Frontline Workers Feel Overlooked by Corporate Diversity Initiatives Workers of color, overrepresented in many of these roles, see little opportunity for upward mobility.


Though workers of color are overrepresented in many of the lowest-paid frontline jobs, promotions generally go to White workers.

That’s according to new research by management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., which analyzed mobility for the 95 million workers in industries like retail and food service who fill hourly and salaried roles for an average annual income of $33,000. It’s not for lack of interest — while more than 70% of those employees want to move up, only 4% make the leap to corporate.

The lack of equitable opportunity is reflected in a survey of nearly 15,000 employees that found frontline hourly workers are nearly 20% less likely than those in corporate offices to believe that touted diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are effective.

More than 60% of large employers are still struggling to hire and retain hourly frontline workers, a new survey by consulting firm Willis Towers Watson found. One of the top reasons workers quit is a lack of opportunity for career advancement, according to a different McKinsey report last month.

Even when the chance to move up exists, people of color face additional barriers in the ingrained biases of managers. “Many of the roles with pathways lean more on interpersonal skills than on formal education,” the report’s authors wrote. “Since the assessment of these skills is inherently more subjective, it allows bias to have a greater influence on promotion decisions.”

Another major impediment workers of color encounter are less sponsorship and career support from those higher up in their organization.

It’s a myth that “high rates of turnover are just the way it goes on the front line,” the report said. In reality, the authors wrote, by creating clear paths for advancement “companies can improve the workplace environment to make the work experience more positive and sustainable.”

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