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Fixing the Disconnect Between Women in Frontline Roles & Employers

New research finds they want and need more respectful and rewarding workplace experiences.
Melissa Kress
A women serving a sandwich to a customer

NATIONAL REPORT — Whether they are working their way through school, supporting their households or reentering the workforce, thousands of women can be found on the front lines of convenience stores across the United States.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 330,000 people were employed in the convenience store industry in 2023. Of that number, 57.7% were women.

While gender equality efforts have focused on supporting female employees in making their way up the corporate ladder, these team members still often feel overlooked.

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There is a disconnect when it comes to meeting the needs of women in frontline roles, according to Catalyst, a global nonprofit organization that promotes gender equity and workplace inclusion. Women in the U.S. working in frontline roles want and need more respectful and rewarding workplace experiences that value their life circumstances, health, well-being and talent.

[Read more: Working Women Cite Salary & Promotions Among Chief Concerns]

These insights come from the organization's 2023 research report, "Women on the Front Line: Enabling Them to Thrive, Stay and Perform," which analyzed interviews with females in frontline roles and direct managers in retail, manufacturing and hospitality (including accommodation and foodservice) to understand workplace experiences for this vital but often overlooked segment of the U.S. workforce.

In broad strokes, the report, which was conducted in partnership with professional services company Accenture, revealed that women in frontline roles and their managers feel:

  • Frontline women's physical needs, safety and well-being are often unacknowledged or ignored.
  • Rigid scheduling policies and practices often overlook or ignore the needs of women, who are disproportionately responsible for caregiving.
  • Advancement pathways are not always clear or accessible.
  • Direct managers need to be allowed to make team-level decisions guided by empathy.

"Women in frontline roles are essential to the daily operations of many of the world's largest companies," said Lorraine Hariton, president and CEO of Catalyst. "They were also disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and still feel its effects. Companies have told us that attracting and retaining women in the frontline workforce is a priority. And women's voices, well-being and contributions must be central to these efforts."

Taking Action

There are steps companies can take to bridge the gap and create a workplace that female employees find rewarding. To that end, the report explained that employers should:

Invest in physical well-being. Women's bodily safety, physical needs, well-being and autonomy should be addressed. Facilities and policies must be designed or refreshed to accommodate women.

Adopt employee-centered scheduling practices. Companies must remove sources of instability, unpredictability and rigidity from scheduling systems to account for women's lives outside of work.

Create and clarify growth opportunities. Companies must clearly communicate well-structured opportunities for growth and advancement that are designed to meet the needs of women.

Enable managers to lead empathically. Company leaders should enable managers of frontline employees to create positive environments so that employees feel valued, supported and connected.

"Fostering a culture of equality and diversity — where everyone feels their safety is a priority, that they are seen and heard, and that they can learn and advance — is not only the responsibility of every organization today, but also a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth," said Jill Standish, senior managing director and global retail lead at Accenture.

It is critical that organizations across retail, hospitality and manufacturing reimagine how women in frontline roles experience their work, she noted, adding that technology can help companies better meet the needs of these team members.

"The good news is that a wide range of digital technologies can contribute to advancing more flexible and meaningful workplaces — everything from providing employees with wellness exercises and healthy eating guidance that promote well-being to enabling remote scheduling of shifts for more desirable work patterns — helping these essential women build more rewarding careers," Standish said.

About the Author

Melissa Kress

Melissa Kress

Melissa Kress is Executive Editor of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2010. Melissa handles much of CSNews' hard news coverage, such as mergers and acquisitions and company financial reports, and the technology beat. She is also one of the industry's leading media experts on the tobacco category.

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