Companies who want more female leaders need to prove flexibility in working hours doesn’t mean getting overlooked for top jobs, says McDonald’s CEO Catriona Noble.
The bubbly 43-year-old mum of two was appointed to the CEO role back in 2010, after serving as managing director for two years and chief operating officer for a year before that, the first female to serve in any of those roles in a McDonald’s major market.
Her role as a female leader in the organisation she calls a “McFamily” has a long history, with Noble becoming the youngest female restaurant manager at McDonald’s at just 19. She was recently named the fifth most powerful person in food by The Power Index.
“I had mainly male mentors, because when I was coming up there wasn’t many senior women,” says Noble. She credits former McDonald’s CEO and now Kmart boss Guy Russo for encouraging women leaders and creating a flexible workplace at the fast food giant.
“As CEO what he would say is ‘I’m going off to do tuck shop duty now’ and he’d be very visible in doing that,” explains Noble. “He actively went and did those things himself to show there’s no compromise in terms of the work output or the results you deliver, because as CEO he still had to drive the growth of the company, deliver profit, and so on.”
Russo showed that appearing in the office wasn’t the only way to do a good job, says Noble. “So if you went off and did tuck shop duty, sure when your kids are in bed at night you’re sitting up catching up on some emails and getting the work done that you need to get done. But you could do it in a way that let you do all the things in your life that you wanted and needed to do, without being judged…and who cares if you got it done at 8 o’clock at night rather than 10 o’clock in the morning, because it actually doesn’t matter.”
It may be a McFamily, but Noble is particularly aware of taking care of her female relatives. “As you move up through the organisation, you have the responsibility to lift others with you,” she says.
Four members of her leadership team are mothers of young children. The company runs forums for working mums and Noble sat on the organising committee for last year’s annual conference for McDonald’s female leaders from the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa region. “Telling people’s personal stories is very powerful as well as giving real practical advice and coaching,” explains Noble.
McDonald’s has a 50/50 male to female ratio at every level, including board level, but Noble notes the battle for equality isn’t over: “Most organisations are not at that level and most McDonalds are not at that level either.”
And the Sydneysider is keen to leave her own pickle on the window of the corporation during her time as leader. “My vision in terms of people is McDonalds is a place of opportunity,” she says. “It’s not what you know and it’s not where you come from. You should feel that you can come into McDonald’s and anything is possible.”
The only thing not possible is being the first female CEO. She’s already done that.