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Diversity in the Frontline Workforce: Trends and Tips for Equity and Inclusivity from Frontline Future 2021

Frontline Trends Report
Beekeeper's guide to frontline diversity

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are long-standing challenges that frontline industries have grappled with. But recent events have prompted heightened attention on what it means to create a diverse and inclusive work environment for frontline workers.

Frontline leaders are asking themselves: how can we bridge the gap between where they are now regarding these issues and where we want to be.

Creating and maintaining systems that advocate for a more inclusive workplace can be challenging. At Beekeeper’s first Frontline Future 2021 virtual summit, one session explored the trends we’re seeing right now around diversity and how companies.

The panelists for this session included: 

  • Allison Grealis – President of Women in Manufacturing
  • Veronica Powell – Engineering, Maintenance, and Facilities Manager, Southwire Company
  • Rahshib Thomas – Former Director of People Operations and Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Chair, SH Hotels and Resorts

Download our Frontline Trends Report for more insight into the future of frontline work.

For many frontline organizations, guidelines regarding diversity and inclusion have been in place for decades. But now, companies are examining their policies and practices more closely.

On paper, frontline industries advocate for a diverse workforce and equity in who gets hired or promoted. But often, there is a disconnect between what frontline leadership believes in and what frontline employees experience

Here’s how that’s changing in 2021:

1. More Honest Conversations

Our panelists agreed that honest and open communication is the key to creating more diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

“You’ve got to name it. I think when we look at bias and what’s keeping us from keeping someone else from opportunity, I think we don’t like to use the word racism but that’s the end result. In order for us to name it, once we start calling a thing a thing, calling it what it is, then we can get to the other side.” 

– Rahshib Thomas

The biggest obstacle to change happens when employees feel like they’re not in an inclusive environment and leadership looks the other way. We’re seeing more companies open up channels of communication that encourage employees at different levels to give their honest feedback.

2. Amplifying Voices

One way to encourage more dialogue about diversity is to amplify the voices of existing employees, particularly those on the frontlines.

“Inclusion means everyone. It means everyone should be treated equally. Strip yourself of titles. Frontline employees are the reason management has jobs so we should all be on the same level. We should all treat each other with the same amount of respect.” 

– Veronica Powell, Southwire Company

We’re seeing more companies embrace mobile communication platforms like Beekeeper, which facilitates employee recognition and appreciation. Amplifying the voices of frontline employees creates greater transparency about individual achievement. It also increases the likelihood that employees will speak out when they face discrimination or injustice.

3. Flexibility and Following Up

With more tools and technology available to improve internal communication, frontline organizations can:

  • Take a more flexible approach when it comes to engaging with employees
  • Improve how well they can listen to employee feedback and follow-through 

Not every employee feels comfortable talking in large group settings or with management, particularly about topics like diversity. Completing a survey on a mobile device or speaking through an advocate may be more inclusive options.

When companies listen and communicate about how they’re following through with feedback, employees know that their voices are important and valued.

How Frontline Organizations Can Improve Their Approach to Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

Beekeeper's guide to how organizations can improve their approach to diversity

While we’re seeing trends indicating that frontline organizations are taking steps to make the workplace more diverse and inclusive, there’s still work to be done. Our panelists discussed what leaders can do to make an impact.

1. Understand the Employee Experience In Context

Looking at the frontline employee experience through a social impact lens allows managers and leaders to better support their teams.

That means understanding the social, political, and economic forces that impact employees before they get to work every day. For Rahshib Thomas, that meant asking whether they need to leverage their power as a company and get in touch with local community leaders to talk about issues affecting their frontline workers.

2. Reassess Succession Planning

Is the process of hiring and promoting workers fair and equitable? Most frontline leaders would say yes. In reality, it may not be as straightforward.

“What I called out in the middle of a meeting is that out of 15 applicants, 5 were people of color and the other 10 were not and the senior leader approved all of the 10 and found something they did not like with 5.” 

– Rahshib Thomas

Analyzing how an organization hires and promotes employees from a diversity perspective can uncover biases that may otherwise go unnoticed and unchecked

3. Focus on Skills and Learning

Actively acknowledging and removing bias from the hiring process is vital. But making sure existing employees have a fair chance of acquiring the skills they need is equally important.

“You should be hiring based on qualifications. Nothing else. You want to make sure you’re equipping those employees on the front lines who do want to move up with those skill sets so that when those jobs become open they are qualified and able to move up.”

– Veronica Powell, Southwire Company

New technology is making the training process more accessible. With platforms like Beekeeper, companies can create programs that frontline employees can complete remotely.

Promoting Diversity in the Frontline Workplace Is an Ongoing Process

While we’re seeing more organizations put policies in place that promote diversity, inclusion and equity, seeing real change takes time.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight because biases don’t develop overnight.”

– Veronica Powell, Southwire Company

Moving forward, we’re likely to see the conversation around diversity evolve as frontline organizations improve internal communication, acknowledge existing biases, and empower their workforce.