McDonald’s celebrated International Women’s Day earlier this month by flipping their iconic golden arches upside down to look like a “W” instead of an “M.”
“We recognize the extraordinary contribution of women,” said a post on the McDonald’s website. “From employees and franchisees to suppliers and community partners, to our customers, we are inspired by your strength and leadership. Today, we celebrate you.”
The unprecedented change took place on a grand scale at a McDonald’s located in Lynwood, California and was then echoed in 100 more McDonald’s restaurants with special hats and shirts for employees, as well as food packaging and “bag stuffers” complete with the flipped arches. The brand’s logo was altered on digital platforms as well.
More than 62 percent of the company’s employees are women, and six out of ten McDonald’s managers are also women. According to chief diversity officer Wendy Lewis, these statistics prompted them flip their logo “in honor of the extraordinary accomplishments of women everywhere.”
It looks like Lewis and the rest of the McDonald’s brand may have missed the mark, though. Despite their dedication to flipping the McDonald arches, many called the action hollow, urging them to “try again.”
“This empty McFeminism has nothing to do with women’s liberation and everything to do with McDonald’s attempt to sanitise its image,” said Laura Parker, national coordinator of a British left-wing group Momentum. “If they actually cared about women, they’d pay their workers a living wage and stop forcing them onto zero hours contracts.”
Momentum responded to McDonald’s International Women’s Day stunt by releasing a video calling on the brand to drop its “empty gestures” and instead focus on “improving conditions for [their] women workers.” The video, which supports workers striking against the fast-food giant, asserts that McDonald’s is contributing to poverty and homelessness for women workers by providing low wages and zero-hour contracts. These contracts typically allow employers to hire people without guaranteeing they will actually have work, meaning these workers are often not being paid on a regular, predetermined basis.
“It’s completely unacceptable that zero hours contracts at McDonald’s have left women workers without enough money to feed their children – and have even made some of them homeless,” said Parker.
Critics also took to Twitter to express their disappointment with McDonald’s attempt at support.
“You could also provide livable wages, better benefits, equal pay, legitimate career paths for the future, paid maternity leave…” one Twitter user posted. “Or you can flip a logo upside down that works too.”
You could also provide liveable wages, better benefits, equal pay, legitimate career paths for the future, paid maternity leave…
Or you can flip a logo upside down that works too
— Stephen Perez (@Sperez_91) March 8, 2018
“How about you pay your workers a living wage?” another user said. “That would PROVE that you actually honor and celebrate women. This is OBVIOUSLY a publicity stunt and you could have use the money spent for this to give your Female workers a bonus or a raise.”
McDonald’s certainly wasn’t the only brand to use International Women’s Day as a platform for publicity. KFC in Malaysia changed its logo to picture Colonel Sanders’ second wife Claudia, and Barbie released 17 new dolls honoring women heroes from the past and today.
With this type of media blitz occurring on a day that’s meant to be about honoring and empowering women, it is essential to look past the publicity and see what the brands are actually doing for women worldwide. Issues that are important to understand include labor practices, parental leave, pay equity, and diversity in leadership positions.
“You have to look at brands and say, ‘What else are they doing besides advertising to me?’” said Jess Weiner, CEO of consulting firm Talk to Jess. “‘Where is their money going? Are they being part of the problem or the solution?’ Many brands are not really walking their talking outside of their marketing circle.”
It is imperative that we internalize that advice, especially on days like International Women’s Day, and use it to help us realize when brands are advertising hollow support of movements or people.
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