Diversity and Inclusion

Catalyst and Corporate Leaders Make the Case for Frontline Employees (Blog Post)

At the 2023 Catalyst Awards, we previewed our new Frontline Employees Initiative.

Throughout the 2023 Catalyst Awards Conference & Dinner, held in New York City at the Hilton Midtown and online on March 30, women working in frontline roles were at the center of discussions.

Catalyst President & CEO Lorraine Hariton opened the Conference by reflecting on the evolution of Catalyst over more than 60 years.

“When Catalyst was founded in 1962, we helped college-educated women build careers outside the home,” Hariton told the packed ballroom in which hundreds of employees of Catalyst Supporter organizations; DEI experts; and top corporate leaders had gathered in person, while hundreds more watched online in real time around the world. “We then recognized that women would not be served without changes to workplace culture, so we offered evidence-based guidance to help create inclusive workplaces that work for women.”

Hariton continued, “While we’ve made great strides for women in office settings, there are still many workplaces that simply are not working well enough. The pandemic had an outsized impact on the frontline workforce, especially women and marginalized racial and ethnic groups. They’re still feeling the effects.”

It is urgent, Hariton announced, that all women can succeed in the workplace, including those working in frontline roles. It is time to accelerate equity on all fronts, so women thrive. Therefore, she said, “We are broadening our focus to include more women. And we are calling this new pillar of work the Frontline Employees Initiative.”

President of Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics Karen S. Carter at the 2023 Catalyst Awards
President of Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics Karen S. Carter

“Now is the time for change,” declared President of Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics Karen S. Carter, who also serves as Chair of the Catalyst Board of Advisors. “All women must have a fair and equitable opportunity to move to the front of the line. … Together we must make frontline jobs good jobs for women everywhere. And together we must get behind the Catalyst Frontline Employees Initiative to accelerate progress because the only way we will make real and lasting change is together.”

In partnership with Accenture, Catalyst is engaging in major new research into the needs and challenges of frontline employees, conducting intensive one-on-one interviews and surveys with women, managers, and executives across the hospitality, manufacturing, and retail industries in the United States. Hariton provided a sneak peek, sharing feedback such as this stinging comment from a frontline manager: “We have some facilities that are so old that they don’t even have a women’s restroom.”

Accenture CEO and Catalyst Board Chair Julie Sweet
Accenture CEO and Catalyst Board Chair Julie Sweet

At the Awards Dinner that evening, Hariton—along with Accenture CEO and Catalyst Board Chair Julie Sweet—shared that Catalyst will reveal the research findings later this year and provide best practices and innovative solutions to transform the research into practice.

“The groundbreaking work” of the Frontline Employees Initiative that “we want to do together with our Supporters,” said Sweet, is “to open up more opportunities for frontline employees, expanding the impact Catalyst can make beyond the office and the boardroom.”

The Frontline Employees Initiative “is in response to what you’ve told us you all need,” Hariton added. “We’re helping to solve the challenges so many organizations are facing—such as high rates of burnout and turnover; low rates of engagement and productivity; and the need for upskilling and reskilling in the face of rapid technological change.”​

Zoetis CEO and Awards Dinner Co-Chair Kristin Peck at the 2023 Catalyst Awards
Zoetis CEO and Awards Dinner Co-Chair Kristin Peck

At the Dinner, Zoetis CEO and Awards Dinner Co-Chair Kristin Peck underscored the importance of creating environments that work for frontline employees, saying that doing so “takes incredible partnership. I’m proud to say that many colleagues who started on the [Zoetis] shop floor as line technicians or worked in order fulfillment are thriving today as supervisors and site leaders.”

Catalyst research demonstrates that “too often women working on the frontline have needs that are not being met,” added Northrop Grumman CEO and Awards Dinner Co-Chair Kathy Warden. “They have challenging schedules, unmet physical needs, unclear paths to promotional opportunities, and more. So as leaders, we have the responsibility to take intentional action that helps overcome these challenges and help advance women in all types of roles.”

Northrop Grumman CEO and Awards Dinner Co-Chair Kathy Warden
Northrop Grumman CEO and Awards Dinner Co-Chair Kathy Warden

The Hartford and UPMC were celebrated as Catalyst Award winners at the 2023 Conference and Dinner—and the leaders of both companies applauded the Frontline Employees Initiative.

CEO of UPMC Leslie Davis shared during her remarks that UPMC’s frontline employees “are so important to making sure that our healthcare runs.” The Hartford CEO Chris Swift concluded the evening by acknowledging the “honor and privilege” of building a workplace culture “where women at all levels can thrive professionally.”

Featured image: Catalyst President & CEO Lorraine Hariton

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