Diversity and the Limits of Perception

Diversity is a fraught topic in any industry that sees a large percentage of its revenue emerging from first-world nations. For one thing, it’s incredibly subjective as a concept. What is diversity? Is it race? Gender? Sexual orientation? Physical constructs? Is it neurological, ideological, attitudinal? Does it encompass biases, or preferences in leadership style? Where does diversity begin and where does it end? And who is “diverse”?

As an Indian female leader with children, I encompass several simultaneous definitions of diversity, but one could argue that to surround myself with people just like me in a team setting would not at all be conducive to inclusiveness or problem-solving. But if we ignore racial and gender diversity and don’t seek to create a more demographically representative landscape within our workplaces, what are we even fighting for in the first place?

This nebulous state of labels inevitably got us into a bit of trouble in analysing our data.

We presented two questions related to diversity in our latest recruitment industry trends survey. First, we asked respondents if they agreed, disagreed, or had no opinion on the idea that “there is a diversity problem in recruitment.” Next, we asked them if they agreed, disagreed, or had no opinion on whether “diverse organisations are more effective than others.” We sought to assess two elements within a larger chronology as they pertain to diversity - first, does our industry have a problem? And secondly, is that problem even worth solving?

Almost half (49 percent) of Australia and New Zealand respondents overall felt that there was a diversity problem in recruitment, with tellingly less - 39 percent - stating that there was no problem. And 13 percent with no opinion on the matter. The next question, and arguably the more important one, spoke to whether or not recruiting professionals felt that diverse organisations are stronger. We were heartened to see that 64 percent of respondents felt this to be true, with 21 percent disagreeing, and only 15 percent having no opinion. Overall, Australia and New Zealand recruitment professionals have a much more positive perspective on diversity and its benefits to agencies than their North American and European colleagues.

Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

What are the conclusions to unpack here? First, while our recruitment trends data is accurate, it’s accurate only in reflecting the sentiment that respondents have. Respondents generally think that we have a diversity problem in the recruitment industry. This does not necessarily mean we have one. It’s simply that it’s widely perceived, you could say the jury is out. There are two resulting interpretations. One is that we truly have an issue. The second is that the industry isn’t diverse enough to recognise that there is an issue. If a dinner table full of guests didn’t grow up eating spicy food, they may not even notice when an entree is unseasoned.

Additionally, it appears respondents feel more strongly that diversity is a business asset rather than a hindrance. Hooray that future leaders acknowledge the power of different viewpoints in effective problem solving, but one would hope that senior leaders would already be fully on board there.

At our Engage Boston conference in 2017 and 2018, we addressed the importance of creating a diverse and inclusive workforce both internally within our companies and externally for our clients. At Jackye Clayton’s highly-attended diversity session in 2018, she pointed out that it’s all too easy to think that having a black employee makes a company “diverse,” when reality suggests: this representation is remarkably lower than the percentage of black people in the general community; the employee may not feel included in the decision-making process; and  tokenism is historically problematic for countless reasons. Conversely, having a large percentage of women employees at a tech company is wonderful, but doesn’t absolve a company of culpability when none or just a handful of its leaders are women.

Taking a more global view on the issue, sixty-five percent of Australia and New Zealand respondents and 64 percent of Mainland Europe respondents believe that diverse organisations are stronger, versus 60 percent of UK and Ireland respondents and 54 percent of U.S. and Canada respondents. Considering that all of the areas we surveyed feature predominantly Caucasian workforces, it’s interesting to see such a swing between ANZ and the U.S. and Canada.

Again, our findings are merely directional, but it’s likely worth further exploration to see how your agencies size, region, and type of recruitment impact the findings. We encourage you to slice and dice the data interactively and compare the results to your own existing opinions on the state of diversity in our industry.

Recruiting professionals are experts in human potential, and it’s no surprise that we’re on the leading edge as far as understanding the power of a diverse workforce. We’ll be curious to see how perceptions evolve comparatively as years go by.


Vinda Souza

Vice President, Global Communications


Vinda Souza leads Bullhorn’s global public relations, analyst relations, content marketing, social media, strategic thought leadership, events content, and internal communications strategy. A technology PR pro by trade, Vinda also manages Bullhorn’s strategic positioning with influencers and industry associations. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Staffing Association and the American Staffing Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.