Best for career progression for women

McDonald’s won WM People’s Top Employer Award and its Award for Best for Career Progression for Women. Here they explain what they do to ensure gender balance at all levels.

woman walking up stairs to success


Gender equality is a vital part of McDonald’s focus on diversity and it has put a lot of effort into achieving gender balance throughout its UK operation. In April 2020 McDonald’s achieved a zero percent gender pay gap across restaurants and head office, with 2021 figures being disclosed in April 2022. Of its 140K+ employees, 49.5% were male at the end of last year and 50.5% were female.

McDonald’s has also achieved gender balance in its senior leadership roles and firmly believes that gender balance brings valuable new perspectives and makes for a stronger business. Behind the statistics lies a lot of committed hard work, something which has earned McDonald’s not only WM People’s Best for Career Progression for Women Award this year but also its Overall Top Employer Award.

The move towards gender balance is part of a major push by McDonald’s on women’s career development since 2005 when just 5% of senior leaders were female. That has included active membership of Inclusive Employers and the BITC Gender Campaign. By 2018 a third of the senior leadership team were women and the company set a 45% target in late 2020 which it exceeded by September 2021. Its goal now is to maintain its 50/50 gender balance by ensuring gender parity at all levels of the talent pipeline.

Gender balance

McDonald’s is also focusing on gender balance among the business managers in its restaurants where it is currently 60/40 in favour of men. To do this, it is currently piloting its Empowering Female Leaders programme in company-owned restaurants over a six-month period. Most of its restaurants are franchised so if the pilot, which is for female assistant managers, is successful it will be rolled out to the entire business.

The programme is based on research with assistant managers which showed the need for the company to change how it was building its talent pipeline and address barriers to career progression for women such as confidence and feeling like an imposter in an environment perceived as male. The programme includes support, career development sessions and mentoring and launched late last year based on work with internal and external consultants. Early feedback has been promising. A second cohort is running later this year.

Other steps to maintain or improve gender balance across the organisation are outlined in McDonald’s gender pay audit report and include its Women’s Leadership Network which provides tools, resources and events to inspire women’s personal and professional development. It has also introduced a programme where senior leaders in McDonald’s, irrespective of their gender, sponsor and mentor female employees. And its global mentoring programme, Inspire Mentoring, connects women in the UK and other markets with mentors who can support them in developing a successful career at McDonald’s.

In addition, the company has been working in partnership with Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure (WiHTL) since 2019 on intersectional issues relating to underrepresentation. Together they co-created and sponsored the first ever Ethnic Future Leaders Programme, the first of its kind across the industry. It launched at the end of 2020. The first cohort, introduced by McDonald’s UK & Ireland’s then CEO Paul Pomroy, had 28 people on it and the most recent had 80 from across the hospitality, travel and leisure sector. McDonald’s franchisees have taken part to share their journey. Executive sponsors and line managers also participate in the programme which includes reverse mentoring.

Zoey Rimmer, Culture & Inclusion Consultant at McDonald’s, is a member of WiHTL’s Race and Ethnicity Committee and took part in the programme herself. She says meaningful relationships were formed as a result and that it forged a significant appetite for change. “It brought about a profound change in me,” she says, adding that it opened her eyes to the barriers people from ethnic backgrounds face and led to her current role. McDonald’s is also a participant in WiHTL’s Ethnic Senior Leaders Programme which launched its first cohort this year. Zoey says that the company is aware that it needs to improve its representation of ethnic minorities at senior levels and is keen to do so.

Unconscious bias training

When it comes to wider issues of inclusion, McDonald’s has collaborated with independent experts to develop unconscious bias training specifically tailored to the business. In 2019, all office staff attended this training. Since then the training has formed part of its ongoing learning and development programme for managers. The workshops aim to help managers understand their own unconscious biases, the impact these may have in the workplace and how to overcome them. It is a global programme, but McDonald’s UK have localised it. The company also provides follow-up workshops that focus on developing a sense of belonging.

Zoey says addressing bias needs to be a continuous process with enough time given for any education sessions to become embedded through wider cultural changes.

McDonald’s is not just working internally on diversity and inclusion. Through its sponsorship of industry-wide diversity initiatives and events, as well as the Women in Business and Tech Expo 2021, it hopes to encourage wider change. This external-facing work runs alongside special internal events such as its International Women’s Day celebrations when employees are encouraged to share their stories, access resources and attend coffee chats and a global international Women’s Day Celebration Webcast. Zoey says it is not just the right thing to do, but it makes business sense as it helps to get the message out that McDonald’s is an equal opportunity employer.

The company will overhaul its recruitment site later this year and will share stories from its diverse range of employees and information about its policies, including family friendly policies. Pre-Covid the company enhanced its maternity pay, increasing the period during which employees receive their full salary from eight weeks to 13. The scheme has also been widened to include salaried employees who have worked for McDonald’s for at least a year.

A menopause policy has also been introduced and there will be a series of related events for employees to learn more about this subject.

Last year McDonald’s also held a working parents coffee chat which was open to all 500 office employees, giving them an opportunity to spend time talking and discussing the challenges of being a working parent, the impact of Covid on families and what support they would like to see from McDonald’s. The actions from this meeting were used to help support parents during the unique circumstances of the pandemic, with guidance being developed on working practices, homeschooling and childcare.

Underrepresented groups

In addition to its support for women, ethnic minorities and working parents, McDonald’s also has a range of other innovative initiatives that it is working on which aim to help underrepresented groups. It is also about to launch a pilot Spear programme in partnership with a charitable employment company Resurgo. Resurgo and McDonald’s share a belief that young people are a source of untapped talent and ability. The Spear Programme is a year-long programme that equips and supports 16- to 24-year-olds facing serious barriers to employment to find and keep long-term employment or enter further education.

The programme uses executive coaching techniques and focuses primarily on the attitudinal and behavioural patterns that can hold people back and aims to equip them with the hard skills they might need in the workplace. “It’s about how we use our space for good,” says Zoey.

*Profiles of all the winners of this year’s WM People Top Employer Awards will be published in our Best Practice Report coming soon.

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