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 analyzing our data.

We presented two questions related to diversity in our GRID 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 organizations 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?

The responses were not promising, truthfully. Only 41 percent of global respondents overall felt that there was a diversity problem in recruitment, with more - 44 percent - stating outright that there was no problem. And 15 percent had no opinion, or didn’t care to share it. The next question, and arguably the more important one, spoke to whether or not recruiting professionals felt that diverse organizations are stronger. We were heartened to see that 59 percent of respondents felt this to be true, and only 18 percent disagreed, with 23 percent having no opinion.

Interestingly, when we broke it down by respondent, senior leaders (C-suite and VPs) tended to view diversity as less of an issue (46 percent said there was no diversity problem in recruitment), and slightly fewer thought that diverse organizations were stronger (54 percent).

46% of senior leaders don't believe there's a diversity problem in recruitment

59% of front-line practitioners believe diverse organizations are more effective than others

When we compared those findings from senior leadership to front-line practitioners (recruiters, sourcers, and salespeople), we also saw some compelling results. Fewer respondents in this bracket found that recruitment had a diversity problem (just 37 percent), but more of them considered diverse organizations to be stronger, meeting the general baseline (59 percent).

There are a couple of conclusions to unpack here. First, while our GRID data is accurate, it’s accurate only in reflecting the sentiment that respondents have. Respondents don’t generally think that we have a diversity problem in the staffing industry. This does not necessarily mean we don’t have one. It’s simply that it isn’t widely perceived. There are two resulting interpretations. One is that we truly don’t have an issue. If so, wonderful. The second is that the industry isn’t diverse enough to recognize 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 directionally that front-line practitioners feel more strongly that diversity is a business asset than senior leaders do. The statistical delta here wasn’t enormous so I won’t read a ton into the results, but they’re nonetheless a little concerning. 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, and it seems they’re not.

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.

When we examine the findings geographically, we get a better picture of how regions vary in their opinions. Sixty-five percent of Australia and New Zealand respondents and 64 percent of Mainland Europe respondents believe that diverse organizations 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 firm’s 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.

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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.