SIA in 2020 engaged in a collaborative research project to examine the validity of a long-held business belief: Companies with comprehensive DE&I initiatives covering contingent as well as full-time workers consistently outperform those lacking such programs. The findings not only confirmed this belief but also highlighted the imperative nature of inclusivity across all employment categories.

SIA revisited this exploration in 2022 with a follow-up study, conducted again in partnership with HireTalent and Consciously Unbiased, finding a nuanced landscape with both progress and persistent challenges.

The update revealed a positive trend: An increasing number of companies were actively monitoring DE&I metrics within their contingent workforce. This marked a significant shift in awareness and commitment, showcasing a recognition of the importance of extending DE&I efforts beyond traditional employment structures. However, despite this commendable progress, substantial barriers continued to impede the full integration of contingent workers into DE&I initiatives.

Web of Concerns

Chief among these challenges is the issue of accessibility to diversity data. Concerns loomed large over the tracking and secure storage of sensitive candidate information within the contingent workforce. The dilemma of determining where this data should reside further complicated matters. Should it be managed by staffing firms for occasional audits, integrated into the company’s human resources information system or housed in the vendor management system? Each option brings with it a unique set of considerations, leading to a quagmire of decision-making.

Legal implications add an additional layer of complexity. Questions surrounding the storing of diversity data and the concept of co-employment create a web of concerns that organizations find challenging to navigate. Establishing standardized measurement practices can become a daunting task as the legal landscape remains ambiguous and dynamic.

Operational Challenges

The lack of ownership, or movement of ownership of DE&I responsibilities, within organizations emerged as another substantial barrier in the study. While the heightened social unrest of 2020 and 2021 elevated DE&I to C-level responsibility in some instances, the fragmented nature of its ownership across departments like HR, talent acquisition and even procurement can hinder effective goal setting and progress reporting. This lack of cohesive leadership perpetuated a scenario where DE&I initiatives often struggled to gain the necessary momentum and align goals, the study found.

Waning Interest

Despite the research consistently indicating improved performance when contingent workforces were included in DE&I initiatives, the current climate indicates DE&I could be taking a back seat. Is it a matter of the initiative being deemed too challenging to initiate, too demanding to sustain or simply a casualty of the current state of the economy, temporarily relegated until a more opportune time?

The urgency of addressing these challenges continues to amplify the importance of DE&I in the contingent workforce. Whether motivated by ethical considerations, access to talent, fostering an engaged workforce, reducing turnover or achieving better business outcomes, the time is now to keep DE&I as a top-tier business imperative.

The advocacy for DE&I does not rest solely on the shoulders of those holding the title of chief diversity officer. SIA research has consistently shown that individuals from various roles and levels can contribute significantly to the advancement of DE&I. Small actions, such as measuring diversity rather than merely focusing on diversity spend, can lay the foundation for substantial change.

As we delve deeper into the complexities and potential solutions surrounding DE&I within the contingent workforce, it is crucial to acknowledge the multifaceted nature of the issue.

The imperative for DE&I within the contingent workforce cannot be overstated. The journey involves overcoming challenges, fostering inclusivity and acknowledging the pivotal role of each individual — irrespective of their title — in effecting meaningful change. As we collectively strive for a more inclusive future, let us ensure that DE&I remains not just a priority but a guiding principle for building a workforce that reflects the rich diversity of our global community.