Internation Women's Day

How Organizations Can Support Female Employees in Frontline Roles

08 March 2022

Employee experience

Indra Nooyi, Meghan Markle, Kat Cole, Oprah Winfrey, Marcia Fudge, Zhang Xin, Madeline Albright.

What do these women have in common other than highly successful and impactful careers?

They all started out working in frontline roles.

Evidently, frontline roles have attracted women who are motivated, capable and pioneering. But businesses are unlikely to retain them for very long if structures aren’t in place to support female employees.

Being a woman in a frontline role carries an increased risk. Not only are women typically in a more vulnerable position from threats of physical abuse or harassment, but a report by McKinsey found that women’s jobs were found to be almost twice as vulnerable to the pandemic as men’s jobs. 

If businesses fail to support the female workforce in recovering from the pandemic, the global GDP in 2030 would be $1 trillion below where it would have been if COVID-19 had affected men and women equally in their respective areas of employment. 

Action is needed now to support and empower women in frontline roles. This blog will explain how employers can do exactly that.


Champion female progression

Women make up roughly half the workforce, yet they are overrepresented in frontline roles and consistently underrepresented in higher-paying management roles. This is even more true for women of color.

But frontline employees need female managers. Research by McKinsey found that employees with female managers are more likely to report that their manager has taken actions to prevent employee burnout, provided emotional support, and helped them to manage their workload and work-life balance.

Furthermore, having more women in senior decision making roles leads to a greater diversity of skills within the business, less gender discrimination throughout the management ranks, more innovative ideas and increased sales.

In addition to unconscious bias training for hiring managers, a way to improve the amount of women being promoted into management is to make paths to progression clear. Highlight exactly the steps that employees need to take to progress and make these milestones accessible.

Frontline roles are typically fast-paced and hectic with little time in the working day for upskilling and professional development activities. Making training flexible, continuous and accessible in the flow of work means that employees are able to fit learning into their work schedules. 

This is crucial as outside of the workplace many women also have educational commitments, second jobs or care-giving responsibilities, so don’t have the time to complete learning outside of the workplace. Investing in making upskilling accessible breaks down barriers preventing women from moving into managerial roles.


Make reporting concerns easy

It’s no secret that frontline roles are as challenging as they are rewarding. Even more so throughout recent years. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, more than half of customer-facing employees have experienced an increase in abuse from customers. 

In retail specifically, 9/10 workers suffer verbal abuse from customers and just over 10% had been physically assaulted within a year of being surveyed. In the restaurant industry, one report found that 90% of female employees had experienced sexual harrassment while working, either from customers or coworkers.

Seamless and easy reporting processes are vital for improving the safety and culture of the workplace. If reporting abuse isn’t straightforward and relatively comfortable, it’s more likely that employees will opt not to report. Ensure that all employees understand and can easily access the processes for reporting. 

Emphasize employees’ workplace rights as part of onboarding, so workers are prepared to recognize abuse and know that they will be supported in taking action against it.


Involve women in the big decisions

C-suites are not typically representative of the workforce they employ, which means employers don’t always make decisions with their employees’ best interests in mind, leaving them feeling alienated from their company. 52% of women in the world deal with non-inclusive behavior at work.

Collect regular feedback from employees and involve under-represented groups in decision-making. 

Ask questions like:

What performance incentives would interest them? 

How would they like to learn on the job? 

Which team building activities could be most useful?

At every level, ensure your policies support the inclusion and progression of women in the workplace and that they are being adhered to by managers. These include things like paid maternity and paternity leave, sick pay, compassionate leave and flexibility around shift patterns. 

Offering paid maternity leave makes it significantly less likely that new mothers will permanently leave the company, and similarly investing in paternity leave enables new parents to split childcare more evenly and challenges assumptions that women should be primary caregivers. Generous allowances for paid maternity and paternity leave make a company a more attractive career option for top talent who are also hoping to start their own families. 


Connect women to the wider company

Frontline roles can be lonely, with varying shift patterns and isolated working environments. 

Connecting women to the wider organization will improve their experience as employees by demonstrating that the company values their contributions. 

Encourage employees to coach, mentor and share their knowledge with each other to build a sense of community within the workforce. It’s also important to celebrate high performing women in company announcements and demonstrate that they are valued and supported in their ambitions. 

Taking steps to make work a supportive and social environment for female employees means that they will feel more fulfilled, perform better and be less likely to leave the company.