AWESOME Speaks with Marion Gross about Black History Month

February 15, 20249 minute read

As we enter February, we come together to honor and celebrate Black history, Black lives, and Black stories.

Black History Month is a time to collectively embrace and acknowledge the diverse experiences, history, and triumphs that impact Black Americans. It serves as an opportunity to reflect on the resilience and contributions of the Black community throughout history.

Throughout the month, we interviewed AWESOME women leaders of color to share their stories, experiences, and perspectives on intersectionality in the supply chain industry. We had the opportunity to speak with Marion Gross, Executive Vice President, and Global Chief Supply Chain Officer at McDonald’s Corporation, about her career journey in supply chain and thoughts about Black History Month in 2024.

Marion Gross

Hi, and thank you for the opportunity to discuss this important topic.

As a woman of color, it’s a subject near and dear to me. McDonald’s commitment to DEI is one of the reasons that I’ve been at McDonald’s for over 30 years. It’s a place where I feel included, valued and able to make a difference.

Our Founder Ray Kroc said, “none of us is as good as all of us.” Those words from the early days speak to the importance of diversity and inclusion.

I’m fortunate to work for a company that values DEI as much as I do and, in fact, it’s part of the fabric of McDonald’s. It shows up in our values:

  • Serve – we put our customers and people first
  • Inclusion – we open our doors to everyone
  • Integrity – we do the right thing o Community – we are good neighbors and
  • Family – we get better together.

From those sound bites, you can see how Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are threads that knit these values together.  And in recent years, we’ve doubled down on our commitment to represent the diverse communities in which we operate, to foster a culture of inclusion and belonging and dismantle barriers to economic opportunity.  We’re doing more every day to provide safe and respectful spaces for people on both sides of the counter. And we’re continuing to stand up – and show up – in the communities we serve. I take great pride in being part of an inclusive community here at McDonald’s. 


How did you navigate the supply chain industry to get to where you are now? What were some challenges? How did you overcome them?


Well, in my almost 31 years at McDonald’s of course I’ve seen a lot of change and evolution. But it might be best for me to go back to my college days and share how I decided to get into the field of Supply Chain. 

My undergrad major was technology, or back then referred to as Quantitative Information Systems or QIS. Well, that didn’t work out for me – I was not motivated to have a career in tech. Wanting to stay in the business school, I wondered what major would create a better opportunity after graduation … and I stumbled upon a class called Transportation Law. On my first day, as I walked into a 300-seat auditorium and saw that 95% of the students were men, I thought: “This is it.” 

At the time, equal opportunity for women and people of color, and diversity overall, was being talked about more and more in corporate America, and the transportation industry was still very male dominated. I thought, surely, they would need women. I liked the class, too, and I ultimately graduated with a degree in Transportation and Physical Distribution. 

My hunch paid off. I got a job quickly upon graduating and my salary was even more than my friends who graduated with management or marketing degrees and who took longer to land a job. 

Over the years, Logistics, Sourcing, Purchasing and Sustainability came together, and by the late nineties became commonly referred to as Supply Chain. 

Pivoting to the corporate world, when I first came to McDonald’s, I was the only female buyer. After growing up with 3 brothers, I was comfortable around the nearly all-male team, but I knew to fit in I was going to have my work cut out for me. 

I noted that during breaks from meetings the guys walked into the men’s room continuing the discussion we just had in the conference room. I was missing out. I decided to wait outside the men’s room and upon their exit, ask what else they discussed in those minutes I was not there. Eventually, they just started sharing with me, without me having to ask. 

I also knew that they were golfing together on short Fridays and Saturday mornings. I wondered, “What else am I missing?” So, I asked if I could join them and after an awkward, albeit, brief pause, they agreed. 

I bought some clubs, took a couple lessons, and the next Friday I was golfing, part of a foursome. I did that for 10 years. I became part of the team and was always included. I got pretty good at golf too. I share these two stories because they are examples of how I overcame some early challenges. For me, it was having conviction, being confident, owning my seat at the table, never questioning whether I deserved it, and being tenacious. That’s how I made change happen. 


In your opinion, what strides have been made in terms of DEI since the last Black History Month? Are there any specific achievements or moments that stand out to you?


At McDonald’s, we are focusing our efforts in 4 areas: 

  • (REPRESENTATION) We aim for diverse representation at every level in the business that is equal to or better than the representation in the external workforce. 
  • (RISING) We will enhance equality in career advancement for women and people of color. 
  • (RECOGNITION) We will celebrate the voices and impact of women and people of color in the business and report on progress. 
  • (REACH) We will achieve progress on a global scale by encouraging franchisees and suppliers to deliver strategies that drive gender balance and improve diversity with the goal of reaching millions worldwide. 

In the last year, we have made progress in nearly all these areas and report on our progress in our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Report. 

In addition, we continue to lead on Business Diversity, our partnerships and spend with minority suppliers, women and other underrepresented groups. In 2020, we committed that 25% of our U.S. spend would be with diverse suppliers by 2025. We met that goal in 2021, maintained it again in 2022, and expect the same in 2023. 

At the same time, we’ve launched McDonald’s Mutual Commitment to DEI where our suppliers pledged to join us on the journey. Together, we can do more than any one of us alone. Today, we have 541 suppliers signed onto Mutual Commitment working together to drive impact. 

We’re now working to expand the program internationally by encouraging other markets to embrace this commitment. 

Our organization is stronger with diversity and strong supplier relationships. These relationships are not only fundamental to delivering on our purpose allow us to create more equitable opportunities across the industries with which we partner. 

Not to mention, diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and thinking only makes us a stronger System—especially when we’re united in our purpose to feed and foster communities. 


How important do you think mentorship is for black women leaders, and have you had mentors who played a crucial role in your career?


None of us gets where we are without the help of others. We still live in a world of inequality where disparity and biases exist. That’s why having mentors is especially important for woman of color. Mentors inspire and build confidence, help break down barriers, advocate on your behalf when you’re not in the room, act as role models and help you develop leadership skills and navigate your career. I have had many mentors over the years who have supported me in all those ways. 

One mentor of mine encouraged me to go for a higher role that I wasn’t sure I could get; I got that role, but had it not been for that mentors’ support and advocacy, I may have missed a huge opportunity. Another mentor taught me the importance of communication, what to say and when, to consider the audience and the impact that what I say as a leader has on others. Another taught me how to expand my thinking when it comes to solving problems, and I learned that every problem has a solution if I think about it creatively and without boundaries. 

Without my mentors, I would not be where I am or the leader I am today. 


What advice would you give to aspiring black women leaders in terms of seeking mentorship and building a supportive professional network?


Before getting a mentor, establish your goal for the relationship – what skills are you trying to build, what support do you need, what challenges are you facing? Then find the right mentor or mentors who are really good at those things. Ask others to help make a connection to people you admire or with certain expertise. In other words, be specific and purposeful in selecting the right mentor who can turbo-charge your growth vs. simply making incremental improvement. 

Be a good mentee – keep appointments, come prepared, do work in between meetings and share with your mentor what you’ve accomplished. Remember you asked them for help, respect their time and demonstrate commitment to the relationship and to what they are teaching you. 

Be curious. Express gratitude and give back by mentoring others yourself. 

Building a professional network is also important. Join your company’s Employee Business Network, join professional organizations like AWESOME, industry groups, etc. When you do, fully engage, and participate, don’t just listen. There’s truth to the saying, “you get out what you put in.” 


Are there any specific initiatives or programs you believe have a significant impact on promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace?


Creating a culture of inclusion must start at the top. At McDonald’s we say “from the board room to the crew room,” speaking of our restaurant teams. When it’s a priority at the top and there is aspiration, vision and goals aimed to do more, to be better, it filters down through the organization. 

Provide education and training on diversity. Don’t assume everyone in the organization understands why it’s important or agrees that it’s important. Here at McDonald’s, the training we’ve done on bias has had a meaningful impact on employees of all walks of life. We all come from different backgrounds, upbringings, cultures and experiences and we don’t know everything about others’ life journey. 

Of course, the work and programming that AWESOME and others like you do are great ways to help leaders learn about DEI and ways to navigate the DEI landscape effectively within their own organizations. 


How do you think the supply chain industry could better dedicate itself to black leaders and employees?


Everything speaks. There is an opportunity to be more intentional about building diversity on leadership teams, on boards and with suppliers. When people look at leaders, at their board of directors and at their supplier community, do they see faces like theirs? Everything speaks. 

Continue to raise or amplify the minority voice. 

Recruit from HBCU’s and connect with other black organizations to source talent. 

Source more goods and services from black-owned businesses. 

These are but a few things companies can do that would make a meaningful difference. The important thing is to just do something – make a commitment and act. 


As our conversation comes to a close, what call to action would you like to extend to organizations and individuals to further support and uplift black women in leadership roles?


Encourage others to act as mentors and sponsors for young black women. 

I can’t tell you how I benefitted from McDonald’s commitment to DEI and by the host of mentors who lifted me up along the way. I do the same to pay it forward and inspire other black women and people from diverse backgrounds to excel. 

Embed DEI into your culture and DNA. Be purposeful as it won’t happen by itself. You’ll be a stronger organization for doing so.