McDonald's marketing boss: tackle unconscious bias to create a virtuous circle of women's leadership
A view from Emily Somers

McDonald's marketing boss: tackle unconscious bias to create a virtuous circle of women's leadership

McDonald's vice-president marketing and food development explains why technology is allowing the brand to be more human than ever.

It’s never been a more exciting time to be a populist brand

I’m excited by the emergence of new ways to deliver the populist campaigns which are crucial for an inclusive brand like McDonald’s, meaning that we can now create ideas that not only appeal to everyone, but also appeal to each one of us as individuals.

The broadcast reach and power of TV (or more broadly AV) is still unmatched to deliver emotional engagement en-masse. But there are also some fantastic opportunities offered by all traditional media as they digitise - meaning there are new and innovative ways to engage audiences with more timely, targeted, relevant messaging.

As we evolve our offering and enable customers to transact digitally with our brand, our broadcast media partners are also evolving, to unlock the power of addressable advertising at scale.

This is opening up new forms of creativity allowing brands to enjoy the best of both worlds - where populism meets personalisation.

Make sure you don’t make your brand so frictionless that it disappears

Technology is transforming our business, like so many others. Offering us valuable ways to make customer experiences simpler, slicker and more seamless – but it’s also important to create real and human experiences, which connect and engage with our audiences.

Some retailers may be tempted to strip out the human-element of their business as they chase cost savings.

For us, it is different – people are at the very heart of what we do. Yes, we are rolling out kiosk ordering points and remote ordering via an app to make life ever more convenient. But at the same time we are investing in enhancing the customer experience, and with that comes investing in our people and transforming roles – with restaurant teams that are focused on hospitality, and with table service.

It may surprise some people to learn that with our digitisation in restaurants we are now employing more people than ever, creating another 1,000 manager positions this year.

Let’s tackle unconscious bias to create a virtuous circle of women’s leadership

There’s a growing sense that gender equality in the workplace is the right thing. I’m keen businesses also recognise that it’s the smart thing.

Research shows that companies with 30% of women on their board fare better in periods of economic volatility than companies with only 10%. McKinsey reports that women outperform men on measures of motivating others, fostering communication and producing high-quality work. All important in the boardroom and beyond.

But unconscious bias can hold companies back. All too often businesses show insufficient belief in the potential of women. Even if they are unaware of what they are doing. They show unconscious bias in hiring, in promotions, in opportunities.

These working cultures then undermine women’s self-belief, creating a vicious circle. Now is the time for us to break this cycle and create a virtuous circle.

How? By disturbing complacency. By making the unconscious conscious. By challenging received wisdom. Let’s get the evidence out there. Let’s train men and women alike about unconscious bias. And let’s create a virtuous circle that could be a much-needed engine of dynamism in our creative industries.

Be yourself, but with skill

Happily enough, given what I’ve just written, one of the most encouraging voices in my career has been a man’s. When he hired me Paul (Pomroy, McDonald’s UK CEO) was keen to tell me that I must make sure I keep being me. It was liberating and empowering.

I’ve realised since that there’s an important addition to this imperative to be yourself. You need to do so with real thoughtfulness.

Recognise your limitations as well as your strengths. And recognise how you, or those around you, can mitigate those limitations (surrounding yourself with talented people is definitely key to success). Pause and reflect on which part of your personality you’ll play to in any given situation.

Yes you need to be yourself. But you need to be yourself with skill.

If you see it, call it

Culture matters. How people work matters. McDonald’s has a working culture of decency, respect and fun, which suits me down to the ground.

Importantly, I don’t think there’s any contradiction between treating people with respect and being open and honest with feedback. Even when it’s hard. You have to call out both good and bad behaviour. If you see it, call it.

Emily Somers is vice president marketing & food development at McDonald's UK and a member of Campaign’s Power 100.