How women are empowering their fellow women at McDonald’s

How women are empowering their fellow women at McDonald’s

 March 09, 2021

On International Women’s Day, McDonald's celebrated the women in its McFamily and their important contributions to McDonald’s success.

Women account for about 54% of McDonald’s total workforce for its staff and in its company-owned restaurants around the globe as of December 2020. They also comprise 31% of global officers at McDonald’s and play vital roles in all sectors of its 3-legged stool.

For McDonald's, International Women's Day is a reminder to take action and collectively do our part to accelerate gender.

McDonald's Global Senior Leadership Team recently pledged to increase women in leadership roles to 45% globally by the end of 2025, with a goal of reaching gender parity by the end of 2030.

McDonald's enthusiastically support this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, #ChooseToChallenge, which underscores how everyone at McDonald’s must work to forge an inclusive world that reflects its values.

Hear from women from across the McDonald’s system on topics including gender bias, challenging stereotypes and what businesses can do (or have done) to help change the status quo.

Mahrukh Hussain, Vice President, Interim General Counsel

International Women's Day

What is an assumption or bias that women in your field may encounter?

The legal industry is not immune to gender and racial bias. The effect has been that women and minorities reach senior positions at a lower rate and have a higher rate of attrition from the legal profession. One of the challenges with bias is that many people, including decision-makers such as managers and leaders, think they don’t have it. How do you fight against something that people don’t even think is an issue? Part of my work as a leader is to raise awareness about individual bias – we all have it: you, me, everyone. The first steps in fighting against bias are to acknowledge it in ourselves, and seek to understand it. Once we understand our biases, only then can we contemplate how to mitigate those biases so that they aren’t unfairly impacting others.

In the spirit of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, how do you open doors for women and “choose to challenge” gender inequity?

One of the wonderful things about McDonald’s Legal is that we have a long history of opening doors for women. Today, our Legal Department is well over 50% women, and this isn’t something that happened overnight. Our former General Counsel, Gloria Santona, made the hiring, promotion and retention of women a priority for many years. Today we have women in the room for every major decision we make, and that presence is key to our continuing success in opening doors and challenging gender inequity.  

Tiffany Boyd, US Chief People Officer 

Tiffany Boyd, US Chief People Officer

What is an assumption or bias that women in your field may encounter?

Women in the field of Human Resources can be stereotyped as not business-oriented or unable to balance employee advocacy and business relevance.  I am able to do both.

In the spirit of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, how do you open doors for women  and “choose to challenge” gender inequity?

I feel fortunate that my job puts me in a position to directly advocate for women’s advancement, implement policies that support women’s needs, and create a culture that embraces the difference in all of us.

Meghan Swan, VP, J.R. Simplot Company, Supplier

What is an assumption or bias that women in your field may encounter?

I think all too often assumptions are made for women, or without real input or discussion with women, on issues related to family/children/etc. vs. career progression.  

In the spirit of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, how do you open doors for women  and “choose to challenge” gender inequity?

For me it is such a statement of empowerment and a great reminder that it is all of our responsibilities to actively engage in the change we want to see. We can’t leave that work for someone else. We each need to stand up and  participate; use our voice when we see inequity or recognize we are not living up to our values. It is my responsibility to not only work for my own equity but to actively support and bring women and all areas of diversity along with me. The buck stops with me and I hold myself personally accountable, I will not accept the status quo.

How can companies like McDonald’s support women and help them become leaders?

Opportunity, education and support are essential. Additionally, it is important to recognize we all need great leadership examples, female and male, as well as mentors to lead the way and foster the next generation of female leaders. McDonald’s is in such a great position of influence and it is a wonderful opportunity to be the example of what is possible.

Frauke Petersen-Hanson, Owner/Operator, Hamburg, Germany

Frauke Petersen-Hanson

In the spirit of this year's International Women's day theme, how do you open doors for women and "choose to challenge" gender inequity?

I choose to challenge gender inequity by encouraging all women in my organization to dare to aspire to leadership positions and by networking with my peers to share experiences and solutions to common challenges.

Muriel Powell, Owner/Operator, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

How can companies like McDonald's support women and help them become leaders?

Companies have a responsibility and opportunity to be at the forefront in supporting all employees to be their best selves. Given the significant inequities apparent in corporations, senior leadership must establish metrics and foster a culture that promotes equity in the advancement and recognition of women. Leaders at all levels must be educated and enlightened to eliminate barriers and obstacles that hinder women from reaching their full potential. Best-in-class, people-driven companies are intentional to ensure women have support and a platform to thrive. They recognize that full inclusion is not only a competitive advantage, but a social responsibility.

Ofelia Kumpf, Global Women’s Leadership Network, U.S. Chair Long Beach Field Vice President, McDonald’s USA

Ofelia Kumpf, Global Women’s Leadership Network, U.S. Chair Long Beach Field Vice President, McDonald’s USA

What is an assumption or bias that women in your field may encounter?

Women often have to prove themselves over and over and over again, especially women of color.  

Second is the tightrope. They have to walk a tightrope between being seen likeable enough to be heard, while navigating and being stern enough, but, not too much where they are perceived as “difficult” and therefore not likeable.

Motherhood often triggers assumptions that women are less competent and not as committed at work. This “Maternal Wall” is one of the strongest biases women face, and even women without children can be affected.

In the spirit of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, how do you open doors for women and “choose to challenge” gender inequity?

As a woman and the mother of a daughter, I‘m passionate about achieving gender equality. As a leader, I see it as my responsibility to use my position to increase opportunities for others. As the GWLN U.S. Chair, I’m committed to having authentic conversations around gender, race and equity. Our upcoming Women of Color Speaker Series in March aims to do just that.

For so long, the answer to inequity, particularly gender inequity, has been mentoring – and that is critical, especially for younger people who are just starting out. Being able to learn from someone – how to do your job better and why working harder and smarter makes a difference – is essential in your early career.

However, when it comes to equity, we need champions and advocates, people who can propel others to the next stage. When you hear about the next big project or opportunity, I make the conscious effort to be the advocate for the woman who has been overlooked. By opening the door for someone else, you are investing in the next generation of leaders.

How can companies like McDonald’s support women and help them become leaders?

Organizations can challenge the status quo to create an environment where women can achieve their potential in three ways:

1. Pay and benefits attract, but it takes more to make women stay

Work and personal life are no longer mutually exclusive, they are intrinsically linked. The next generation wants challenging work, skill development and flexibility. The good news – companies that help people work when, where and how it suits them won’t just appeal to women. We're increasingly seeing what works for women works for men too, particularly younger workers who expect to spend more time with family, travelling or learning new skills.

2. Focus on succession

Succession needs to be top priority. Women make up half of the world’s talent pool. In the US, 50.2% of the college-educated labor force is made up of women. They have long eclipsed men in earning college degrees, yet women still only hold 25% of leadership roles. Plain and simple, an all-male succession simply won’t cut it.

Companies need to break down gendered career paths, so women don’t get stuck in job silos that are historically female like communications, HR and other support roles.

To accelerate women into leadership starts with questioning what is truly required to climb the corporate ladder. Is an extensive finance or marketing career needed to be a successful general manager? Flip the question and ask how it could work, not why it doesn’t. Be explicit where we can help women obtain the skills and experience to manage and drive the business in technical and operational positions.

3. Commitment to inclusion

While women and men enter the workforce in roughly equal numbers, women fall behind in promotions from the very first step on the management ladder. As leaders, we all need to demonstrate this is a business priority – by what we say, what we do, what we measure and how we lead.

We’ve seen plenty of companies spend time planning how they will hire more diverse workers without a clear plan to develop and keep them. Creating an inclusive environment where everyone wants to continue working is more than just hiring practices, it’s an ongoing environment where everyone brings their whole self to work each day and feels valued, heard and able to make an impact.

The single most powerful thing an organization can do to promote more women leaders is to create a culture of “Conscious Inclusion” – building the desire, insight and capacity of people to make decisions. Lead, think and act with the conscious intent of including everyone.

Shammara Howell, VP, Chief Talent Officer

What is an assumption or bias that women developing their careers may encounter?

Being an organization of our size comes with vast career opportunities on a global scale. Companies that can truly offer leaders purposeful career experiences around the world have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent. With that said, bias can come in and assumptions can be quickly formed about a woman’s desire to relocate her family or take on a role with increased travel responsibilities. It is critical that we recognize when this happens and ask ourselves, “Would we be making those same assumptions if it was a male leader in our organization?” Ensuring we are inquiring and aligning around everyone’s career aspirations will help eliminate these assumptions as they arise.

In the spirit of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, how do you open doors for women and “choose to challenge” gender inequality?

It is done through awareness, courageous leadership and giving back! We must be aware and informed where gender inequalities exist, whether that is in how we compensate women, how we think about the initiatives they work on or the advancement opportunities available. We must be courageous in our words and, more importantly, in our actions to ensure we speak up when we see bias in our practices such as hiring, assessment and in talent discussions. Lastly, as a leader, I have to carve out time to give back! I have always appreciated an amazing mentor, but sponsorship is key! I must ensure I am intentionally taking a role where I advocate for women leaders (sponsorship).

How can companies like McDonald’s support women and help them become leaders?

Post COVID, women are leaving the workforce at an unprecedented rate because they feel they do not have “choice” between personal obligations and the demands of work. As an organization, we must be on the leading edge of how we empower women to make the best decisions for themselves, however we must innovate ways of working that preserve their ability to be amazing leaders in our organization, while also meeting personal obligations.

Jenny McColloch, Chief Sustainability Officer

We’re seeing a surge of women leaders across the sustainability sector. Why is this a positive development and what do you think it signals for the future?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made,” and that applies perfectly in this space. We know that impacts from climate change disproportionately affect women and girls around the world, especially in communities of color, so it’s both critically important and no surprise that we’re seeing strong representation from women in climate leadership circles – whether that’s the boardroom, the policy table, or the frontlines of climate advocacy. It gives me confidence and optimism for our collective futures.

Lately I’ve been enjoying All We Can Save, the fantastic collection of essays from women at the forefront of the climate movement, edited by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Katharine Wilkinson. I can’t recommend this book enough! The introduction includes a great discussion on how more ‘traditionally female’ leadership characteristics are helping to scale positive impact for the planet.

All that said, I have the privilege to work with inspiring leaders across genders who are shaping our sustainability path, and I’m grateful for the range of perspectives across our McDonald’s teams and partners.

Elena Smith, Data Scientist, Data and Analytics Hub

What is an assumption or bias that women in your field, technology, may encounter?

We must acknowledge that some people in our society continue to be blinded by the assumption that men are better scientists and computer programmers. For example, a 2017 study showed that open-source software enhancements written by women were less likely to be approved than those written by men. The persistence of gender bias means that women, and especially women of color, may feel less fulfilled at work. Our society also suffers when we miss an opportunity to innovate by overlooking women.

Danielle Harris, Field People Officer

In the spirit of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, how do you open doors for women and “choose to challenge” gender inequity?

First, I do think there is a common misconception that inequity is the same as inequality. The best way I have been able to explain it is that if equality is the end goal then equity is the means to get there. With inequity, we should focus on the respective needs of women. As a member of the Human Resources team, I am very grateful to help lead and construct our local talent strategy - ensuring that women are given the same opportunities to thrive in stretch assignments as their male counterparts. It is important that we continue to give women leadership roles where they can truly thrive and build a culture of opening the door for the next woman to come through. It is a fact that women control just half of the overall wealth in the US, yet the leadership of Fortune 500 companies does not reflect that. Therefore, I choose to challenge gender inequity by educating others that we cannot wait for the system to fix itself. We have to get out in front and continuously act when there is a disparity in the means for a female employee to be successful versus her male employee counterpart.

How can companies like McDonald’s support women and help them become leaders?

I believe companies like McDonald’s have to support women differently – by this, I mean enacting policies to support women and working parents. I think 2020 showed how hard it can be for families to focus solely on work when children are at home or elder family members need to be taken care of. From offering flexible work schedules, to extended maternity leave or career relaunch programs for women who have decided to leave the workforce to care for a loved one. These types of offerings help close the inequity gap and given women the reassurance that they will be able to balance their career and family. And of course, companies can help women become leaders by putting more women in leadership roles. When women see female leaders, they see themselves and are more inclined to believe that they too can get to that level.

Chelsea Miles, Third generation, Owner/Operator, Texas, USA


Chelsea, whose grandfather was an owner/operator, helps oversee her mother’s 7 restaurants. She and her husband, Jonathan – two of the youngest owner/operators to ever join the System – are in the process of securing their own restaurant. 

What is an assumption or bias that women in your field may encounter? 

That women cannot run a store like a man can.  

In the spirit of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, how do you open doors for women and “choose to challenge” gender inequity? 

I always make sure women in power positions are receiving the respect they deserve. I do check-in's to make sure they are being respected in the workplace and offer any advice I can.  

How can companies like McDonald’s support women and help them become leaders? 

Taking a risk and doing what's right. 

Jordan F., Department Manager, Australia

Jordan earned a degree in sustainability and has already had the opportunity to apply her knowledge toward sustainability initiatives at McDonald’s.  

How has McDonald’s supported you?

I continued working at McDonald’s throughout my time at university. I’m so glad the management team at my restaurant encouraged me to keep up with my coursework and earn my degree. Truthfully, they helped me push myself to limits I didn’t think I could reach.

April L., General Manager, Singapore

How has McDonald’s impacted your life?

Joining McDonald’s has been life-changing for me, and I hope to pay it forward by encouraging other restaurant workers to pursue their educations and hone their leadership skills. It’s empowering to have achieved success at a young age, and I want others to know they can do this, too.

Rainer G., Business Manager, United Kingdom

How has McDonald’s supported you?

More than anything, McDonald’s has truly given me confidence and encouraged me to put myself out there. I’m excited to continue to grow as a leader and a person at McDonald’s.

Santrice “Star” R, Shift Manager, Alabama, USA

After starting her job at McDonald’s, Santrice tragically lost her mother and husband. She has persevered in supporting her family and advancing in her job at McDonald’s, even while aspiring to help others by opening a boarding home. 

How has McDonald’s inspired you?

I’d see people coming into the restaurant, maybe they were homeless, or in a boarding home, and they might want food or coffee, and I thought, “Star, you need to do something to help your community.” Looking out for people who need more help – that motivates me more than anything.

Diana L., Crew member, Costa Rica

Diagnosed with dwarfism as a child, Diana struggled to find work but discovered her second family as a McDonald’s crew member.

How has McDonald’s impacted your life?

I'm a very independent woman, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come.

Work alongside these successful women at McDonald's

McDonald’s Better Together: Gender Balance & Diversity strategy aims to improve women’s representation and gender equality in career advancement. 

The company is also committed to inspiring workplaces where everyone – from crew to c-suite – is equally supported and empowered to realize their full potential.

Realize your full potential with a career at McDonald's.


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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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