This spring, society saw years’ worth of change happening in just a few days. First came the coronavirus pandemic, which led to a health crisis of epic proportions along with a devastating economic downturn from the resulting lockdown. Then, the shocking killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer once again exposed the ongoing brutality too often visited upon African Americans in our society. The resulting protests and the ongoing debates about police and criminal justice reform illustrate both the possibility for positive change and the peril of a society slipping into chaos. And no doubt the news cycle will bring us more difficult news before this article is published.
The world that will emerge after this crisis will not be the same world that we had before. In addition to the larger societal changes that are sure to take hold, staffing and the workforce solutions ecosystem will see several important practices change. Among these are the relationship between people and the location of their work, how work is viewed through a health lens, and the role the industry will have in overcoming racism and anti-Black bias while embracing diversity and inclusion in the workforce.
In this environment, the key question is, how can staffing executives and contingent workforce managers work to build back a better world for the entire ecosystem and society out of the crisis of today?
Remote work. To start, now that our industry has shown that it can operate successfully with most of its staff working at home, we must acknowledge that it will be very tough to get workers back in the office like they were in the world before. A recent survey from IBM shows that 54% of Americans want to keep remote work as their primary mode of work and 70% say they’d like it to at least be an option. Those organizations that adjust to their new reality and make remote work productive for all staff who prefer it — including temporary workers and contractors — will be able to attract the best talent, please clients and outperform the competition.
Health. Additionally, health is going to be a critical factor for clients, candidates and internal staff for the foreseeable future. How do you ensure that your workplace is healthy for both traditional employees and for contingent workers of all types? Getting that answer right can literally be a life or death decision. The safety of your workers, the reputation of your firm and the reputation of the entire industry depends on those decisions being made well. When pressure comes to cut corners and put workers’ health at risk, it becomes crucial for staffing firms and contingent workforce managers to push back and insist on safe working conditions for all.
Anti-racism, diversity and inclusion. Finally, with regard to actions to help reduce the historical and systemic influence of racism, and particularly anti-Black racism, I’d suggest that one place for the industry and ecosystem to begin is with a renewed commitment to bringing diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives to the next level in talent acquisition processes. This means going beyond just “check the box” initiatives — the recruitment of a few diversity suppliers and bland statements of support — to doing the difficult work needed to drive real, long-lasting change.
On the most personal level, the change that needs to happen is within each of us. It’s about overcoming embedded fears, prejudices and attitudes that are often only expressed unconsciously. To make real change will require purposely taking action to improve or dismantle systems and processes that hold back Black people as well as others of diverse backgrounds.
At the organizational level, the industry should work to stamp out the remaining overt racism and bias in the hiring process. While it happens less frequently than in the past, I still see reports of hiring managers who have explicitly asked or subtly expressed preference for a specific race, gender or ethnic background. Phrases like, “people like me/him/you” need to be rejected. It’s up to staffing executives, program managers and others in power to push back against that bias.
We must help bring hiring managers a diverse set of candidates and educate them to see diversity as the strength it is rather than a burden. Along with that is the building of pipelines and pools of diverse candidates through outreach to communities of color. This outreach can help educate these communities about the benefits and opportunities of contingent work and staffing, as well as to find new groups of workers for the roles available.
The work to be done also requires a thorough look inside your own organization. What can you do to make your hiring practices and workplace more just, open and unbiased? While building a cohesive culture is important, look to find ways to add to your culture rather than insist that everyone fit exactly within your existing culture. This means developing a clear-eyed assessment of how your culture can be high performing without insisting that everyone look and behave just like you.
I know for myself and for the SIA organization, we certainly don’t have all the answers. Frankly, we might not even be asking all the right questions. We do know, however, that we have a unique position as an independent and objective researcher of the staffing industry and workforce solutions ecosystem. Our purpose is to inform, connect and elevate, and we know that our platform and voice come with an important responsibility to help make a better future.
In addition to renewed internal efforts at building diversity in our own hiring processes and ensuring that we offer an environment where people of all backgrounds can feel a sense of belonging, we will redouble our efforts to provide a platform to more diverse voices, opinions and perspectives through our publications, events and research.
One contribution in particular that I believe we are uniquely suited for is to help raise the level of knowledge and understanding of what’s possible for diversity and inclusion in contingent workforce programs. To that end, we are particularly pleased to be launching a joint research effort in conjunction with HireTalent and Consciously Unbiased to better understand the current state of diversity and inclusion in contingent workforce programs and to chart progress for the ecosystem into the future. HireTalent has been on the forefront of D&I efforts for several years and we are excited to be partnering with them on this research.
We are witnessing the rebirth of society and our industry. Let’s be part of that process to ensure the world that emerges is built back better, with a more just, diverse and inclusive staffing industry and contingent workforce that works for everyone.