Diversity and Inclusion in Global Recruitment: This Is Fine?

Last year, when we transformed our decade-long annual trends report into the interactive GRID microsite, I jumped at the chance to spotlight an area of personal and professional significance to me—one that I think is under-explored in recruiting media—the state of diversity and inclusion within recruitment agencies.

Much attention has been paid to the value of candidate diversity, though I would argue that unfortunately, with some notable and refreshing exceptions, many firms view this as transactional as opposed to integral. But the idea of examining internal diversity has been less studied and less prioritized overall. 

Last year, the conclusions I drew around the state of diversity in staffing were mixed—respondents said there wasn’t really a problem, and external measures of success suggested that there was. It’s like the storied “This is fine” meme, in which a dog calmly sips coffee amidst a raging fire. Even though we say it, even if we believe it, is it true? Is this fine?

This year we were fortunate to have an even larger sample size of respondents and greater geographic representation, allowing us to analyze the discrepancies and similarities in data by region. We asked the following questions and took care to leave our internal biases and hypotheses at the door. Here are some of the key D&I questions we posed to a respondent base segmented by ethnicity, gender, role, region, company size, and generation:


  • Is there an internal diversity problem in recruitment agencies?
  • Is there a diversity shortage in candidate pools?
  • Do your clients require diverse shortlists?
  • Have you experienced discrimination in your staffing/recruitment career?
  • Are diverse organizations more effective than non-diverse organizations?
  • Is there a woman in the C-suite of your company?
  • Is there a person of color in the C-suite of your company?

We also analyzed ethnicity and gender by role (C-suite versus front-line practitioner) after the fact.

First of all, I want to preface my analysis by saying that race and gender dynamics are HARD. These conversations are tough. There are issues of economic and representative privilege that vary by region and role, and even the most well-meaning people can be influenced by implicit bias. Full disclosure, even my own teammates, truly the kindest, smartest, and “wokest” humans I know, didn’t share my view of what the most surprising and important finding was from our D&I data set. That just goes to show you that this is hellishly nebulous work. 

Secondly, we need to name the geographic elephant in the room. We don’t have data on ethnicity, gender, or generation demographics from the Benelux region (and sometimes DACH) due to cultural norms around gathering such data, even anonymously. So bear with us.

Representation in the recruitment industry

What surprised me most about our findings this year is that while most recruitment agencies (68 percent overall and 70 percent in North America specifically) have a woman in their C-suite, only 28 percent of firms have a person of color in their C-suite. And if you thought that this is just a problem with attrition on the long ladder climb to leadership, I’m sorry to break it to you: 84 percent of our C-suite respondents were white, true, but 70 percent of our practitioner respondents were white also. Only 16 percent of leaders and 30 percent of practitioners across the board are people of color.

And lest you think women are doing great while people of color aren’t, the reality is that there are many more women recruiting practitioners (60 percent women to 40 percent men) than C-suite leaders (32 percent women to 68 percent men). So let’s not pat ourselves on the backs for anything in this paragraph. Even more dismaying is how women of color fare with regards to leadership opportunities. When we coupled race and gender, assessing how many women of color are in the C-suite of recruitment agencies, the result was 5 percent. That bears repeating: only 5 percent of C-suite leaders in staffing are women of color. 

Representation by Gender

Representation by Enthicity

Discrimination: the gray area of perception and reality

Here’s another interesting finding I want us to examine closely – the consistency of perceived discrimination. 30 percent of respondents across roles and regions and company sizes report having experienced discrimination in their staffing careers. These numbers are fairly even when split across gender, race, and generation, which is somewhat confounding. 28 percent of men and 31 percent of women report being discriminated against at work, and 26 percent of white respondents versus 29 percent of respondents of color report encountering discrimination at some point in their staffing careers. Meanwhile, 31 percent of Baby Boomers, 32 percent of Gen X, and 27 percent of Gen Y/Millennials have felt discrimination. 

Our data collection methods were sound, so it’s hard to parse out why these findings are so peculiar and contrary to logic. Are the vast majority of women and racial minority respondents just stoic and really optimistic? Should we have more explicitly defined discrimination? Swing and a miss.

Have you experienced discrimination in your staffing or recruitment career?

Respondent group

Male 28%
Female 31%
White 26%
Person of Color 29%
Baby Boomers 31%
Gen X 32%
Millennials 28%


When we broke down reports of discrimination by region, we were surprised to see that respondents in the U.S., UK, and APAC have fared comparatively well (between 26-27 percent of respondents claiming incidents of discrimination in their recruiting careers), but in DACH the figure rose to 42 percent, and in Benelux it was a majority – 50 percent saying they had encountered discrimination versus 45 percent saying they hadn’t, and the remainder declining to respond. Is this a reflection of specific cultural mores or interpretations of the term “discrimination”? Could there be a language translation issue at play? Or are DACH and Benelux respondents more forthcoming about workplace discrimination?


Diversity shortage: internally and in the candidate pool

What’s particularly interesting about the regional breakdowns is that when we asked all regions as to whether there are diversity shortages internally at recruitment agencies, 42 percent of respondents overall said yes but only 32 percent of DACH respondents felt that way, the lowest of any region surveyed. Conversely, when we asked if there was an external diversity shortage in candidate pipelines, 48 percent of respondents overall said there was, but only 40 percent of DACH professionals felt so. And in both cases, UK&I respondents felt most strongly that diversity shortages were an issue, with 44 percent believing that internal diversity was lacking and 56 percent stating that candidate diversity was sub-par.

Is there a diversity shortage in the talent pools from which you find candidates?

NA 44%
APAC 54%
DACH 40%
UK&I 57%


A long road ahead

Ultimately, what we’ve learned from this year’s data set is that got a very long way to go in even acknowledging D&I challenges. 

Here are three other key diversity and inclusion findings that are worthy of another look:

  • 54 percent of respondents overall say some clients require diverse shortlists, with 67 percent of APAC agencies having clients who require them, and 65 percent of staffing firms specializing in sales and marketing roles having clients who require them.
  • 65 percent of respondents say diverse organizations are more effective than others (including 71 percent of women).
  • The larger the size of the company where a respondent works, the more likely he or she is to believe that there is a shortage of diversity in candidate pipelines.

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.