Help Female Workers Level Up or Get Ready to Break Up

Embracing equity has never been more important for women in frontline jobs. From economic pressures to career advancement opportunities and work-life balance, female frontliners have the furthest to go to achieve equality at work. They are the largest segment of the global workforce.

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Globally, 80% of all workers serve in frontline jobs. Nearly two-thirds (64.4%) of them are women who hold a disproportionate share of jobs in cashiering, retail sales, customer service, fast food and counter work, healthcare roles and more. In the US, workers in hourly and salaried roles make an average of $33,000. Black and Latino workers are overrepresented in low-paying frontline jobs and make 20% less than white coworkers. So, as costs for housing, gas, childcare and food stay sky-high, female workers and their families are struggling to get by. Because of this, it should surprise no one that 50% of women plan to leave their jobs in the next two years.

In the global war for frontline talent, closing the gender gap can ensure your teams remain fully staffed. Frontline employers who commit to meaningful change will reap major benefits in the form of better employee engagement, increased productivity and higher retention rates. As a result, their businesses will be more resilient and more competitive.

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Here’s a roadmap that organizations can use to gain a competitive edge and achieve frontline success:

  • Acknowledge and address record burnout: Rising stress levels from the last few years have spiked rates of burnout in all frontline industries. According to Deloitte’s Women at Work study, nearly half of female workers report being burned out and 53% report higher stress levels than a year ago. Rather than avoiding the topic, employers need to face it head on. Initiate or bolster mental health benefits. Double down on programs that recognize teammates who do great work. Ensure that managers have the training and support they need to create a sense of belonging and psychological safety for their teams.
  • End the frontline disconnect: Frontline workers deal with the consequences of poor communication, unclear directions and old school ways of getting the job done. Employers require them to “make do” with outdated and ineffective systems. Managers send sporadic updates via text and WhatsApp. Most are still stuck using paper, pen and clipboards to execute important tasks at work. In the year 2023, we can do better.

Mobile-first workforce solutions like a Frontline Success System give deskless workers a digital workspace to access everything they need in one place: from shift information and pay stubs to requesting time off and digitizing daily tasks like housekeeping or preventive maintenance. Organizations can also use these platforms to provide a consistent onboarding experience, upskill and reskill workers with targeted training, and identify staff who would be good candidates to move into cross-functional or supervisory roles. In addition, these platforms enable leaders to measure engagement and to understand which messages, skills development courses and incentives resonate most with workers.

Provide more shift flexibility: In Beekeeper’s 2022 survey, 6,000 frontline workers and managers cited poor communication and lack of flexibility around shifts as their top source of stress and friction at work. Women are more than twice as likely to carry primary responsibility for household chores and childcare. But unlike their desk-based female colleagues, they cannot take advantage of remote or hybrid work. So having unpredictable shifts and no flexibility can make it impossible for them to juggle work and family obligations.

Companies can reduce worker stress, improve productivity and earn loyalty if they commit to closing this gap for female frontliners. Ditch paper schedules and make it easy for workers to access their shifts from their phone, 24X7. Invest in sick and parental leave policies. Make it possible for workers to request paid time off and easily swap shifts with their colleagues.

Invest in career advancement for female frontliners: Three out of four frontline workers want to advance in their careers, but only one in four will be promoted. LeanIn and McKinsey’s  2022 Women in the Workplace study reported that women hold 50% of entry level jobs, but only 31% of executive roles in manufacturing, which is representative of other frontline industries.

Building confidence in female workers’ career advancement opportunities can start with strengthening diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs and employee resource groups (ERGs). Communicating employee recognition and promotion criteria creates a culture where all staff believe that they have the opportunity to advance into leadership roles. Mobile-first training and upskilling programs help workers develop required skills. Further, employers need to give workers more mentorship and sponsorship, so that they get help setting and implementing goals, receive ongoing support, and are ready to be considered for promotion. A McKinsey study found that employees are five times more likely to get promoted if they have four or more sponsors and that every sponsor increases the chance of promotion by 10%.

This Women’s History Month, Increase Equity at Your Organization 

It’s time for frontline organizations to improve equity for their female staff. Investing in career advancement, closing frontline disconnect with mobile-first digital solutions, providing more shift flexibility and addressing burnout are the best ways to embrace equity. These four strategies can help organizations create an inclusive and supportive culture that attracts workers, fosters innovation, improves engagement and productivity, and develops the leaders of tomorrow.


Mckinsey Women in the Workplace

Expert HR on Deloitte Women at Work and Deloitte