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Pat Harris, chief diversity officer of McDonald's, spoke with students as part of a series of events to celebrate Black History Month.

McDonald’s strives to embrace global diversity

Black Management Association welcomes company’s chief diversity officer to speak during Black History Month

By Adrienne Murrill

2/19/2007 - Pat Harris has been working for McDonald’s for more than 30 years, and she’s still “lovin’ it.”

The chief diversity officer for the global fast-food restaurant spoke to the Kellogg School’s Black Management Association Feb. 19 as part of a series of events to celebrate Black History Month.

“Selecting Pat Harris to speak at Kellogg was aligned with the BMA's goals for Black History Month activities: to educate the Kellogg community on issues important to members of the BMA, but also to have a much broader impact,” said Kailei Richardson, a 2007 MBA candidate.

With 60 percent of the company’s business based in the U.S., Harris said, McDonald’s encourages diversity to meet the country’s ever-changing demographics. She said the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion sits on a “three-legged stool,” one composed of its employees, owner/operators and suppliers.

Beginning with the staff, Harris explained that an inclusive workforce — one in which all employees feel valued and are culturally sensitive — is key for recruitment and retention. McDonald’s promotes inclusion first by providing access to employee networks in which voluntary members act as a resource and advocate for the employees they represent. These include the Global Women’s Leadership Network, the National Hispanic Network and the McDonald’s African-American Council. Second, the company is a leader in diversity education, which is evident in the numerous awards and recognitions McDonald’s has received.

The fast-food chain, which is 85 percent franchised, also promotes diversity among its owner/operators and suppliers, to whom it provides similar networks for inclusion and advancement.

Harris said that McDonald’s customers fall under the “arches” of the stool. The company strives to use ethnically diverse marketing to reach all consumers. Through the Global Moms Panel, McDonald’s has created a sounding board representing different countries to provide feedback on new products and how the company should market to children.

A challenge as McDonald’s continues to expand globally is to continue its mission of diversity as it moves into areas such as Asia and Latin America, which can have a less diverse customer base. As it moves beyond U.S. borders, that mission includes learning how other cultures define diversity.

Harris said she would like to see McDonald’s diversity and inclusion programs move beyond the obvious areas of race and gender and include those like religion, which is one subject the company has not formally explored.

“Diversity is everyone’s business at McDonald’s,” Harris said. She explained that as the vice president of the global diversity and inclusion department, her team is at the core of franchising, marketing, human resources and all other units of the organization. Each department is responsible for inclusion and diversity, not just hers. “It makes our lives easier, and it makes them accountable for the work we do, bringing recognition to the entire organization.”

When asked where she would like to see her department in 15 years, Harris said she hopes that it has ceased to exist. Her goal is that inclusion becomes automatic in all aspects of the company. “I want to work myself out of a job.”

“Ms. Harris successfully communicated that corporate diversity and inclusion programs are not only for minority groups, but for all employees to feel welcomed and included, regardless of their differences,” Richardson said.