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McDonald's Supersizes Diversity

A McDonalds sign welcomes patrons into the restaurant in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007. McDonald's Corp., the world's largest fast-food chain, says its fourth-quarter profit more than doubled, thanks in large part to the spinoff of a burrito chain and strong sales in Europe. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner)
Chris Gardner
A McDonalds sign welcomes patrons into the restaurant in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007. McDonald's Corp., the world's largest fast-food chain, says its fourth-quarter profit more than doubled, thanks in large part to the spinoff of a burrito chain and strong sales in Europe. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner)

At McDonald's, diversity began as a PR initiative.

Transitioning from advertising gimmicks to a strategic vision meant not only leveraging its multicultural customer base but also an emphasized commitment from the management team.

For McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner, leadership development and talent management are two of his top three priorities today, a testament to the long road traveled by the world's largest fast-food chain.

Becoming a leader in diversity recruitment and development has not been an easy task for a company that serves 56 million customers everyday across 118 countries. But it has required a vision that places diversity central to every element of the workplace and product line by Global Chief Diversity Officer Pat Harris.

Today, Harris heads the inclusion and diversity department, which expanded internationally last year, encompassing several teams in its present form. At a benchmarking event held at Hamburger University in Chicago last week, the team discussed how an emphasized strategy on companywide diversity is boosting the company's long term sustainability. The event was open to select outsiders and according to Diversity Director Kevin Bradley, was in direct response to several requests for benchmarking their progress in diversity recruitment and retention.

McDonald's has had its share of challenges in recent years, most notable for constant attacks against its high-calorie menu. Campaigns like Eric Schlosser's 2001 book FastFood Nation and Morgan Spurlock's 2004 movie Supersize Me added further ammunition. These public outcries invited scrutiny to internal practices and a company culture that many alleged didn’t emphasize enough on nutritional and safety issues. They also weren't attracting credentialed talent.

And so the company initiated a complete cultural change. While Hamburger University is almost 50 years old, a new training and development program was setup not only to mentor restaurant crew but also to emphasize leadership development and identify high potential employees. They also hired a nutrition director—a former clinical dietician—to keep consumers informed and engaged on the dietary elements of its products.

Of course, evolving from a PR campaign to a strategic hiring strategy took years to implement. However, once Harris got the C-suite to prioritize diversity, the progress became distinctly easier. In fact, the multiculturalism and varied job profiles of her present team are a testament to her work for the past 34 years at McDonald's. From a senior management team that was predominantly white and male, women and people of color make up 73% of the company's total workforce today.

And today the many members of the inclusion and diversity team present a unified message: Ensuring a sustained talent pool within the organization led by a top-down commitment to diversity recruitment and leadership development. One that expands to supply chain, nutrition, community involvement, corporate responsibility as well as external branding.

For a department that started as the affirmative action team in the mid-1970s, its duties today touch every employee at McDonald's. Can your company show off such inclusiveness?

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Aman Singh is the Corporate Responsibility Editor at Vault.com and the author of Vault's CSR blog: In Good Company. She is a New York University alum and previously wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Her area of work includes corporate diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at companies. Connect with her on Twitter @VaultCSR.

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