Montgomery Business Journal

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Q&A with Pat Harris

Dividends through Diversity

September 2014

Interview by David Zaslawsky

Montgomery Business Journal: What does diversity mean to you?

Harris: Simply put, diversity is a celebration of all the things that make us different, including race, gender, backgrounds, experiences and more. 

Why is it important to have a diverse work force?

It’s important to have a diverse workforce because diversity and inclusion makes our organization stronger and more successful. 

How does diversity/inclusion accomplish that?

This is accomplished through leaders that build diverse teams because they make sure everyone feels included based on what they bring to the table. By utilizing diverse backgrounds, experience, and – perhaps most importantly – creating an environment that allows everyone to contribute equally, the groundwork is set for maximum impact. 

Don’t you need to have a diverse work force to understand a diverse customer base?

It certainly helps to have a diverse work force that reflects the diversity of the customer base. Understanding the diversity of customers helps your business grow.

Do businesses now get it?

No, unfortunately not all businesses get it. Oftentimes, some companies “check off the boxes” in terms of hiring women and people of color. However, the most important thing an organization can do beyond simply hiring diverse individuals is listen and learn from their different perspectives. Please talk about the importance of engaging a diverse work force? It’s critical to engage and listen to all your employees. The different perspectives, ideas and input will only help the organization become better and more prosperous.

Do you have some tips for senior management and supervisors to become better listeners and engage all employees?

McDonald’s employee business networks and employee resource groups are both initiatives that effectively engage employees. Furthermore, diversity roundtables and listening sessions can also be effective ways to listen and dialogue with employees to gain further insights.

You wrote in The Washington Post, “We have learned through the years that the more voices we hear in developing our strategies, the more sound our decisions are.” Please elaborate.

When we engage all our employees in developing strategies, the different perspectives and ideas are powerful in implementing the right solutions for our organization.

Would you give some examples of how listening to employees lead to new policies?

Actively listening to employees allows for idea sharing on products, benefits and other policies that help make the organization better.

Please talk about how diversity impacts employee productivity.

When employees feel valued and respected, they are more productive, contribute more and in turn, feel better about the organization.

Doesn’t diversity make good business sense because you can better understand your customer base, which leads to an increased customer base?

When you understand your customer base, it helps you determine a strategy to help satisfy them in terms of creating a memorable, relatable experience that increases future visits.

How can small businesses – 25 or fewer employees – become more diverse?

As is the case with large corporations, they can demonstrate that they have created and foster a diverse and inclusive work environment. When people know a company encourages and supports that type of environment, they will want to work for that particular organization regardless of its size.

You wrote a book — None Of Us Is As Good As All Of Us. You said the book is “important because there are so many others who can benefit from our experience.” Please elaborate.

McDonald’s has a unique story to tell about the evolution of diversity within our company that is different from most corporations. We think it’s important to share this story for the benefit of others.

Would you provide a couple of examples that companies can learn from McDonald’s experience?

One priority is ensuring that diversity is fully integrated in the daily business environment, meaning everyone “owns” diversity and inclusion. Also, making education a priority is essential. People must be educated so they understand why diversity and inclusion is actually a business driver and not just a nice thing to do or a talking point.

Please talk about the key role of senior leadership on diversity and inclusion?

The role of senior leadership is about commitment and accountability. They must demonstrate and communicate their commitment and hold other leaders accountable for supporting diversity and inclusion.

In your book you talk about the importance of training and education. Please elaborate.

Education is key, and one of McDonald’s success factors lies in our evolution. Most companies want to do the right thing, but they often don’t know where or how to begin. Diversity education helps create an environment that encourages conversations that help employees talk about things that make them uncomfortable in the workplace. Education creates the environment that makes this possible. The third element is creating networks.

What are those networks and why are they important?

Our seven employee business networks are important because they are the best way to engage all our employees in the business beyond their daily responsibilities. They also provide an opportunity to gain insights from employees of all backgrounds. Our employees are excellent brand ambassadors as they live in the communities where our restaurants are located. These networks are just one way that McDonald’s helps foster a work force that is proud to work for the company.

Please talk about why those three elements are not “temporary programs” but a part of every business cycle.

A key to ensuring diversity and inclusion success is to not look at it as a program. Diversity and inclusion must be integrated in the business, where everyone shares accountability.

The theme of the Chamber’s seventh annual Diversity Summit is “A Clear and Present Opportunity.” What does that mean to you?

It means we have a clear and present opportunity to do the right thing – now is the time! It could also mean that we need to be clear about the opportunities that are present today to better understand diversity and inclusion and its impact on the business community moving forward.

Talk about the importance of the Chamber’s Diversity Summit and how it impacts attendees.

Participation in the Chamber’s Diversity Summit is just another important way to educate the attendees on the impact diversity has on their business and society at large.

How do you lead today’s more diverse workplace?

I have a team that provides diversity and inclusion support and resources to the leaders of our organization across the world. We create leaders and they know we’re there to support them in every way.

Please talk about diversity in terms of skill sets.

It’s about leadership, commitment and understanding what will make your organization better because of the differences that exist amongst individuals in the workforce.

Talk about diversity/inclusion and how that relates to hiring and retaining top talent?

One should understand that hiring and retaining top talent doesn’t change when you talk about diversity. It’s a mindset; I know my team will be better and stronger because I’m hiring the best talent from diverse backgrounds.

Has there been somewhat of a diversity shift from perhaps race and gender to age (millennials) and what that means for companies?

It’s all about inclusion and we should understand that age demographics are essential in the workplace and must be respected and viewed as another dimension of diversity.

Please talk about the dynamic of baby boomers supervising millennials.

The dynamics are pretty simple, as it’s all about inclusion. Whether baby boomers are supervising millennials or millennials are supervising baby boomers – feeling respected and valued is paramount for all employees regardless of their differences.

What does diversity and inclusion look like five years from now?

Diversity and inclusion is constantly evolving; I’m not sure what it will look like in five years, but I do know that it will be different.

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