First-hand Accounts From Frontline Women Reveal Their Workplace Needs Are Not Being Met (Media Release)November 2, 2023
Catalyst’s new report, in partnership with Accenture, identifies systemic changes needed to create more respectful and rewarding workplaces for women.
Women in frontline roles convey needs in the workplace including physical well-being, employee-centered scheduling practices, and growth and advancement opportunities—and this report shows that if companies address these needs, they are likely to see an increase in retention, productivity, and engagement.
Direct frontline managers have a crucial role to play and need tools, training, and authority for management decision-making with empathy.
New York, November 2, 2023— A new report from Catalyst—a global nonprofit promoting gender equity and workplace inclusion—reveals that women in the United States working in frontline roles need more respectful and rewarding workplace experiences that value their life circumstances, health, well-being, and talent.
The report Women on the Front Line: Enabling Them to Thrive, Stay, and Perform analyzed interviews with women in frontline roles and direct managers in retail, manufacturing, and hospitality (including accommodation and food service) to understand workplace experiences for this vital but often overlooked segment of the U.S. workforce. It uncovered an imbalance between the needs of women in these roles and the facilities, policies, and systems their employers provide.
Through interviews and a diary study, the report reveals that women in frontline roles and their managers feel:
- Frontline women’s physical needs, safety, and well-being are often unacknowledged or ignored.
- Rigid scheduling policies and practices often overlook or ignore the needs of women, who are disproportionately responsible for caregiving.
- Advancement pathways are not always clear or accessible.
- Direct managers need to be allowed to make team-level decisions guided by empathy.
Amid labor shortages and high burnout and attrition rates in the frontline workforce, companies must invest in the physical well-being of women, employee-centered scheduling practices, clear growth and advancement opportunities, and empathic frontline management to create environments that attract and retain frontline women.
The research identified four key steps companies must take to create respectful and rewarding workplaces that engage, support, and retain women at the front line:
- Invest in physical well-being. Women’s bodily safety, physical needs, well-being, and autonomy should be centered. Organizations must design or refresh facilities and policies to accommodate women.
- Adopt employee-centered scheduling practices. Companies must remove sources of instability, unpredictability, and rigidity from scheduling systems to account for women’s lives outside work.
- Create and clarify growth opportunities. Companies must clearly communicate well-structured opportunities for growth and advancement designed to meet women’s needs.
- Enable managers to lead empathically. Company leaders should enable managers of frontline employees to create positive environments so that employees feel valued, supported, and connected.
“Women in frontline roles are essential to the daily operations of many of the world’s largest companies,” said Lorraine Hariton, president and CEO of Catalyst. “They were also disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and still feel its effects. Companies have told us that attracting and retaining women in the frontline workforce is a priority. And women’s voices, well-being, and contributions must be central to these efforts. Building respectful and rewarding workplaces of all kinds is at the core of this report and Catalyst’s broadened focus on women in frontline roles.”
Jill Standish, senior managing director and global retail lead at Accenture, said, “Fostering a culture of equality and diversity—where everyone feels their safety is a priority, that they are seen and heard, and that they can learn and advance—is not only the responsibility of every organization today, but also a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth. It is critical that organizations across retail, hospitality, and manufacturing reimagine how women in frontline roles experience their work. The good news is that a wide range of digital technologies can contribute to advancing more flexible and meaningful workplaces—everything from providing employees with wellness exercises and healthy eating guidance that promote well-being to enabling remote scheduling of shifts for more desirable work patterns—helping these essential women build more rewarding careers.”
This report is the first from Catalyst’s Frontline Employees Initiative, which seeks to understand the unique workplace challenges faced by women in frontline jobs and provide research and tools to shed light on their specific experiences and needs. The Frontline Employees Initiative is a new pillar of work in Catalyst’s more than 60-year history creating workplaces that work for women, driving equity at all levels. In this report, we engaged in interviews and a diary study with women whose perspectives on a range of workplace issues are often not included in workplace research directed at senior leaders.
“I would feel much happier in my position if I felt like my input was valued or my work/life balance was much more balanced,” stated a woman frontline manager in the manufacturing industry in a diary entry.
In tandem with the report, Catalyst is releasing tools that companies can use to address high burnout and turnover rates, low engagement, and productivity among women at the front line. These tools were created with input from companies and the people who will use them to support corporate executives and frontline managers as they seek to have conversations with and understand the needs of frontline women and help them succeed on their own terms.
The report was completed in partnership with Accenture, a leading global professional services company that provides consulting, technology, and managed services solutions to help clients build their digital core, optimize their operations, accelerate revenue growth, and enhance citizen services.
Catalyst recruited 72 frontline employees and frontline managers working in the United States across the manufacturing, accommodations and food services, and retail industries for interviews and a diary study to understand the experiences and needs of women in frontline roles—a group that rarely has been the focus of studies of frontline employees. The analysis of the coded data set produced an in-depth understanding of frontline employee and frontline manager workplace experiences; highlighted the challenges and difficulties, the positive and rewarding experiences; and revealed participants’ views on what measures and actions could be taken to improve workplace experiences.
Catalyst is a global nonprofit supported by many of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women. Founded in 1962, Catalyst drives change with preeminent thought leadership, actionable solutions, and a galvanized community of multinational corporations to accelerate and advance women into leadership—because progress for women is progress for everyone.
Director, Global Communications
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