Women in Frontline Roles Facing Challenges

By Alana Smart / December 6, 2023 / Blog ,

Women in frontline roles at shoe manufacturer

Women in Frontline Roles Facing Challenges

Women in frontline jobs need more support, according to a recently published report.

The revealing report from Catalyst, in collaboration with Accenture, sheds light on the challenges confronting women in frontline roles. This report stands as a wakeup call for employers. Additionally it advocates for transformative systemic changes to cultivate respectful and rewarding workplaces for this crucial yet often overlooked segment of the U.S. workforce.

Marking a significant milestone in Catalyst’s unwavering commitment to championing women in the workforce, the report delves deep into the firsthand experiences of 72 women in frontline positions spanning manufacturing, accommodations, food service, and retail. These women, typically absent from conventional workplace research, take a prominent role in this exhaustive study, featuring interviews and diary entries capturing insights from both frontline workers and their direct managers.

Exploring Frontline Experiences

Frontline women undertake various tasks nationwide, from machinery assembly to customer service in hotels and restaurants, room cleaning, industrial kitchen operations, and retail sales. Despite their crucial roles, these women face extended, unpredictable hours, limited benefits, and often low wages. Gender disparities persist even in industries where frontline roles are predominantly held by women. However it is exacerbated even further by factors like race, ethnicity, immigration status, and socioeconomic background.

The report highlights alarming gender separation rates in 2022, reaching 40%, 60%, and 82% in manufacturing, retail, and hospitality, respectively. The shortage of qualified individuals to fill vacancies exacerbates this issue, emphasizing the urgency for companies to foster environments that retain frontline employees.

Prioritizing Well-being

The report sheds light on overlooked well-being issues faced by frontline women, encompassing inadequate facilities, sexual harassment, and safety concerns that demand urgent attention. Conventional workplace safety approaches often neglect the gender-specific impact on the overall workplace experience, revealing a critical gap in recognizing that worksites are not designed for women.

The participants also expressed deep concerns about sexual harassment, physical security, feminine health, and other issues often overlooked in traditional workplace practices. Moreover, employees who feel unsafe or uncomfortable at work struggle to focus on their tasks, increasing the likelihood of turnover. Sexual harassment also has a severe impact on employers, with estimates indicating an average cost of over $22,500 per person affected in lost productivity. In addition, targets of sexual harassment are more than six times as likely to change jobs compared to their peers, emphasizing the urgency of addressing these pervasive challenges.

Flexibility in Scheduling

For women on the frontline, there’s an additional layer of complexity. Women often juggle the expectation of being primary caregivers despite their employment status. Inflexible scheduling policies often overlook family responsibilities, leading to stress that not only affects these women but ripples through to their children, partners, and extended family.

It’s crucial for leaders to recognize that the financial considerations driving current scheduling systems overlook the human costs, contributing to disengagement, and diminished morale. In a fiercely competitive hiring landscape, scheduling systems reliant on shift volatility and constant employee availability contribute significantly to turnover, as employees are more inclined to contemplate leaving. It underscores that work-life balance stands out as a major factor influencing individuals contemplating leaving their jobs. It was cited as the number one factor by those working in manufacturing.

Navigating Unclear Pathways

The report also underscores the uncertainty surrounding the professional progression of women in frontline roles. Transparent communication regarding tailored growth opportunities is sorely needed. Additionally, it sheds light on the repercussions of prioritizing credentials over acquired skills in higher-level staffing decisions, resulting in the devaluation of frontline workers’ on-the-job expertise and closing doors to potential advancements.

Moreover, the report sheds light on the sentiment that not all women feel there is fair representation or genuine advancement opportunities for those with frontline experience in their companies. Some noted that managers were recruited through different pathways, creating a barrier for frontline employees to move up. The disparity is particularly pronounced for women, especially those of color, who find themselves underrepresented in higher-level roles, grappling with stereotypes and assumptions about leadership criteria. In essence, women predominantly occupy lower-paying roles, perpetuating an imbalance in senior positions within frontline industries.

Empathy as a Guiding Force

Frontline managers, integral to employee well-being, often grapple with corporate policies that impede empathetic decision-making. The report underscores the vital role of supportive managers, revealing that frontline workers under empathetic management are three times more likely to remain with a company.

Despite their genuine care for employees, many managers face burnout due to intense pressure to meet goals, understaffing, and high employee turnover. While technically skilled, these managers often lack practical leadership training in communication, feedback delivery, and staff development. The report advocates for increased flexibility at the team level to foster positive relationships and addresses the challenges faced by frontline employees in scheduling, physical work environments, and growth opportunities.

The narrative woven by the report unveils the struggles faced by women in frontline roles, emphasizing a prevailing sense of invisibility and the need for urgent attention. Lorraine Hariton, president and CEO of Catalyst, highlights the essential role women in frontline roles play in a press release.

“Women in frontline roles are essential to the daily operations of many of the world’s largest companies. They were also disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and still feel its effects.”



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