McDonald's has earned a reputation as a brand that empowers people and communities. Wendy Lewis, a pioneer in D&I, is taking the empowerment global.
— By Simone Summers
McDonald's brand is known the world over for being a company that cares about the success of its franchise owners, operators, customers and communities of operation. It is a company that embraces diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a core value that makes the company stronger and more successful by empowering people. Given the scale and size of McDonald's, the company is in the unique position of being able to advance D&I on a global basis and have a major influence in the United States.
This is not a company satisfied with its impressive achievements to date and has now set its sights on becoming an employer of choice for women and women of color to work, the best franchise opportunity for owners and operators, and the best place for serving diverse communities.
Advancing the company's strategic goals in the D&I space is pioneer and global leader Wendy Lewis, VP Global Chief Diversity, Inclusion & Community Engagement Officer who shares her thoughts on McDonald's role as a leader in D&I and the brand’s aspirations to have a significant impact on diverse audiences.
Before joining McDonald's leadership team, Wendy worked for 30 years at Major League Baseball where she developed and implemented numerous innovative and successful metric-driven strategies and initiatives. She has been called a pioneer and a legend for her work in D&I, long before it became an operating principle so widely recognized today.
When joining McDonald's, Wendy brought her considerable experience to a major brand where she could make a significant impact on advancing innovation, sustainability, and advancement of D&I. She has a dual role in that her focus is on workforce and supplier diversity.
In March 2019, McDonald's announced the launch of its new BETTER TOGETHER: Gender Balance & Diversity strategy. This is McDonald's first global D&I strategy so it was appropriate the strategy was announced on International Women's Day. The goal is to improve the representation of women at all levels, achieve gender equality in career advancement, and champion the impact of women on the business.
"The strategy for empowering women is one leg of a three-legged stool," Wendy explains. "Having three opportunities to advance D&I is unprecedented. We have the employee component, the owner-operator component, and the supply chain presenting opportunities."
The current focus is on talent, thus the BETTER TOGETHER strategy. The company transformation is strengthened by offering all employees education and training on unconscious bias. The unconscious bias training platform is called Food for Thought: Beyond Bias. Addressing unconscious bias is a path for achieving gender equality in everything around talent – development, the pipeline, onboarding, development, and ascension. There are specialized Beyond Bias platforms for training recruitment staff, and there are other pipeline strategies being reworked and redeveloped to attract diverse people.
"We are working much more closely with HBCUs and inviting community organizations to assist us with looking at their constituencies for talent," Wendy explains.
McDonald's does not just want to attract and hire diverse talent. It also wants to retain the talent, seeing the employees as the future of the business.
One of the interesting aspects of McDonald's D&I effort is that it embraces everyone in the ecosystem – employees, vendors, franchise owners and operators.
Representing the Entire Landscape of the Company
Employee business networks (EBNs) play a critical role in McDonalds. They represent the whole landscape of the company, including every type of job and every type of diversity. They have a real impact on the company.
For the first time, McDonald's participated in a June 2019 Pride parade with a float that executives rode on. The Pride network and all other EBNs include employees and operators.
The EBNs are also active in developing and deploying various strategies, like revitalizing certain community bases, such as black and Hispanic communities and customers. Currently, the only global EBN is the Global Women's Business Network.
EBNs are also active in other strategic efforts, including the company's cultural pillars, BETTER TOGETHER, and major business activations, like the drive-through and menu changes. The Diversity Council consists of the chairs of each of the EBNs, giving each group representation and opportunities to talk about concerns, opportunities, and insights.
Wendy and her team also work closely with the franchise operator networks to ensure they remain aligned with business goals and strategies.
Embracing the Company's Whole Ecosystem
In her dual role, Wendy also has responsibility for increasing diversity in the supply chain. McDonald's has one of the largest supply chains in the world, creating enormous opportunities for diverse businesses.
"Leaders throughout our company have created unprecedented and major supplier diversity models in terms of businesses to create and cultivate. Some of the most successful minority businesses have been the result of that relationship building," Wendy said.
The suppliers bring their innovation and sustainable products and services to McDonald's, giving the company the opportunity to increase spend and the supplier profiles. One of the interesting aspects of McDonald's D&I effort is that it embraces everyone in the ecosystem – employees, vendors, franchise owners and operators.
Another core value of McDonald's is sustainability. The company was one of the first to move toward banning plastic straws. McDonald's serves 68 million customers every day around the world so it is very aware of its environmental footprint.
Seeing itself as a steward of the earth, the company makes a major effort to employ sustainable practices from the farming level and all the way through event production and building energy consumption. Look online at the corporate description of sustainability practices and find ambitious environmental goals that include 100 percent sustainable packaging, recycling in all restaurants, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing beef sustainability, and more. Given McDonald's reach and scale, the company can make a significant impact on environmental sustainability.
Diversity IS Inclusion
Wendy is a strong compassionate leader who is passionate about D&I. She is creative, innovative, and works with purpose. Wendy also drives a different mindset around diversity – Diversity IS Inclusion.
"We don't take time to chop it up but rather see the two principles as one. If we really want to make the seismic difference, we can make with 1.9 million employees, we must get our arms around all people of diversity as quickly and intently as possible,” she said.
“Every employee is respected and valued. We do break metrics down in terms of diversity based on race, gender, culture, identity, religion, ability, status, and experience, and we talk about each employee owning their diversity so each person feels respected and better understood and appreciated for their diversity."
Naturally, working with community partners is important to the company having good relationships. However, even in this area Wendy takes a very decisive approach. She focuses on the community partners that the company can mutually benefit from by sponsoring, working with, and collaborating with on projects and initiatives that make sense for McDonald's and the community business. Taking that approach has yielded more insights and results.
"I regularly get calls from community leaders telling me about good things happening in their community, new ideas, problems to address, and so on. It's still community engagement, but we've shifted our approach to developing more of a strategic partnership," Wendy says.
‘Everything We Do’
Taking D&I global is not simple. Diversity is complicated on a global basis because each market has its unique characteristics and approaches.
"We deal with the complexity by making sure the D&I perspective is part of the approach in everything we do," Wendy explains.
One of the important aspects of this strategy is that it depends on some level of trust in the company’s intentions and honesty. McDonald's religiously honors and respects its brand trust and works to ensure that trust is maintained.
The Archways to Opportunity education program is a good example of how the brand strengthens the trust people put in the brand to improve people's lives. The education program offers funding for tuition assistance to attend college or a technical school, improve English skills, earn a high school diploma, or get assistance making an education and career plan with advisors. Full- and part-time employees of any age are eligible to apply.
Asked for advice on how other companies can experience success in the D&I space, Wendy says, "You must be serious as a company, from the C-suite down. At McDonald's, the leadership gave me and my team the green light to operationalize our efforts, including the BETTER TOGETHER: Global Gender Balance and Diversity strategy so critical to our global work that goes with the bias work.
“David Fairhurst, who's our Executive VP and Chief People Officer, is the one who takes me through the phases and makes it happen. He and Steve Easterbrook, president and CEO, are the ones who have really given us opportunities to build the D&I infrastructure the enables creating the new opportunities moving forward."
A failure to give D&I space is short-sighted. The population is becoming more diverse, but already the marketplace expects a company to embrace D&I. It looks for it and judges a company on its authenticity in the D&I space. If the marketplace does not find what it expects, it turns to competitors.
"D&I must be part of your culture and a philosophy," advises Wendy, "if you want your business to stay strong and robust."