McDonald's SA's Brigitte Da Gama is driven by her yearning to see people grow

She has a profound sense of responsibility to help people realise their full potential.

Coming from a strong family lineage of educators, McDonald’s South Africa Chief People Officer Brigitte Da Gama has an intrinsic desire to help people better themselves. She lives by the mantra that her role is more than a job because, for her, it’s a calling that allows her to fulfil her purpose every day.

“My family history has had a significant influence in imprinting the ardent love for seeing people learn and grow to become the most developed versions of themselves,” she explains.   

Ever the optimist, Bridgette’s passion for people development remains unwavering even amid the country’s challenges when it comes to skills shortage in several sectors of the economy and believes that capable HR leaders can be the catalyst to improving the country’s position. 

“If there is one thing, I could tell all my peers, it is to 'never underestimate how much your country needs you, and how much value you can add to the process of transforming the nation,'” she says, adding that she invests a lot of effort in ensuring that people have opportunities to transform their lives and careers as opposed to approaching training as a mere box-ticking exercise. 

“If I look at the amount of influence I’m privileged to have in my role alone, there are more than 14 000 people whose lives are being touched by the work that I am directly responsible for.” 

While acknowledging that the country’s skills shortage is a very real problem, Brigitte feels that the notion of a war for talent is far from helpful in mitigating this plight. For her, the narrative that should be adopted particularly by corporate South Africa is one of collaboratively working together to grow and develop the country's talent pool. 

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“I wish we all had that mindset. I am now in the process of setting up a barista academy because, in our industry, we are all competing for Baristas. Given the level of unemployment in this country, surely it would be far better to just increase the number of Baristas in the system.”

McDonald’s SA’s inclusive and transformative skills and development framework is designed to afford its people who demonstrate ambition to steer their career through the various qualification and operational levels in achieving necessary competencies. 

Within McDonald’s SA’s skills development framework exists Thuto, a 12-month learnership specifically designed for managers with no qualifications. Thuto empowers these managers with a qualification through a process in which they complete various modules that are relevantly devised to address gaps identified through psychometric testing that every manager who forms part of this leadership undertakes. 

“We currently have a total of 60 participants enrolled for 2019 and the plan is to double that number next year,” says Brigitte. 

With an extensive career spanning over several industries such as Academia, IT and Financial Services, Brigitte eludes to the fact that McDonald’s SA is the most diverse organisation she has ever been a part of owing to the global restaurant chain’s business model, which requires that it employ people from the communities where the restaurants are located. This, she says, has given rise to an immense appreciation for diversity and inclusion. This is reflected, for example, in McDonald’s SA’s Empowerment Programme, which is  a two-day workshop designed to address challenges women face in the workplace. 

Says Brigitte: “It came about because as we were doing restaurant tours with one of the Operations Directors and having conversations with him around talent. He said he has observed something within his region whereby, despite being the top performers, the junior managers who were women were not outspoken in meetings. So we had a situation where the women in those businesses were often better then their male counterparts however, it was the men who were dominating the conversations, and we realised some of that could be the result of cultural influences which needed to be addressed through this Empowerment programme.”