Diversity and Inclusion: How Does Staffing Stack Up?

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A tumultuous 2020 helped shed light on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion across the country and throughout specific industries. New data reveal how staffing fares, specifically, and where company leaders can make meaningful changes right now.

If there were silver linings last year, one of them may have been a broader view and awareness of diversity and inclusion issues in the workplace. As the employers of nearly 16 million temporary and contract workers each year, staffing companies with reliable and relevant employee-focused data will be more competitive and successful in the short term and the long run.

Staffing companies, however, also must engage, retain, and develop their own corporate employees to grow and succeed. Recently, ASA research partner ClearlyRated released new industry-specific data that can help staffing companies take a fresh look at their corporate practices when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Culled from interviews across more than 50 staffing companies, the data show strengths and weaknesses. In terms of gender, the industry is doing a good job of bringing in women—but when it comes to moving them up, the numbers are not nearly as strong.

“We are getting good representation. As an industry we hire more women than men,” says ClearlyRated chief executive officer Eric Gregg. “But as you look at the additional levels of leadership and management they might attain, you see those numbers drop off dramatically.”

Hispanics account for 8% of corporate staffing employees, versus 17.3% of the population at large. Black workers make up 4.8% of corporate staffing employees, versus 12.3% of the overall.

In terms of ethnicity, there are issues around intake and retention. “We don’t actually hire a lot of Black or Hispanic people: There is a top-of-the-funnel problem, and then on top of that we aren’t able to retain them long enough to give them opportunities within leadership and management,” Gregg says.

Here’s an overview of the findings. (To view an on-demand webinar on this topic, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Staffing Industry: Insights From Industry Leaders and Data From the Field,” go to americanstaffing.net/webinars.)

What the Numbers Show

In terms of race and ethnicity, representation in staffing lags behind the general population. Hispanics account for 8% of corporate staffing employees, versus 17.3% of the population at large. Black workers make up 4.8% of corporate staffing employees versus 12.3% of the overall. Asians fare slightly better, making up 9.2% within staffing as compared to 6.3% of the general population.

Women, meanwhile, are statisically overrepresented in the industry: They make up 58.1% of the staffing corporate workforce versus 47% of the general population. The numbers flip for men, who account for 40.2% within staffing and 53% of the overall.

Asians fare slightly better, making up 9.2% within staffing as compared to 6.3% of the general population.

Other figures worth noting: The LGBTA+ community accounts for 3.9% of staffing personnel, veterans account for 1.6%, and single parents make up 6.9%.

As Gregg notes, many of the stronger diversity numbers taper off as researchers explore the upper echelons of staffing. Those who identify as Black or Hispanic make up 2.7% of staffing executives, 5.6% of directors, 16.5% of branch managers, and 5.5.% of account managers. Women represent 72.6% of support staff and account for just 27% of executives. They make up more than 48.3% of the director ranks, 43.7% of branch managers, and 65.1% of account managers.

In the context of diversity and inclusion, the researchers also asked staffing company employees how they feel about the industry. Overall, they classed just 10.6% as detractors and 67% as promoters. Views among women aligned almost exactly with those figures, while Black workers took a slightly less positive view, with 13% detractors and 62% promoters.

What the Data Mean

While the data reveal the lay of the land among staffing firms, it’s useful to dig in deeper to understand the implications of this research.

“We have to ask the next question, which is: Why?” Gregg notes. Why isn’t staffing as a whole doing a better job of hiring for diversity? Why aren’t women and minorities making it into positions of leadership in larger numbers?

Those who identify as Black or Hispanic make up 2.7% of staffing executives, 5.6% of directors, 16.5% of branch managers, and 5.5.% of account managers.

Research shows that women and minorities feel they are less likely to have the same opportunities for advancement. Perception matters: Just 7.1% of men versus 13.4% of Black workers are detractors. It’s reasonable to posit that lack of opportunity for advancement feeds those negative perceptions. There’s a gap in perception around pay as well.

Some 30% of women and 49% of Black workers don’t feel they are paid fairly compared to others who do similar work, versus 26% of men and 21% of White employees who hold such views. Some of those perceptions are grounded in fact. “Say you hire a diverse crew,” Gregg explains. “Fast forward two years and that cohort will have lost women and it will have lost people of color. When you look to see who is ready to be promoted, you see a lot of white and a lot of male.”

Women represent 72.6% of support staff and account for just 27% of executives. They make up more than 48.3% of the director ranks, 43.7% of branch managers, and 65.1% of account managers.

The “why” of all this is complex. There may be unconscious bias, or perhaps business structures lean toward male advancement. Staffing firms, for example, may not offer the kind of flexibility that gives a single mother the chance to do her best work. Each firm will likely need to explore its own circumstance in order to get to causation.

In the meantime, though, there are changes that can be made across the board in terms of greater diversity and inclusion throughout the echelons. “We have to focus on making people feel that this is a place for them and a place where they can make a career,” Gregg asserts.

“As an industry, we hire more women than men. But as you look at the additional levels of leadership and management they might attain, you see those numbers drop off dramatically.”

—Eric Gregg, ClearlyRated

For many leaders—especially the white males who may not share a lived experience with women and minority employees—this means getting out of your personal headspace. “If you are a leader, you cannot intuit this on your own. You have to measure it, and you have to ask people the right questions: Do they feel included? Do they feel like there is fairness in compensation?” Gregg says. “And if they tell you that you are behind, then you have to look at what you can do to change that. That means we have to be OK with being vulnerable as leaders. We have to open ourselves up to actually learning.”


Those looking for a simple, practical first step can try “blind hiring.” For a given applicant pool, strip away all the identifying markers—anything in the application that might give a clue as to gender, race, or ethnicity. Redact those details and make your first assessment based on more objective criteria. By eliminating unconscious bias early in the process, “you end up with a much more diverse group of candidates who make it to the interview round,” Gregg says.

Blind hiring doesn’t address the disparity in advancement opportunity, however. That will require a deeper dive into the specific people and processes that drive each staffing firm. But it can be a good place to start, leveling the playing field and bringing a more diverse workforce through the front door.


Adam Stone, a freelance writer based in Annapolis, MD, is a regular contributor to Staffing Success. Send feedback on this article to success@americanstaffing.net. Engage with ASA on social media—go to americanstaffing.net/social.

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