McDonald’s Exec Explains How She Broke Through America’s ‘Bamboo Ceiling’
Myra Doria is McDonald’s USA national field president.
In the latest Equity Talk, Doria opens up about when, and how, she stood up for herself.
Doria said asking the right questions as a leader matters.
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When Myra Doria was 10 years old, she used to sell clothes and shoes at a local flea market in the Philippines. She learned about strategy, the customer, pricing, and “being better than yesterday.” You might say sales is in her DNA.
In those early days, all Doria wanted was shoes, but she never had enough money. “I told myself someday I will buy so many pairs of shoes because I love them.” Today, she has 300 pairs and “I tell my story about shoes because shoes keep me grounded,” she told Insider.
Doria said shoes always point forward, toward the future. They can be “a bit tough, but they become better when you wear them,” and they allow her to have a positive footprint on the lives of those who work for her.
Doria began her McDonald’s career 38 years ago as a manager trainee at a local restaurant in the Philippines. She became McDonald’s USA national field president earlier this year, and is responsible for more than 13,000 restaurants and for leading strategy, brand development, and talent.
Doria told me, “this was a proud moment for me because I broke the bamboo ceiling. I call it the bamboo ceiling because the glass ceiling is easier to break,” she said. “You throw a stone at a glass ceiling, it will break. The bamboo ceiling, you throw a stone and it’s gonna go back to you because of the pliability of how it’s made up.”
Doria, whose favorite McDonald’s meal is chicken McNuggets with honey mustard, spoke to Insider about her leadership journey at the storied fast-food company. “I think through my journey through McDonald’s. It’s not been easy, but it’s been so rewarding.”
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
As a woman of color the journey isn’t easy. I know for myself, there have been difficult moments. How has your journey been? And if there was a difficult moment, how did you handle it and overcome it?
There’re a lot of instances where I had to stand up for myself. So there was a time in my career when someone had told me, this will be your last role in the company. You will never be an officer of McDonald’s. And that kind of took me aback. I want to lead in a bigger way. I want to be a vice president for the company, because I know I am capable. The person who was my boss at that time told me that, and I was surprised.
But every moment that I experienced something like that, I’ve picked up myself. I’ve learned what the role is.
I did a great job in my current role. I had mentors around me who had given me so much counsel and coaching along the way. I also made sure that I show up in a big way, in terms of what the future role is going to be and how I’m capable of doing it on my current role.
I tell myself, no one will tell me that I can’t. The only person who can tell me who I am is myself.
I actually tell this story all the time to inspire others. That you can dream big, and you can accomplish what you want to accomplish.
Another situation is when you grow up at a company, where you are the only woman in a room. And as I shared with you, I grew up in an Asian culture where you are not allowed to answer back.
I never answered back to my parents, or anyone more senior than me. That was the culture I was brought up. But in the McDonald’s culture, they told me that I didn’t speak up enough in meetings, I didn’t challenge others. “How can we make you a manager when you’re so quiet? You didn’t talk in a meeting!” And I’ve learned it doesn’t have to change my values, but it changed who I am as a leader and how I show up.
I became more purposeful and when I speak, I want to make sure I speak when I am passionate about an agenda. And I also ask for feedback on how I showed up in the meeting. You have to be thick-skinned to be able to accept feedback — and sometimes that feedback isn’t always good, right? But it will make you a better leader.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
My favorite thing about my job is my impact on people. I have almost 1,000 staff that I have in all the different field offices today, including the support team. I have seen them develop. This week I visited the San Antonio market, and we had a town hall meeting with a lot of our staff. And many of them were general managers in restaurants before. Now they are directors. They were asking me: “Remember the coaching you’ve given us?” McDonald’s is about people. It’s about the journey of talent. And that’s what makes me so excited about my role.
What was the biggest thing on your to do list this year and have you accomplished it?
My biggest to-do was on the personal side: travel for my family. We’ve never really traveled together all the time. My kids are all over the the US. So we went to another international country together during the summer. It was phenomenal. I got a chance to have meals with my kids to speak with them about their business.
Work wise, my biggest thing this year that I wanted to accomplish was to be able to travel across the US to all the 10 field offices, sharing my vision, sharing what’s important, and how do we get there. How do we develop talents across the system, listening to our people across the 10 field offices. And I was able to do it — within 90 days.
When you open new stores and franchises, how do you ensure they’re diverse?
In 2021 we launched a campaign for attracting diverse franchisees across multiple different backgrounds across the globe, and in the US. As part of that, we allotted $250 million over five years in the US to provide alternatives to traditional financing. We have seen some socioeconomic difficulties to get into the business. As of the end of 2022, new franchisees took advantage of more than $50 million in alternative financing.
And now we are still kind of establishing that in the next five, four more years, because it’s a five-year campaign in terms of this opportunity for attracting diverse franchisees across the system.
(The company recently shared that 1 in 8 Americans have worked at a McDonald’s restaurant.)
Let’s touch on economic mobility. One thing that we see is that we do need to do some extra outreach for women or for younger generations or for people of color. How is that going?
We have recruitment campaigns around McDonald’s, and this is a very grassroots efforts. So we go into communities where we attract different diverse candidates. We have a person in charge of recruitment of different franchisees across the US in different socio economic environments.
Right now there’s a need for new franchisees in places across the Midwest and down through Texas. We have agencies that are helping us recruit within those areas through different business organizations. We also have a department that is dedicated to making sure those prospective franchisees can take advantage of the alternative financing options.
What do you think the biggest challenge is to work life balance for working parents and how does McDonald’s aim to support them?
We encourage people within our company to work in the office at least three times a week and they have flexibility on doing that. That helps a lot with taking care of your kids and and coordinating with your household. But the more we prioritize work, the more we make sure that we are focusing on creating flexibility within our system. It makes people more able to adjust their schedule between family life and work-life balance.
With a lot of our restaurants, our employees are part time and we offer so much flexibility within our restaurants as well.
One of the things people request is flexibility of schedule, and we want to make sure that we accommodate those hours that they want to work, so we have availability of hours. We’ve also tested childcare options for our people. We will continue to test those to give availability of childcare opportunities for working parents so they can take advantage at a low cost, so they can work at the same time and have their kids safe within those childcare facilities.
What is the biggest change from the pandemic that you hope sticks in the workforce?
There is a lot of change right now, even with the mobility of our people across the system, there’s more now because people don’t want to move. They want to stay put and have family support. They’ve learned during the pandemic that all of these things that can just happen within a snap of a finger and you want to be close to family.
We are having early conversation with our people around their careers and where they want to be. We want to accommodate those needs that they have early-on in their career. We are launching career pathing and development with our people because we’ve learned in a pandemic that sometimes mindset and things have changed with our employees — people’s lives have changed.
It’s nice to reset those today, to be able to create that five-year journey in their career. Where do you want to end up? Do you still want to move? Sometimes people now don’t want to relocate.
Having those early conversations, casting those moments and milestones in their career and accommodating those asks and navigating those is one of the biggest learnings that as a leader I’ve learned through the pandemic. People’s lives have changed during the pandemic.