Front and Center: Amplifying the Voices of Frontline Workers on the Job
October 6, 2021
B Corps Prose and Meliora Develop Frontline-First Programs and Practices During Talent Rewire Accelerator
One segment of the U.S. and Canadian workforce that faced new challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic is frontline workers, who are more likely to be People of Color. This segment is the focus of new support programs and initiatives at businesses seeking to build a more inclusive and resilient workplace. The programs also anticipate changing workforce demographics in both the U.S. and Canada, where the number of People of Color continues to increase as the overall population grows more diverse.
Companies are realizing a need to examine how their workplace policies and practices can better serve all workers now and in the future to provide stability and opportunity. The pandemic put a new focus on the importance of frontline workers, whose duties are more likely to mean they must be on-site and, during a pandemic, at higher health risk. While many office workers could shift to remote work, on-site needs continued for many people working in manufacturing, distribution, call centers, delivery, or food service.
Talent Rewire, an initiative from mission-driven consulting firm FSG as part of the Corporate Racial Equity Alliance, offers several programs to help employers in a variety of industries navigate current workplace changes and increase equitable opportunity for frontline workers. Through a Talent Rewire Accelerator program, several Certified B Corporations are receiving individual coaching and learning alongside other B Corps while addressing systemic issues at the root of racial inequity.
B Corp Prose has included a frontline worker in its Accelerator experience. The company is transferring lessons from the experience to its workplace by creating new opportunities for frontline workers to provide input on policies and other aspects of the business as members of a company task force.
Helen Nwosu, Vice President of Social Impact at Prose, says the company’s decision to participate in the Accelerator reflects its values emphasis on personalization, rooted in the individualized hair care products that Prose frontline workers create. Prose also chose to participate due to its connections between sustainability and social impact in creating products and a workplace that are good for the planet and people.
“Our product is so tied to our people — we must make sure our people enjoy making these products. They are at the forefront of our goals for constant improvement as a B Corp,” she says. “We don’t believe in standardization or mass production. We are all about the individual.”
Providing a Platform and a Path for Frontline Workers
Prose has a history of involving its workers in companywide decisions, Nwosu says: “In 2019, Prose had a company wide discussion at their offsite in Canada to vote on whether the company should pursue B Corp Certification.”
By incorporating its business strengths — asking questions and creating personalized products — into its practices for employees, Prose amplifies its belief in and promotion of self-acceptance and sustainability, she says.
“Being a B Corp means doing good for the people, including our people,” Nwosu says. “Getting together for the Accelerator was an opportunity to really focus on our frontline workers at our warehouse and their needs. We are making sure they have a platform to be heard and that we’re taking action to make the workplace as supportive as possible so our teams can stay at a job, feel fulfilled, and see they have a career path.”
The Future of Work Is Now
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In working with the Accelerator, Prose wanted to avoid any top-down directives and has intentionally involved frontline employees and entry-level workers in its task force, Nwosu says.
“At the end of the day, most frontline workers don’t have a platform where they can weigh in because they’re often tied to the production line. Now that we have this task force together, we’ll rotate in other people from frontline jobs to help craft solutions,” she says. “This tells our warehouse teams that they are valued by the company, and their needs and concerns are important enough that we’re going to take action on them.”
Hearing more from frontline workers also broadens the company’s view of what an inclusive workplace means to different people, Nwosu says. “We often operate from the headquarters standpoint. Being able to look at things through another person’s lens allows us to build a better employee system. It allows us to get together and build better together.
“As we dig deeper, we are finding a lot of the concerns are valid and important for employee retention and career development,” she says. “Now we can incorporate those learnings into our people team programs to make it a more equitable and inclusive place and foster talent. We’d like to breed entrepreneurs and support someone who starts as a packer to help them realize their own business ideas.”
Building on One-on-One Conversations
Meliora, a Chicago-based manufacturer of people- and planet-friendly home cleaning and laundry products, is another B Corp participating in the Accelerator. Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer Kate Jakubas and Production Manager Madhura Ramakrishnan decided to take part to learn new ways to enhance the relationship between frontline workers and management.
Ramakrishnan says Meliora now has a small team of 11 workers at its warehouse. But as the company continues to grow, she and Jakubas wanted to establish practices to amplify team members’ voices now and in the future. Conversations with people from other B Corps in the cohort surfaced ideas and suggestions to build on Meliora’s existing strengths, Ramakrishnan says.
“Something we pride ourselves on is the importance we place on worker autonomy. We want to make sure that our team members know that their ideas are being received with open ears and we trust them to complete tasks without too much oversight,” she says.
A language barrier has been one challenge at Meliora, as most of the frontline workers speak Spanish as their primary language. While the company’s production coordinator has served as an interpreter, Ramakrishnan says Meliora leaders wanted to add channels of communication so all team members felt comfortable bringing up ideas and concerns.
“From the Accelerator, we implemented monthly one-on-ones where I sit down with each team member for a half hour with a third-party, neutral interpreter to talk about work and life,” she says. “The conversations are open-ended and allow for a safe space for me to have a conversation with each team member.”
After just four months of one-on-one conversations, Meliora has acted on frontline workers’ ideas to implement visual management boards, daily production meetings, and a suggestion box. Going through the Accelerator experience with people from other B Corps who also are seeking better conditions for frontline workers was a helpful opportunity for Ramakrishnan. She says the varied businesses faced similar barriers in amplifying workers’ voices so were able to collaborate on ideas.
“Being held accountable to creating a pilot project allowed us to make this a priority and actively work on implementing positive change within our workplace,” she says.
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