AS EVERY HR DIRECTOR KNOWS, THE BUSINESS CASE FOR DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE HAS NEVER BEEN STRONGER. IT IS NOW UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTED THAT GREATER DIVERSITY REALLY DOES HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON CORE ORGANISATIONAL OUTCOMES. IT’S PERHAPS NO SURPRISE, THEN, THAT HIRING MANAGERS ROUTINELY AND ACTIVELY SEEK PROFESSIONALS FROM A WIDE RANGE OF BACKGROUNDS, WHO CAN DRAW ON A BROAD SET OF EXPERIENCES, WHEN RECRUITING TALENT. BUT HOW DIVERSE ARE THE STAFFING PARTNERS ENTRUSTED WITH SOURCING DIVERSE CANDIDATES?

Not enough demographic data
Earlier this year, the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), in conjunction with a fellow trade association, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), set out to demographically map the workforce across our sector.

When we first embarked on this collaborative project, our hope had been to identify not only what the current make-up of the recruitment sector looked like, but also any discrepancies between corporate and individual views, and where diversity may be ‘lacking’.

What we found, however, was a more pressing issue: a lack of information. Demographic data simply isn’t being recorded by the vast majority of staffing companies.

For this project, we surveyed both corporate representatives and individuals working in the sector – and we were surprised to find that two in five recruitment businesses do not record demographic data on their own workforces. When quizzed on why they didn’t collect this data, 38% of respondents said they considered their organizations‘ too small’, while 26% said they had never considered collecting this information. A further 6% admitted they thought the practice would be too heavy on time and resources, while 4% didn’t feel confident they had the expertise to record demographic data.

Of course, as HR professionals are only too aware, accurately recording sensitive data – and the legal processing and storing of this information – can be a challenging task, so it is perhaps understandable that many recruitment businesses do not currently record a lot of information. However, we also know that without an accurate picture of the current workplace, it’s impossible to identify where groups are under-represented and may, perhaps, be facing a barrier at work.

We should also note that many of these firms will be diligently recording the demographic data of the candidates they work with on behalf of their clients – so it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to extend this good practice into their internal operations.

A fairly even balance
From what we can ascertain from the data that we were able to collect, it seems there is a fairly even balance between men and women at a senior level. This suggests that development opportunities across the sector are potentially equal for both genders, although, the possibility that more women simply took part in the survey could skew these results. Our research indicated a significant under-representation of other genders.

Around a quarter (24%) of corporate respondents said that they believed their entire workforce was heterosexual. However, 64% of this group admitted they did not record any sexual orientation data on their workforce. Of our individual respondents, 94% identified as heterosexual, while 4% said they were gay or lesbian. Official figures indicate that 93.7% of the UK population identified as straight or heterosexual in 2019, so this is widely in line with the national average.

In terms of ethnicity, both surveys indicate that over 75% of the recruitment workforce is White British. Around half (49%) of corporate responses indicated that more than half of their workforce belongs to this group – but, again, almost the same number (46%) admitted they do not record this information. Of the individuals surveyed, 77% answered that they were themselves, White British. While this, on the surface, may suggest that the recruitment workforce may be largely representative of the UK as a whole – which is 80.5% White British – we must also take into account that professionals working in this sector are likely to be disproportionally concentrated in large towns and cities. With White British accounting for 65.6% of people in Birmingham and 44.9% in London, recruitment may not be as ethnically representative as it first seems.

According to the Employers Forum on Disability, 18% of the working-age population in Britain are disabled as defined by the Equality Act 2010. With this in mind, the fact that just 4% of our individual respondents identified as disabled seems surprisingly low. The fact that 14% of corporate respondents stated that up to half of their workforce has a disability suggests there are some discrepancies between the corporate and individual perception of the current representation of those with disabilities. Again, almost half (47%) of respondents said they did not record disability data.

Finally, while 90% of businesses reported that they don’t record any data about the religious beliefs of their workforce, the individual responses reported the recruitment industry is made up of 47% Christian, 31% atheist, 13% agnostic, and 7% ‘spiritual’. Either Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and other religions are severely underrepresented across our sector, or inadequate reporting means we don’t have a true picture of our faith communities.

A culture of inclusivity
Despite notable gaps in the hard data available, there’s a general agreement across the board, from both sets of respondents, that a culture of inclusivity and diversity exists within recruitment. Both groups remained on the fence about staff having access to equality, diversity, and inclusion training. This suggests that while recruitment businesses intend to create inclusive workplaces, few have implemented the training needed to turn sentiment into tangible results. Interestingly, while the corporate respondents were undecided on whether or not the business has an active and evidenced diversity and inclusion program, individual respondents were more positive that this was the case.

An opportunity for excellence
It is ironic that many companies responsible for ensuring that their clients build diverse and inclusive teams are not doing enough to benchmark their own progress in this area. However, with ED&I rising up the corporate agenda for client businesses, recruiters themselves must harness data to ensure their own workforce reflects the diversity of the businesses they partner with.

At APSCo we are committed to working with members to provide best practice and legal guidance on recording demographic data to ensure recruitment companies can better identify where improvements to diversity and inclusion strategies may be required for their business.

Recruitment firms that take a best-practice approach to measure and tracking their own diversity initiatives will be best placed to lead by example and help clients achieve their own ED&I objectives – and benefit from the competitive advantage this brings. And internal HR managers can nudge their staffing partners to embrace diversity data by asking how they ensure their own workforces are representative.