Beyond Flipping Burgers

When Meredith Moore started her new job in 2006, “there was a lot of excitement from family and friends,” she says—which was new. After all, her previous jobs had been in finance. “In finance, when you try to explain what you do, people just say ‘whatever’—they don’t understand it.”

But when she became a communications manager at McDonald’s, suddenly the first 30 minutes of any family visit was all about Mickey D’s. “They would ask me stuff like, ‘Why does Filet o’ Fish have a half slice of cheese?’ Or, they’d request Happy Meal toys, or—the best—‘Why don’t you put your cousin in a commercial?’”

While Moore has no control over commercials or cheese, she does have, in some sense, bigger fish to fry. Now, as one of two directors of external relations and brand outreach, she plays a role in managing McDonald’s diversity program, contribution programs, and relationships with nonprofits. Unlike some companies where diversity is still in its early stages, McDonald’s has gotten plenty of recognition for its diversity over the years. The company has been listed among the Top Places for Minorities to Work in Fortune magazine and a Top 10 Diversity Champion at Working Mother magazine. Today, 37 percent of all McDonald’s franchises are owned by women or minorities.

What’s left to do? Diversity Woman talked to Moore about living with the Golden Arches and making the most of its global reach.

Diversity Woman: Coming from finance, what prepared you for your work in outreach?

Meredith Moore: Growing up in Minneapolis, I was able to travel a lot because of my father’s work, and my mom was a philanthropist. So I grew up with a greater appreciation of the idea that you have so that you can give—not just so you can keep.

DW: How much can McDonaldís, as a huge for-profit company, embrace that philosophy?

MM: McDonald’s has become a part of our heritage in America, and when you think about the reach of McDonald’s—not just 1.6 million employees, but also suppliers and customers—we have a role to sustain them. So we’re supporting the people who have always supported us. At the end of the day, we have to do the best thing for the brand and the country while maintaining a for-profit corporation, so we don’t get into anything religious or political.

DW: How do you do that?

MM: We try to keep things family oriented. In the past year, we’ve supported the Illinois Holocaust Museum and a friendship park. It’s a way for kids to learn about the Holocaust, talk about bullying and advocacy, and think about right and wrong.

DW: How did growing up in Minneapolis shape your views on diversity?

MM: It was a predominantly white city. At the time, a newspaper said we were the whitest city with a black mayor, Sharon Sales Belton. I’m grateful for that experience, though, because it fostered my communication skills. I had to explain things that others take for granted—like why I couldn’t go swimming in the winter, because my hair wouldn’t dry before recess when it was so cold.

And the African-American community in Minneapolis was so tight. It was a big family—we looked out for each other, and I know that I have a whole team back home that is rooting for me to succeed but will still love me if I fall short. We also had a large immigrant community—Hmongs, Mexicans, and Somalians—so I grew up tutoring ESL at local community homes. It taught me that the success of the city was intricately tied to the success of our communities, and it really cemented my respect for other cultures.

DW: McDonald’s would seem to have a solid handle on creating workplace diversity. Whatís left to improve?

MM:  We have an aging population here in the U.S. offices and potentially have a lot of people leaving at one time. So, there’s a fear about a transfer of knowledge—how do you make sure those people are on a pipeline to the 20- or 30-year-olds? You have Boomers to share info, but you also have to have Millennials to listen to it.

DW: How do you combat that problem?

MM: In recruiting, we try to illustrate to the public all that can be accomplished at McDonald’s. I’m just one example: in five years, I’ve been promoted from a supervisor to a manager to a director, had the support to finish my master’s at Northwestern, and have consistently felt challenged with no two days being alike. But we also have a great story of people coming up through the restaurant. Our very own Jan Fields [president of McDonald’s USA] started in a restaurant as a single mom just looking for flexible hours, and now she leads more than 14,000 restaurants in the United States.

DW: How do you get the generations talking to each other?

MM: The best way is through mentoring—both formal and informal. We have an online mentoring program that allows you to find mentors or mentees based on different selection criteria. But I’ve also had success meeting someone in the hallway who asked me where I got my hair done. She and I struck up a casual conversation and she’s been an amazing guiding light for me. She’s been an executive assistant for more than 30 years and she’s helped me navigate through a lot of potential pitfalls that I would not have seen otherwise. The most important thing is to have an interest and to have the patience to share your perspective.

DW: At 29 yourself, are you sometimes the youngest person in the room?

MM: Yes, I’m always the youngest person in the room. I am the third child, and my mom was 41 when she had me, so I’ve always been the youngest in the room. It’s never really bothered me. I feel if you’re capable, age doesn’t matter.

DW: Part of your job involves travel. Is being away from home so much hard, or is it still an adventure?

MM: I travel about 70 percent of the time, but I’m not married, and I don’t have kids. When I travel, I try to take extra time—getting there a day early, or staying a day late, so it’s not like I went all the way to Japan and just saw the Hilton. I like to go walk around, assuming it’s safe to do so, and experience the place as an individual. That seems to help with jet lag, too.

DW: How are the diversity goals different overseas?

MM: A lot of what we’re doing is about women—making sure women get education and mentoring so they can excel into leadership positions, especially in Asia and Europe. In May of last year, we did a women’s summit in Beijing, and I stayed three weeks. It was interesting to get to know the other women.

DW: What did you learn?

MM: In China, the easiest way to get the women to talk was to go to a spa—that goes across borders. Everybody needs to get their nails done. It reminds you that we’re all the same.

DW: What two books are on your bedside table?

MM: I love fiction, and Barcelona is my favorite city, so my friend hooked me on Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I read The Shadow of the Wind and now I’m working on The Angel’s Game. They are great books to get lost in.

The other book is one I am rereading for the fifth time: Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell. It was required reading for my first job, and I highly recommend it for young professionals entering the workforce. It’s one of the best lessons I’ve learned—how to learn from a failure, instead of being defeated by it. DW

Katrina Brown Hunt is a DW contributing writer.


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