The challenges of diversity and inclusion in the workplace for frontline workers

The business landscape is always changing. For employees on the frontlines—including those who wait tables, stock shore shelves, or check out customers at a grocery store—research shows that things are looking especially challenging. A volatile economy means the challenges of diversity and inclusion in the workplace are ever-present, and many frontline workers could be struggling harder than ever to make ends meet all while feeling unsupported in the workplace. This is one of the many reasons why it is vital for businesses to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion training. 

In their recent report Race in the workplace: The frontline experience, McKinsey & Company highlights the experiences of workers of color on the frontlines, as well as the skills workers need to advance from the frontline to the middle class. For business leaders, the report offers valuable information and action items that can be used to improve job quality and better support frontline workers of color, so that they can progress in their chosen careers. The challenges of diversity and inclusion in the workplace are considerable, but those who take proactive steps to support frontline workers could enjoy a more equitable culture—and happier employees.  

Frontline workers report the worst employee experience overall 

From foodservice workers preparing millions of meals to retail employees ensuring a seamless experience for customers, frontline workers are the backbone of the nation's economy. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline workers carried on in spite of the mass hysteria, while many office employees opted to work from the comfort of their homes. However, in spite of the tremendous contributions that these workers make to the economy, they are the ones experiencing the greatest hardships due to economic disruption. 

McKinsey's report focuses primarily on frontline hourly and salaried roles, which are filled by 95 million workers who earn an average annual income of $33,000. The research shows that approximately 70% of the current US workforce is concentrated in frontline jobs. According to the report, people in frontline roles reported the worst employee experience.  

  • Frontline hourly employees are nearly 20% less likely than corporate employees to believe that DEI policies are effective.  
  • Just one-third of workers in the bottom 10% of income had jobs with paid sick leave.  
  • In addition, 45% of hourly employees don't believe their company encourages them to take advantage of work-life policies without jeopardizing their employment or career advancement. 

Frontline workers of color do not feel included or supported in the workplace 

The report highlights that workers of color tend to feel the challenges of underrepresentation much more so than their white counterparts. A few key takeaways: 

  • Black frontline workers earn on average 25% less than their white peers. 
  • Latino workers have the second lowest wages of all groups, earning 22% less than white frontline workers. 
  • Asian workers experience a steady decline in representation by level, falling from 9% of frontline hourly roles to 5% of salaried positions.

McKinsey also notes that frontline hourly employees report the lowest overall feelings of inclusion of all employees in the workforce, and differences in inclusion continue to emerge as they climb the corporate ladder. Notably, not only do frontline workers of color traditionally earn less than their white counterparts, but they also experience lower inclusion and lack of support—factors that influence them to leave their jobs due to burnout and other mental health concerns. 

Frontline workers of color are held back professionally by low levels of sponsorship 

It stands to reason that most frontline workers should want to advance in their careers, even if they don't plan to stay at their jobs long-term. However, the McKinsey report reveals some shocking truths about the level of support that workers are receiving on the job. While the research shows that many frontline workers of color want to advance in their careers, they lack opportunities for advancement as compared to their white peers. 

Sponsors at work can help encourage career advancement, providing opportunities for growth and learning that can help frontline employees feel better about their work and more confident in their own skills. However, those who aren't given sponsor and mentorship opportunities might not advance as quickly as those who are—or advance at all. McKinsey's research states that employees are five times more likely to get a promotion if they have four or more sponsors. Black and Latino frontline employees report the lowest levels of sponsorship, with the majority (nearly six in 10) having no sponsor at all. Black frontline employees are seeing especially low levels.  

The importance of diversity training in the workplace 

The message is clear: frontline workers need to be supported, and in order to improve their experience, organizations need to be comprehensive and completely transparent in their DEI strategies. While there are many ways to demonstrate organizational commitment, one way to start is through corporate compliance training. 

LRN's 2023 Ethics & Compliance Program Effectiveness Report found that compliance programs that proactively incorporated DEI training into curriculum updates were far more effective than others. According to the report, up to 43% of high-impact E&C programs noted that they were adding or strengthening their diversity, equity, and inclusion training content and courses—compared to just 34% of low-impact programs. 

A lot of work remains to be done when it comes to tackling the challenges of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Big changes can't happen overnight, but businesses that rise to the challenge and implement strong DEI strategies through consistent reinforcement might start to see stronger work cultures and improved performance. 

The key takeaway 

Reinforcing the importance of diversity training in the workplace ensures that everyone has a chance to succeed. The three-year LRN DEI curriculum promotes diversity and inclusion training and a wider communications strategy to ensure that the importance of an inclusive culture is discussed and celebrated throughout every stage of an employee's journey. From antiracism discussions to microaggression courses, the DEI curriculum from LRN is comprehensive and insightful.

Download a copy of LRN's DEI curriculum today for step-by-step guidance on how to promote diversity and inclusion in your corporate training and the wider workplace.