News Column

McDonald's Caps List of Best Companies

September 1, 2010

Frank Nelson

The diversity that we have represents the growth of our business ... we're very proud of that," says Pat Harris, vice president and global chief diversity officer at McDonald's.

Under the Golden Arches, everyone is equal, everyone is welcome and everyone is valued for who they are and what they have to contribute. That's the message from Ms. Harris.

She talks proudly about the many programs, practices and policies embedded in the Oak Brook, IL.-based corporation that have taken McDonald's to the top of the 2010 HispanicBusiness Diversity Best Companies.

A Place at the Table
"It's important to make sure everyone is at the table," says Ms. Harris, using an especially appropriate metaphor in the case of the international fast food giant.

From the pinnacle of the company – board chairman Andy McKenna and CEO Jim Skinner – across multiple geographic regions, such as the Canadian and Latin American regions headed by Jose Armario, she says diversity is part of the fabric at McDonald's. "Diversity is everybody's business."

Ms. Harris has been with the company for 34 years, the first decade in human resources before switching to what was then known as affirmative action and has now morphed into diversity and inclusion.

"It's evolved over the years," she says. "Previously there was a lot of counting heads. Now we're making heads count. The diversity that we have represents the growth of our business. We're very proud of that."

And they have good reason for pride, because diversity is embedded in every aspect of the MacDonald's enterprise. Gustavo Viano, director of outreach diversity and brand management, likens the company's diversity programs to a three-legged stool. All legs must be in place to create a solid platform.

A Three-Legged Stool
The three legs of the stool comprise diversity in company employees, diversity in franchisees and diversity in suppliers.

"Diversity is no accident at MacDonalds," says Mr. Viano. "We are committed to diversity in everything we do, with one group acting as role models for the others."

Employee diversity is supported by the company's "English Under the Arches" program, which helps improve the English language skills of employees who have different native tongues.

That is supplemented by a "Spanish Under the Arches" program that teaches employees Spanish skills so they can better meet the needs of some Hispanic communities. The programs are available online, so that all employees can access them, and they are available in both Spanish and English.

A Hispanic Business Development team was formed six years ago to examine Latino culture and to make sure restaurants are equipped to best serve the needs of Hispanic customers.

"They found that Hispanic customers like to take their entire family to the restaurant," says Mr. Viano. The company responded to the data by installing larger areas where a larger family can sit and comfortable eat— clever outlet marketing that aims to help the chains grow.

And how McDonald's has grown since Ray Kroc opened the first restaurant in Des Plaines, Il., close to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, in 1955. A decade later there were 700 restaurants across the U. S. and today that number has soared past 14,000.

Every day the company serves 60 million customers at more than 30,000 eateries in 118 countries. The global workforce is 1.6 million; around 650,000 work in the U. S., of whom, says Ms. Harris, more than 40 percent are minorities and over 60 per cent are women.

More than 55 percent of McDonald's spending on goods and services goes to businesses owned by minorities or women, including major partners like Lopez Foods, in Oklahoma City.

But just how did McDonald's beat out 59 other major companies — all dedicated diversity practitioners — to top this year's Diversity Elite? Dig a little deeper into the fabric of the fast food empire and the answers start to emerge.

Success has come by following the sorts of practices recommended by Jonamay Lambert, senior vice president, marketing, with The Kaleidoscope Group, a Chicago-based diversity management and consulting firm.

Ms. Lambert, a diversity and inclusion specialist for more than 20 years, says training, education and recruitment are key areas ... but also areas where companies need to do more. Doing more has become a mantra at McDonald's.

A Leadership Focus
Employee diversity and inclusion is supported through dozens of initiatives that emphasize leadership. Examples include Leadership at MacDonald's Program (LAMP), as well as Hispanic Career Development and education programs. All celebrate cultural differences, and, Ms. Harris says, "allow people to contribute their best."

Among McDonald's many successful role models who are achieving their full potential are leaders like Gloria Santona, executive vice president and chief legal counsel, and Jose Armario, group president for Canada and Latin America.

Ms. Lambert also says the traditional, one-time learning event is no longer enough. Instead, companies need to follow through with additional learning tools and opportunities such as Webinars and e-learning.

She says companies often do not put enough thought and planning into what they are doing. "They need to ask: 'Why are we doing this?' 'What do we want to get out of this?' They have to begin with an end in mind," she says.

That is exactly the process employed at McDonald's, which relies heavily on more than 120 employee networks supporting Hispanics, African Americans, women, Asian Americans, the disabled, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups and others.

Their efforts are enhanced through additional learning opportunities such as meetings to share best practices, conferences, and visits by outside speakers.

Cristina Alfaro, manager of McDonald's U. S. external communications, says Hispanic Business Vision, a franchise-driven initiative, aims to ensure McDonald's appeals to Hispanic customers in the right ways.

For example, committees have looked at how to make Hispanics more comfortable in restaurants: bilingual signage is posted in some 7,000 eateries. The success of these measures has seen them expand to other minorities, such as Asians.

Associations of franchisees — Hispanic, black, women and others — also carry the torch of diversity with the McDonald's Hispanic Owner-Operators Association funding scholarships to help more high school students go to college.

Ms. Alfaro says the franchisees' program, HACER, run in association with Ronald McDonald House Charities, has provided 14,000 scholarships, worth more than $20 million, since 1985.

She says McDonald's champions the educational goals of Hispanic students and encourages a "college-going mindset" to counter the present high drop-out rates. In addition, the company works to boost parental involvement in children's education, by partnering with the Arizona Department of Education's Even Start Family Literacy program, and through other programs.

Elsewhere in the community, the company also earns kudos for working with organizations like LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Council of La Raza, to build new relationships and strengthen existing networks.

Social Media
McDonald's has embraced new media in its efforts to reach out to different segments of the community, especially tech-savvy young Hispanics.

Through Facebook and Twitter the company keeps in close touch with staff and customers while Ms. Alfaro says the Web site "me encanta" targets 18 to 49-year-olds "with a high emphasis towards young adults."

In addition, McFamilia, a quarterly newsletter distributed to all restaurants, owner/operators and company staff, celebrates the Hispanic contribution to McDonald's and talks about Hispanic community initiatives.

Even the recent recession and an ongoing soft retail market have failed to deflect McDonald's diversity efforts. On the contrary, Ms. Harris says throughout all the ups and downs over the past 34 years, the company has "never pulled back from our diversity activities and strategies."

That measure of dedication and ongoing focus is paying dividends at McDonald's in many ways, including its outstanding success at the head of this year's "Best Companies Diversity Elite."

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