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McKinsey recently released the results of its Race in the Workplace Study.  Last year, they released a survey called “The Black experience in the US private sector” to show the challenges Black workers face in corporate America. Executives had the opportunity to build on that work to improve the experiences of Black workers.  This new study expands that survey by evaluating input from 15,000 employees across 53 companies, with a specific focus on front line workers to look at how other races are faring. The results may not be surprising, but they are disappointing and show meaningful potential legal risks were these workers to take action against their employers.

Workers Evaluated

Front line workers – the primary focus of McKinsey’s study – are defined as those who work directly with customers or are directly involved in making or selling a product or providing a service. These positions do not require advanced technical skills or credentials. Front line workers are also described as lower-earning hourly and salaried workers such as retail salespeople, cooks and store managers, but this could look different for any organization.  It also includes (although with a lesser focus on) frontline professionals such as school teachers and registered nurses. 

Survey Results

The 46-page report shares some helpful but not entirely surprising insight about the status of race in the corporate workplace: 

  • More than 70 percent of US Black and Latino workers hold frontline jobs.
  • US companies’ diversity, equity, and inclusion programs aren’t reaching the frontline hourly workforce compared with other groups.
  • Frontline hourly workers report a pervasive lack of fairness in promotions.
  • US frontline employees paid hourly report inconsistencies in recognition and promotion based on merit and performance.
  • Workers of color are overrepresented in the lowest-paying frontline industries.
  • Workers of color are underrepresented in the US industries with the highest-paying frontline roles.
  • Workers of color are held back by low levels of sponsorship.  In US frontline jobs, Black and Latino workers are less likely than White and Asian American workers to have sponsors.


The study proceeds to debunk the following myths about frontline work and provides some resources to help organizations support the advancement and inclusion of their frontline workers, especially people of color in those roles.

  • Myth 1: Frontline workers are free to move up the corporate ladder.
  • Myth 2: Frontline workers are not qualified for higher-level roles.
  • Myth 3: High rates of turnover are just the way it goes on the front line.

What This Means

As a DEI practitioner, this study shines an interesting light on the gap that exists in DEI corporate work, and the impacts felt at the front lines. While a vast majority of Americans are introduced to the workforce through the front lines, they are often missed in corporate DEI initiatives. This is particularly concerning as the survey reveals the concentration of people of color in front line roles. As DEI practitioners and organizational leaders, it’s important to have a comprehensive view of all the employees that we represent and to ensure that marginalized groups at all part a of the organization are part of our DEI plans and programs.

It also points to a major legal and financial liability facing companies with front line workers. Should these employees band together, they could vote to unionize (look at what is happening at Amazon, for instance) or file employee discrimination lawsuits such as this recent one that ended in a $70 million verdict against the company.

For ways your organization can address the needs of your marginalized communities through an effective DEI initiative, check out the plethora of checklists available on If you aren’t already a member with access to our checklists, podcasts, guidebooks, sample disclosures and other resources, sign up now and take advantage of our no-risk “100-Day Promise” – during the first 100 days as an activated member, you may cancel for any reason and receive a full refund.

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The Editor

Ngozi Okeh is an experienced leader with a history of driving efforts to conceptualize, define, assess and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as strategic business processes. Ngozi is currently the Director of DEI at a leading marketing technology company where she develops and executes enterprise-wide DEI initiatives through rigorous strategic planning efforts, community partnerships, leadership collaboration, strategy evaluation, and careful management of communication and buy-in as well as policies and procedures.  Previously, she worked at an independent mortgage bank, where… View Profile