At first, employers may decide to focus diversity and inclusion initiatives primarily on employees.
That approach, however, may put those initiatives at risk of ignoring a large segment of workers who perform operations for the organization — namely, contingent workers, according to Vaishali Shah, vice president of diversity and inclusion for managed services programs at Randstad Sourceright in North America.
Shah, who was selected to fill the newly created role in April, provides strategic guidance to managed service program, or MSP, clients on D&I initiatives for their contingent workforce programs. She has more than 20 years of experience working in the consulting, HR and talent acquisition spaces, with additional experience in corporate wellness strategy.
In an interview with HR Dive, Shah discussed the unique challenges and opportunities employers have in implementing D&I goals within their contingent workforces, as well as the role that inclusion plays in ensuring sustainable D&I success in the long-term.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
HR DIVE: I wanted to ask about your role being in the MSP space. Can you talk a little bit about what exactly it means for your role as a D&I professional?
Vaishali Shah: For a while now, companies have been trying to think about diversifying their workforce. The pace and direction of that may have changed a little bit with the happenings of the past year.
However, while companies may do so much for their employed workforce, what they may leave behind is a large portion of the workforce. U.S. government reports, and several other private reports, [show that] 35 to 40% of the U.S. workforce works in the contingent space. So we're leaving behind a large population if we don't think about diversity and inclusion for that population. A large proportion of an average large company's workforce is contingent workforce as well, and when they put so much effort into making sure that their workplaces are diverse, that their company benefits from being represented by the full labor workforce, we want to be able to help them extend that into the contingent space.
With that in mind, what D&I issues do you see as being especially pertinent to the contingent workforce?
Shah: When I think about the contingent workforce broadly, when companies bring in people to work within their non-employed workspace, there's a variety of different ways in which they do that. So they may hire independent contractors, they may hire [an] extended workforce through companies like Randstad. Or they may have a segment of work done through individuals or groups of people. And what we see is that [this group of workers] may not reflect the workforce in the way that it should.
A large portion of [companies'] work, innovation, brand and efforts are happening through this work base. We think that there is also a gap in the representation of this population. So the same type of work that companies do in their employed workspace can be modified and customized to help engage a more diverse workforce. And companies aren't looking at this, or the industry isn't looking at this quite yet.
That's what we call talent diversity in the contingent workspace, and that is one big area. What that entails is, for each company, looking at where they might be underrepresented, looking at where they have opportunities to increase diversity and really making that connection between their D&I strategy and the underrepresented groups within their workforce that may not have had access to those opportunities. That's one of the things that I see us making a big difference in.
The second stage is where companies have traditionally thought about diversity in the contingent workspace as diverse supplier spend; what they have tracked either due to federal regulations or their own efforts and strategies to say "ok, we want to make sure that we're supporting diverse suppliers." We want to make sure that we spend a certain portion or percentage of our supply or expense in this area, which is, I think, a great thing. But what we want to be able to do is to extend this further and to connect the diverse suppliers, their performance, their opportunities and what they bring to the table with more opportunities to support companies, whether that means bringing suppliers from a different demographic [or] from a different type of a population into companies that we partner with. Or whether that means what the suppliers are able to do in terms of bringing diversity.
It's an evolving space. It's not easy [and] it's not a simple equation.
What have companies learned in the past year, in your opinion, when it comes to D&I issues?
Shah: I think companies have realized that they need to continue to evolve in their diversity and related initiatives, not just because unfortunate things happen in the world, but also because their own employees change and evolve, and their needs change and evolve. The marketplace changes. The pandemic, which we didn't even have anywhere on our horizon, came up and changed a lot of things and made the workplace very different from what it used to be.
In my opinion, and in my conversations with our clients, I think they are starting to have a broader and deeper conversation about D&I at the same time. It's no longer a one-time thing, it's no longer one strategy or one goal. It's a lot of continuing to evolve and pivot when we need to and moving the needle. In the past, some companies may have been really aggressive and said we want to make this jump in this percentage of our population, we want to achieve this kind of a balance in our workforce, and then just kind of work towards that.
However, I think now it is more of an evolving discussion. What else can we do? How are we bringing in new perspectives [and] more programs into the fold? Can we connect more things into this contingent space? This isn't something that a lot of companies were thinking about, and now they are.
How does inclusion fit into your perspective on diversity?
Shah: Without inclusion, just moving numbers is not sustainable, especially in the contingent space because a lot of that workforce gets translated into full-time employment, and new people come into the contingent workforce all the time.
To me, inclusion is making sure that companies are thinking about … what is a true fit for their role? What is the talent that they need? Where can they develop? What are some things that they're not doing today, that might bring in a more diverse set of people into their fold? And how do they find a way to make sure that those people can contribute, and that they can just be a part of their organization, as much as anybody else that's already there?
"I think that companies are already learning that it can't just be a one-team effort or one-department effort."
There's no point in building a diverse workforce if you're not going to give them the opportunity to bring all of their talent, showcase it, contribute and be respected for it. So [it's] making sure that our own company, our suppliers and our clients are really thinking about it holistically and sustainably, so that they're not going off and doing one big thing today and then lose steam, budget and energy. Sustainably helping them build that road map of, when you bring diverse people into your workforce, you also make sure that they succeed. And metrics can absolutely be helpful there.
And we have a lot of technology to help them. Maybe we then measure conversion; are we able to convert the contingent workforce into your full time workforce? Maybe we measure, you know, promotions; are they able to stay there and continue to build upon their skills and their roles within the company so they can contribute to the bottom line? And that will speak for itself, and the company won't have to think about diversity in the way that they have been forced to in the recent past. It'll just become part of the fabric of work.
How do you ensure that important D&I work is not falling on the lap of any one person or group? How do you ensure that there is a shared responsibility?
Shah: Companies are still learning that piece. It used to be on the shoulders of HR, traditionally. It started to become a little bit broader and went on the shoulders of managers. It became a little bit more important to companies, and maybe their leadership took that on. And then [employee resource groups] came along and became part of the whole delivery of those initiatives and goals.
What has really helped is the conversation between different groups — HR, procurement, D&I leaders, hiring managers and hiring leadership — and bringing suppliers into the equation, bringing individual nonprofits or groups that are working towards specific demographics and causes into the equation. And I think that has invited people from different walks of the company, different departments, different levels, to work side by side. Very often, even within our own company, we have ERGs where you have a senior vice president working alongside new-hire grads. We've got mentorship programs that prepare people of different experiences, levels and departments within our company.
Those types of initiatives will need to continue so that the responsibility and the impact of these programs doesn't sit with a small number of groups. Slowly, it will be so intricately involved in every group's work that it doesn't have to be a separate team anymore, and everybody will have a part to play in it. I think that companies are already learning that it can't just be a one-team effort or one-department effort.
Clarification: This story has been updated to better reflect the size of the contingent workforce.