- Even when front-line hourly employees of color have work-life benefits like leaves of absence and parental leave available, nearly half (45%) said they don’t feel they can take advantage of them “without jeopardizing their employment or career advancement,” according to a recent McKinsey & Co. report.
- When asked whether their company's diversity, equity and inclusion policies — in which McKinsey included leaves of absence, paid parental leave and work from home flexibility — were effective, 81% of company senior vice presidents surveyed agreed, compared to 59% of hourly front-line workers and 74% of salaried front-line workers.
- While workers of color are overrepresented among front-line workers generally, they are underrepresented among the highest-paying front-line roles, McKinsey found. There are comparatively few workers of color in utilities, mining and construction, for example, while people of color are overrepresented in lower-paid industries like food services, recreation and retail.
While McKinsey noted that some front-line workers, such as nurses and teachers, are salaried, its study focuses primarily on those in hourly roles, such as retail managers and kitchen staff. This second cohort is made up of about 95 million people, earning an average annual income of $33,000.
A key takeaway from the report is that Black, Indigenous, Asian and Latino members of the workforce are disproportionately affected by harmful work environments, since they are overrepresented in front-line work. Front-line work, research shows, is a labor lane plagued by minimal pay (unlivable wages, by McKinsey’s assessment), few opportunities for advancement and meager benefits, if any.
People of color are “particularly likely to remain” in front-line work and to have “lower job quality,” the McKinsey report said, suggesting a disproportionate exclusion from work-life benefits. While McKinsey fails to provide specific insight for Indigenous front-line workers, the report does offer key findings for Black, Latino and Asian workers.
Regardless of station, Black employees were least likely to report feelings of inclusion at work. Not only did McKinsey researchers call this dynamic “a no-win situation” for Black front-line workers, but this also mirrored employee inclusion issues in the Asian and Latino communities.
Latino people are more likely than any other racial group to be front-line workers, are most likely to be immigrants (with the lowest level of sponsorship), and have the lowest level of post-secondary education. Each of these factors create “daunting” circumstances in which to build a career, McKinsey reported.
“Despite these challenges, Latino employees in our sample have achieved a higher share of promotions from front-line jobs to entry-level corporate roles than other employees of color,” researchers said, adding that once Latino talent are promoted to corporate roles, they report inclusion levels on par with their White peers.
The report notably debunks the model minority myth hanging over the Asian community. One in five front-line workers in this group have earned at least a bachelor’s degree; this rate is higher than that of Latino (8%), Black (10%) and White people (16%) in similar roles. Compared to other people of color, Asian people were also more likely to tell McKinsey that they felt included in their workplace. They were more likely to believe their job environment is fair and impartial.
Asian workers, however, consistently make less than their White counterparts in the same jobs, by McKinsey’s count. Additionally, more than half lack sponsors, contributing to an overall feeling of being unsupported. They also reported the highest level of burnout, McKinsey researchers said.
McKinsey said that the misconception of Asian people as unanimously “diligent and quiet” may be to blame for declining representation in management. The report noted the difficulty of drawing conclusions about Asian workers as a single category, however; Asian workers “represent a diverse array of nationalities and subgroups, each with its own distinct experience,” it said.