On this International Women's Day, McDonald's and Johnny Walker both have changed their logos. McDonald's flipped the arches upside down at a location to turn them into a W. The scotch brand introduced Jane Walker, a female version of the iconic figure, to preside over the brand for March, which is also Women's History Month.

Greenwashing and pinkwashing refer to brands trying to promote themselves with a veneer of caring about the environment or breast cancer. As with any other social issue, like guns and the NRA, consistency and action are critical. Words aren't enough. The two brands show how different a statement can be.

McDonald's and the upside-down arches

Some people loved the arch flip, as Business Insider noted.

Others were more cynical.

The diversity figures that McDonald's posts on its Inclusion & Diversity corporate webpage are brief, unlike as you find with large tech companies, even when their results are nothing to crow.

In its diversity "quick facts," McDonald's conflates gender and race together. There is 70 percent "women/minority US employees," which includes all the people working in company-owned fast food locations. Women and minorities make up 45 percent of franchise owners (although no way to tell the scale of their operations or if the owner of one location or 20 are counted the same way).

"Leadership," another vague term, is "over 25 percent women/minorities." If women alone, 25 percent would not be impressive. Combined with minority, it is impossible to tell where either stands.

In response to an email I sent the company, someone at McDonald's PR group replied that 60 percent of its U.S. restaurant managers are women and that is "across the system," which means company- and franchisor-owned locations taken all together. It's more figure combination that makes understanding diversity at the company difficult.

I did ask for a breakout by gender and race in employment and management, but the response did not address the question.

You can't pretend diversity is important if you don't provide clear data to show your current state and progress you make over time. This is gender-washing. McDonald's may want to celebrate International Women's Day, but its own employment practices -- and data presentation -- need a lot of work.

Johnny Walker's history and its owner

Diageo, the global beverage brand that owns Johnny Walker, isn't immune from taking some lumps as well. Author Elaine Weiss wrote a New York Times op-ed critical of the company and of the part that alcoholic beverage companies played in fighting against women's suffrage.

A century ago women fought the liquor industry as a menace to public health, accusing the booze business of putting the welfare of women and families in danger by selling so much alcohol to their menfolk. Today a new public health crisis looms, but it's women themselves being willingly seduced to drink more.
Diageo, the maker of Johnny Walker, is betting that a temporary gender reassignment on its label will help cultivate female drinkers, who tend to be "intimidated" by scotch, according to the distiller. But the company professes loftier goals.

It may be that the company wants to attract women to become customers. At the same time, its gender diversity stats are more encouraging. (Because the company is located in the U.K., EU laws would prevent it from showing employment statistics by race.) According to the company, 44 percent of the directors on its board and 40 percent of executive leadership are women.

In its four top leadership tiers, the company has a goal to have 40 percent women by 2025, although it does not offer current levels. Diageo also says, "We are committed to a target of 50% of our graduate intake to be women," although there is no indication of the gender split among all employees

Hardly perfect, but a long shot better than McDonald's. The information is more easily understood and there are goals.

What diversity promotion requires

To embrace greater diversity and promote your interest, there are some steps to be taken seriously:

  • A company needs a regular focus on the issue. Taking note on something like International Women's Day or Women's History Month is fine, but it isn't enough.
  • Share statistics that show where things are now. You will get criticism for the current state, but that is something you must work through.
  • Set goals for the changes you want. The statistics over time will show whether you are reaching them or not.
Published on: Mar 8, 2018