4 ways companies can improve the work experience for female frontline employees


Frontline workers are often an afterthought in diversity efforts, putting them at a greater disadvantage than their corporate counterparts, according to a recent report from Catalyst in partnership with Accenture. 

The report analyzed interviews with more than 70 women and managers in frontline roles across three industries—manufacturing, retail, and hospitality—and found that organizations often fail to meet their needs in the following ways:

— Failing to design workplace structures that are suitable for women, such as mandating ill-fitting uniforms, and lacking facilities like lactation rooms or bathrooms with menstrual products.

— Assigning unpredictable schedules, long shifts, or rigid policies that don’t account for availability issues like caregiving needs.

“As an immigrant woman who’s living in the United States, an economically advanced country, it was honestly surprising to hear some of the poor conditions that women work under,” says Negin Sattari, Catalyst’s director of research and one of the study’s authors. “I don’t mean to depict a dark picture necessarily because some companies do good and create good conditions, but some really don’t.”

Researchers asked respondents questions intended to capture the realities of working on the frontlines, including how companies can improve physical work conditions, scheduling practices, advancement opportunities, and workplace culture.

“What was really interesting was to learn how many opportunities are actually available for companies to realistically improve conditions for their frontline workers, especially women, and how simple some of those steps could be,” says Sattari.

The report identifies four steps companies can immediately take to support women in such roles and offers examples for each item:

1. Investing in physical well-being, such as including women in conversations about workplace design and providing adequate training on workplace harassment.

2. Adopting employee-centered scheduling practices, such as providing fixed shifts or guaranteed weekly hours that are flexible to caregiving needs.

3. Creating and clarifying growth and advancement opportunities and outlining career paths and skills expansion.

4. Training managers on how to lead empathetically.

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