Study: Black Americans Make Up Large Chunk Of Nation's Frontline Workers — Yet Overlooked On Higher Pay And Job Advancement
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Study: Black Americans Make Up Large Chunk of Nation’s Frontline Workers But Overlooked For Higher Pay, Job Advancement

(Image: miniseries via iStock)

Here is some stunning news. Out of roughly 95 million entry-level frontline workers in America, 70% are Black and Latino. Yet, of the frontline workers in mainly hourly jobs—including retail salespeople, store managers, and cooks — over 50% earn $30,000 or less a year. The average annual salary for the group is just $33,000.

These statistics are among the dismaying findings in Race in the Workplace: The Frontline Experience,” a new study by McKinsey & Company. It reveals workers of color are most likely to remain in the lowest wage jobs, along with having the least job security and advancement prospects. The analysis surmised too many diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs by U.S. companies are not reaching those workers like other groups.

Simultaneously, frontline workers stated the “lowest overall feelings” of inclusion of employees in the workforce. That suggests pressure that has been put on corporate America to boost its DEI practices in recent years has not ostensibly targeted frontline workers.

(Image courtesy of Monne Williams)

McKinsey partner Monne Williams, a leader at the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, co-authored the report. She shared the finding she thought was the biggest deal for Black Americans. 

“The continual lack of advancement for Black frontline workers directly impacts the economic mobility of Black Americans. On average, Black frontline workers earn 25% less than their white counterparts. As long as we observe such unequal levels of opportunity, we cannot experience full-fledged progress.”

Williams noted while some progress has been made far more work needs to be accomplished. The bottom line appears to be companies need to be more assertive to support workers for real change to occur.

She says while some frontline roles create a path to greater economic mobility, others do not. The roles with the highest opportunity for advancement are known as “gateway occupations.” According to the report, companies often hire workers for these roles based on job experience, not just credentials. Those jobs could include sales managers, social workers, and critical-care nurses.

Further, those jobs offer employees of color the “highway” to the middle class, paying an average of over $42,000, versus entry-level frontline jobs that largely pay under $37,000. The analysis spotted 77 such jobs that can lead to advancement. Plus, white workers are overrepresented in jobs with paths to advancement.

So, what actions can Black Americans take to move away from the frontline/lower paying jobs, and bring more Black workers into executive positions?

Williams expressed while there are things workers can do to position themselves for success, many of the challenges regarding representation and advancement are structural and require systemic change within companies. For example, companies need to take a good look at their stock of frontline roles and ensure equitable representation in those gateway roles that provide opportunities for career progression.

Other actions Williams cited Black Americans can consider:

Find sponsors: “Black Americans must have reliable sponsors that can advocate on their behalf. Our analysis revealed that employees are five times more likely to get promotions if they have four or more sponsors. In addition, the probabilities of advancement grow by 10% for every sponsor.”

Focus on developing transferrable skills: Seventy percent of job progressions to gateway roles such as food service managers or vocational nurses hinge on transferrable, interpersonal skills. For this reason, Black Americans should focus on developing transferrable skills such as problem-solving, communication, and leadership.”

Consider job changes: We saw in the research that employees can acquire and build on existing skills through each job move. So employees can consider this part of their career progression to ensure they’re improving their skill-set and mobility to higher roles.”

Williams specified frontline workers make up the largest and most diverse part of the workforce and creates untapped opportunities for companies to expand equitable practices to underrepresented groups.

“Companies can have an immense impact on job quality and economic mobility for employees of color by extending DEI efforts to frontline workers,” she says.


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