On day one of Spectra, a reputation management-focused online conference, Golin’s Vice Chairman Ellen Ryan Mardiks engaged in conversation with Heather Woodard, Director for Multicultural PR and Brand Engagement, McDonald’s USA. They discussed issues around equity, diversity and inclusion, the way things are currently functioning in society and how McDonald’s is addressing them.
They began their talk by referring to the twin pandemics – the health-related COVID-19, and the other one that’s related to social justice sparked by the death of George Floyd while he was in police custody in June 2020. Mardiks asked Woodard about the conversations at McDonald’s in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
Woodard said, “I can tell you about one of the several conversations; this one was between the communication and marketing teams. They were charged with facing and then acting upon our plan to respond. The first thing we did, given the fact that we have 14,000 restaurants through the country in many communities around the country including Minneapolis which was ground zero, our priority was making sure that our crew and customers were safe. Thereafter, we thought about our external response. We first listened before making a statement that was demonstrative of our stand with Black Americans who are the subject of injustices like in the case of George Floyd.”
She explained that the conversations were about what we could do and needed to do to show support for McDonald’s people – employees and customers – who are largely black and brown. “I can say that I’m really proud of the statement that we made and that ultimate stand with Black Americans,” he said.
Mardiks then asked Woodard whether the company’s response was taken at face value or whether it was criticised like some others for empty words.
Woodard stated that the brand’s actions were accepted. She elaborated, “With any big action, there are going to be haters. Fortunately, we had a lot of supporters. The conversations that took place internally weren’t just about what our statement would be but what our actions would be. In addition to the statement, we also donated to organisations that were aligned with our statements and causes related to social justice. I think it’s what we do and who we are as a brand. Authenticity makes a difference.”
Diversity, inclusion and equity definitions
Golin’s Mardiks then brought up the buzz words in the industry – diversity, inclusion and equity – asking Woodard on what her definitions are for the words.
Woodard explained, “When I started my career, there was only diversity and then there came inclusion and equity. Diversity is about variety in people so that you can have variety in thought. It’s important when you have a diverse customer and employee base. It’s what helps you win at the end of the day. To me, equity means changing structures to ensure an equal playing field. There has to be fairness in access to resources and information, but it’s also about making the people who are responsible for putting those systems in place and getting them to change them. It’s important to make sure people are on the same page to break down barriers and structures to break inequality. And lastly, inclusion is about ensuring diverse perspectives and that these perspectives are represented. I don’t think it’s possible to prioritise just one because they’re all equally important.”
Woodard closed the session by expressing her excitement of diversity’s evolution to ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’. She believes the world needs all of them working together to truly function well.