Randy Lai Wai-sze's position as managing director of McDonald's Restaurants (Hong Kong) involves the supervision of more than 15,000 staff in over 220 restaurants, but it also proves a point. Her rise through the ranks ably demonstrates she is part of an organisation where talent and training count. And the key principles that guide her management team - inclusion, diversity and creating opportunities - show it is possible to run a successful business that genuinely listens to employees and responds to their needs.
'From the boardroom to the crew room, we are working every day to achieve these goals,' Lai says. 'It is important to create an environment where everyone can contribute their best. In that context, gender diversity has been identified as a top priority and one of the company's core global values.'
She is quick to emphasise, though, that this is nothing new. Since opening in Hong Kong in the mid-1970s, McDonald's has made a point of nurturing women leaders and providing them with training and development opportunities to attain senior executive roles. Similar attention has been given to promoting workplace equality, for ethical and practical reasons.
'We have seen that having a diverse workplace plays a crucial role in business success,' Lai says. 'If you take Hong Kong as an example, more than 60 per cent of our customers are female, so we also need a diverse team - from frontline to management - to enhance business performance and maximise profits.'
At present, about 62 per cent of McDonald's employees in Hong Kong are women. Within the corporate hierarchy, they now hold roughly 50 per cent of managerial positions and more than 60 per cent of the senior executive roles.
Several initiatives are in place to ensure future women leaders continue to come through the system. These include regular exchanges with markets, such as South Korea, to discuss best practices and new considerations. There is also an in-house women's leadership network at global, regional and local levels, which monitors progress and instigates change. And issues such as communication, education and advocacy are always on the agenda.
'Every year, we conduct a survey to gather employee feedback; we review percentages and consider where in the company it may be necessary to increase women's representation,' Lai says. 'I should make it clear, though, that, to us, all employees are valuable assets, so our mission is to strike the right balance and make sure everyone is treated fairly.'
To spread the message and avoid misinterpretation, the company has a structured communications strategy. This ensures employees and external stakeholders are well informed about changes or areas of policy that concern them.
In part, the purpose is simply to let people know what is going on and why. Besides that, though, there is also a broader educational element. The objective is to explain the merits of having women in leadership roles and show how that has made McDonald's a better place to work and a more profitable organisation.
Looking ahead, Lai believes it is important to focus more on three specific aspects: networking, work-life balance, and fast-track training. There is, she notes, still much to learn from building stronger links within the international women's community and sharing relevant experience.
It also makes sense to do more for working mothers, tailoring hours and benefits to their individual needs.
'We already have a dedicated mentor programme for female store managers in order to nurture more women leaders,' Lai says. 'This is specially designed for real high-flyers at the frontline. They will move up as operations consultants managing seven to eight restaurants.'
What the judges say
The judging committee considers McDonald's to be a role model for a company that keeps its promise in providing equal opportunities and a harmonious, motivating working environment for women. Their commitment to creating a diverse workforce and gender diversity is proven by the high percentage of women holding management and executive positions, such as two-thirds of the company's vice-presidents, 40 per cent of the directors, 40 per cent of the store managers and - last but not least - the very visible managing director for Hong Kong, Randy Lai. Initiatives and programmes range from setting up a women's community network with regional conferences; a dedicated mentoring programme for female store managers; providing flexible working time; pioneering the concept of recruiting Mummy Crew as early as in the 1970's; and continuing support in lobbying to help female employees achieve work-life balance. These are just some of the highlights that make this company our winner this year.What the judges sayRandy Lai, managing director of McDonald's Restaurants (HK), in the black shirt, at a company family event.