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McDonalds CEO on how to achieve 50 per cent gender balance from entry level to the exec team

catariona_nobleThis week I spent a morning with Catriona Noble, CEO of McDonalds Australia, gathering insights for my new “how to” book for leaders wishing to attract, develop and retain more women in their business.  You might be surprised to hear that the “Golden Arches” employ a workforce of 85,000 individuals here; across 820 restaurants with annual turnover of $3billion; and holds 20% of the take away market – serving over 1 million customers a day.  Even more surprising is that – at every level of the organisation from entry level to Noble’s executive team to the Board – women hold 50% of roles.  So how could your business do the same?
Without giving away all the secrets (you’ll have a chance to read the book in due course to find that out!), the McDonalds gender balance success story is driven all the way from the top and is well considered.  Chatting with Noble it’s clear that the McDonalds culture embodies is a profound empathy and understanding for the challenges women face in promoting themselves, putting themselves forward and managing the ever present conflicts in their lives.
Noble herself has been the beneficiary of this culture that encourages and supports women – having been promoted into a key role when she was just 3 months pregnant with her second child.  She now leads the charge, citing examples of flexible work practices she has personally approved for men and women in line with each individual’s workstyle, strengths and personal requirements; of senior roles redesigned to match the skill sets of high potential talent; and of an expectation that individuals can have flexibility in their work patterns but not in their outcomes.
This last point is perhaps the most prescient: flexibility is embraced within the organisation because there is an understanding within all ranks that it’s not an either/or scenario: there is an understanding that business outcomes must not suffer as a result.  So as long as staff are accountable and continue to deliver results despite variations in their work arrangements, everyone is happy.
And the parting advice from Noble on what others could learn from the McDonalds experience?  That even when you’ve achieved gender balance, the focus must remain on consciously promoting women throughout the business.  This is because, according to Noble, “on the whole, women are and always will be less likely to blow their own trumpet and self-identify for opportunities”.  Keeping this front of mind ensures women can be mapped and sponsored into suitable roles in the business.

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