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Here's why McDonald's Women's Day gesture is receiving backlash

In honor of International Women's Day, McDonald's has decided to turn its iconic golden arches upside down to resemble a "W," and many think it's an empty gesture.
by Emi Boscamp / / Source: TODAY

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In honor of International Women's Day, McDonald's decided to turn its iconic golden arches upside down — to resemble a "W." For women. Get it?

Customers can see the flipped logo at just one physical restaurant location in Lynwood, California, on McDonald's social channels, on packaging, crew shirts and hats at 100 select restaurants across the country on March 8. In a blog post, Wendy Lewis, the fast food chain's Chief Diversity Officer, stated that the change (which is taking place for one day only) is highlighting a few of the women "who have chosen to make [McDonald's] a part of their career journey."

But is McDonald's actually empowering the women in its workforce?

"We have a long-history of supporting women in the workplace, giving them the opportunity to grow and succeed," a McDonald's rep told TODAY Food in a statement. "In the U.S. we take pride in our diversity and we are proud to share that today, six out of 10 restaurant managers are women."

The representative would not disclose how many McDonald's franchise locations are actually owned by women, however. And even though 60 percent of its restaurant managers are women, only six out of its 20 corporate executive leaders are women.

The fast food giant has also been accused of "ignoring" sexual harassment allegations in 2016 after numerous complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2015, 10 former McDonald’s workers in Virginia filed a civil rights lawsuit, alleging wrongful termination and racial and sexual harassment.

In 2016, Eater reported that McDonald's family leave policy was only given to "biological mothers" — 12 weeks at 50 percent pay — leaving biological fathers and adoptive parents out of the plan. A rep for McDonald's told TODAY Food that the company "recently enhanced a number of employee benefits including an increase in our maternity and paternity leave policy for corporate and company-owned restaurant[s]," but would not provide specific details on any updates to the policy.

The company, which made $698.7 million in net income during the last three months of 2017, sued the city of Seattle, Washington, to stop it from increasing the minimum wage of its workers — 62 percent of which are women — to $15. McDonald’s and its franchise owners have also been accused of wage theft in California, paying a $3.75 million settlement to employees two years ago.

For these reasons, plenty of people on Twitter are not exactly saying "I'm lovin' it" to the upside-down logo.

Of course, McDonald's isn't the only fast-food chain that's been accused of underpaying or allegedly mistreating its employees. According to the Department of Labor, the lowest paid occupation for women is “combined food preparation and serving workers." Their average weekly earnings were just $380 last year.

And McDonald's certainly isn't the first company to roll out a campaign that many have cited as an "empty gesture" or "tone deaf," in an attempt to capitalize on social or political movements — like that infamous Pepsi commercial starring Kendall Jenner or the Coca-Cola commercial that featured young, (mostly) white people handing out bottles of the soda to an indigenous community in Mexico. On March 8, KFC in Malaysia replaced Colonel Sanders with an illustration of his wife as the face of the company for International Women's Day ... without any statement about what moves, if any, the company is actually taking to improve the lives of its female workforce.

So, should brands just stay away from social movements altogether? Some have found a way to get people talking while also making a tangible commitment towards advancement.

For example, Johnnie Walker has been replaced by Jane Walker on limited-edition whisky bottles of the brand’s Black Label blend for Women's History Month. It might be a little gimmicky, but the brand will donate $1 for every bottle sold to several organizations championing women’s causes, including a fund to build statues of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in New York City’s Central Park. And for its "Strength Has No Gender" campaign, Brawny paper towels replaced its plaid-clad man with women and donated $100,000 to Girls, Inc., a nonprofit that helps young women learn leadership and financial skills.

While the McDonald's rep wouldn't specify whether its "W" statement would translate into any tangible benefits for women, she did say that the chain "will continue to look for new ways to support employees in the workplace."

Many will be waiting to see if any changes lie ahead for women working at the global chain. But for now, all anyone knows is that the "W" is just turning back into an "M" on Friday.

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