global-local approach” to equity encompasses four dimensions: gender equity, LGBTQI+ inclusion, disability inclusion, and a “local goal” tailored to underrepresented groups specific to each market. This last dimension is crucial, as equity challenges are often determined by the unique needs and circumstances of different groups.

“We invest a considerable amount of time educating people on what equity means, why it matters and how they can be equitable,” Sarah told me. “We’re trying to shift the perception from ‘equity is a nice-to-have’ to viewing it as a crucial business imperative in a talent-scarce world.”

Sarah’s team orchestrates a variety of campaigns centered around “equity moments,” such as Pride Month or International Women’s Day, to amplify their message. Historically adept at communicating its services, these campaigns now convey a “synthesized higher purpose” previously absent from their storytelling.
“The company has always viewed its work as a societal contribution,” Sarah continued. The belief that Randstad can elevate everyone to realize their potential has always been part of its DNA. Sarah’s team is now giving voice to that heritage through a professionalized approach that involves integrated tools, systems and processes to coordinate efforts across markets.

“If we can show people that we’re a global company and that their impact extends beyond local business, they’ll appreciate their global influence and be more motivated to grow that impact.” And, it’s working. Sarah measures employee engagement through their understanding of the company strategy, belief in the company’s positive impact, and other metrics. Sarah’s seen double-digit growth in participation at global town halls and an amazing 80% increase in participation in equity events, demonstrating their progress toward becoming a truly unified organization. 

Having risen through the ranks at Philips to positions in different territories, Sarah also understands the importance of feeling connected to headquarters. “I relied heavily on the information from HQ. It was impossible for me to grasp all the nuances of a company as complex as Philips without that support,” she explained. “I appreciated the backing they provided, and I want to offer the same to our team here.”

Sarah and her team develop comprehensive toolkits to supply leaders and colleagues with the information needed to be valued partners and advisors. These include talking points, policy positions, research data, social media assets and guidance for sharing employee stories. “It’s crucial for our team to feel recognized, to know where to seek help, and to be empowered to offer advice,” Sarah added. “Our local leadership is grateful to have content that can elevate their customer conversations beyond sales, making a real connection with their stakeholders on issues they care about. One-on-one, this is where the difference is made.” 

Though her journey with Randstad is in its early stages, Sarah believes it exemplifies the impact that communication leadership can have on an organization. Now that she’s established a more coherent function, her eyes are on the future. “We’re now in a place where we have a strategy, people are behind it, and the focus on equity is beginning to show the impact we can make,” Sarah concluded. “My goal now is to see how we can make a bigger difference, how we can measure that difference and cement our position.” For someone who’s always wanted to help the world work better, there’s no better place to realize that aspiration. 

Sarah lives in Haarlem, the Netherlands with her husband Thomas and two young children.  She continues to learn more about the language, weather and culture in the country that she’s called home since 2019 and is looking forward to becoming a Dutch citizen later this year. Meanwhile, she stays very close to the political conversations in her other two homelands and every other country that she can learn from through avid podcast consumption. If you want to share notes give her a shout.