A DEI Leader on Why Belonging Matters For All Workers, Not Just Some

The gig economy has continued to pick up speed during the pandemic, growing 33% in the last year. This is a continuation of a trend we’ve seen over the past few years, where there has been a growing number of contingent workers (temporary workers who work on a contract or project basis or any worker who is not employed in a traditional full-time role). According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, there are roughly 5.9 million contingent workers and they represent nearly 4% of U.S. employment.

Feeling valued for your efforts and contributions at work has been shown to boost engagement and productivity and lead to a more positive workplace culture. When an individual is part of the contingent workforce, it’s harder for leaders to make them feel a part of their full-time employee group. So how can leaders ensure that all of their workers feel valued, engaged, and included and not just some?

In this episode of Break the Bias, Consciously Unbiased founder Ashish Kaushal (virtually) sits down with Rebecca Perrault, a TEDx speaker and Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion leader at PRO Unlimited, for an unplugged conversation about how important it is for business leaders to build a sense of inclusion and belonging for all, especially for contingent workers; and why advancing diversity & inclusion for this segment of workers is beneficial for workplace culture overall. Rebecca also shares how leaders can better address their biases and measure diversity at the macro level in order to make a positive social impact and create meaningful change.

Read below for some key takeaways:


ASHISH: Why is diversity, equity, and inclusion personally important to you?

REBECCA: I think it is something that has been innate in me since I was a child. I’ve always been passionate about equality and fairness. I’m a woman and I’m biracial. I know what it’s like to be the only person of color in a room or in an entire organization, both from a personal and professional perspective. I worked in male-dominated fields for the first half of my career. I really experienced some roadblocks and challenges. Once I started to learn and recognize those roadblocks, I harnessed that passion to become an advocate. I like to help others have ‘aha moments,’ whether they come from diverse backgrounds or from majority groups, and strive to make long-term change in the world. I focus on utilizing that history and that experience to move us all forward.

ASHISH: Can you further unpack how companies who are including only full time workers in their D&I efforts won’t be able to succeed in real culture change?

REBECCA: When we think about contingent workers, sometimes we think about somebody sitting in their home office. But, contingent workers are sitting side by side with full-time workers. They are contributing just as much as a full-time worker to the bottom line of the company, to the success of the company. If contingent workers are not included in that conversation, then the company isn’t fully realizing all of the benefits. The company is not contributing to social change as much as they could. These people need to be a part of this conversation.

Related: Beyond The Numbers: A DEI Leader On How To Create a More Inclusive Workplace

ASHISH: We hear a lot about co-employment risk. Can you explain some of the risks leaders may perceive happening if they include more of their contingent workforce in company events–and why niceness is not a co-employment risk?

REBECCA: It’s so much about language and about communication. Companies get really nervous about this. I’ve experienced this problem in several capacities. It’s about making sure that you are saying, ‘I’m including our employees and our contingent workers in the holiday party.’ Those lines are still there, but they’re both included. Working at PRO, I can really see the benefits of being able to partner with an MSP and partner with suppliers who are working on this, and who can help bring the contingent workforce up to the same level and the same standards that a company has given for their full-time employees. There’s this balance of where we can include them and know the areas that we can mitigate risk through language for including them. Where we feel like we can’t risk, how can we utilize our partners, such as MSP (managed service providers) and our suppliers, to help us with this?

ASHISH: Are there certain things that clients are doing that you think, ‘wow, I wish all our clients are doing this,’ in terms of diversity and inclusion?

REBECCA: There have been only a handful of our clients who are thinking about the contingent workforce when it comes to the inclusion side. The ones that are, you can see the difference in their data. You can see the difference in the reoccurring contracts for workers. You can see it in contingent workers leaving their contracts early at such a small rate. What they’re doing is trying to include them in every place that they can.

When we just talked about the co-employment risks, however, these clients establish their own boundaries. They’re including them in as many trainings as they can and where they’re not, they are engaging with us and saying, ‘how can you help with this piece of it?’ They are holding suppliers accountable for a level of inclusion. It’s not just about bringing us candidates, it’s about how you are supporting those candidates. The clients that are doing that and taking a more partner approach with us as their MSP have been able to see those results. They’re seeing more diverse networks and they’re seeing workers who feel more included.

Related: Top DEI Conversations In 2023 That Leaders Should Have

ASHISH: How can we measure diversity at the micro and not only the macro level?

REBECCA: We need to look at data at an aggregate level. We look at the data to find out how groups of people are doing, how groups of people are feeling, and what are the differences in their experience?

I think the difference piece is so key because HR, stopping suppliers, and MSPs have looked at the aggregate for a long time: ‘How are our people doing? Overall, what is worker satisfaction?’ But, when you’re talking about the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion, you have to look at the differences in experience. We can do that at that whole level, the differences of experience at the aggregate high macro level to see where we want to go. We do that through diversity disclosures. Going directly to the workers to voluntarily collect that data. Then overlay it on metrics like ones that I mentioned before (satisfaction or if they are leaving contracts early), all of these things give us that macro level.

At the individual level, the qualitative data of talking to people, finding out individual experiences and the stories that go along with that macro data is where it gets so important and where it gets meaningful. It is also where I’ve seen the ‘aha’ moments with leaders and employees.

ASHISH: Can you share why increasing opportunities for marginalized groups doesn’t mean decreasing opportunities for others?

REBECCA: It’s not about opening doors for some and closing doors for others. We think that there won’t be enough opportunities for certain groups. That’s not what this is. It’s about making sure everyone has access to the opportunities. I almost imagine looking at a room and a whole line of doors and we want every single one of those to be open. We don’t want it to be just cracked. We don’t want some to be locked. We need them all to be wide open. Some of those doors naturally have some roadblocks.

It’s a little bit hard. For instance, once you get in the door, maybe there are some stones or a chair in the way. We want to remove those barriers to make sure everyone has a level playing field. Or, some doors might need a little step. That investment or that step is very small. But, what it allows us to do is, the person who gets to the front is the one that can do the job the best.

Related: A Leadership Coach On Why It’s Okay To Let Go of Being Productive Right Now

ASHISH: I always say if you have a brain, you have bias. It makes us human, and it’s about learning to better manage the biases that hold us back. What advice can you share about how to address unconscious bias in the workplace?

REBECCA: The more we can bend the river before it gets to an individual, the better. It’s not all on the individual or a hiring manager to block their own biases. The more we can put in place processes that do that, the better. We can have blind resumes in the first few rounds of looking through resumes to help block that bias. This initial stage is where the quick brain comes in and unconscious bias tends to rear its head. We need to take a look at job descriptions and utilize processes and research to say, ‘What words resonate with different demographic groups? What criteria innately blocks out several demographic groups?’

Then, education so we can be aware of our unconscious biases will help block bias. It is also important to recognize that there are a lot of things we do to trick ourselves when it comes to unconscious bias. We don’t want to have biases. Nobody wants to think that they are biased. So we think, ‘Oh, I’m shifting my criteria because it’s legitimate, it’s objective.’ Our brains are doing that because a certain stereotype fits that role for us. What can we do to block that? We can change processes to set the criteria in advance and agree to it, prioritize the criteria, and talk about candidates, criteria by criteria rather than candidate by candidate.

ASHISH: What are some small moves (what we call Microprogressions™ at Consciously Unbiased) that each of us can do to help build belonging in the workplace?

REBECCA: There is comfort in being able to talk about differences. The more we can do as individuals to read, practice, and talk about the different dimensions of difference, the better. It can only help increase belonging.

For instance, leaders should know what LGBTQ+ means or LGBTQIA and practice saying that. Knowing what each of those terms stand for and being able to say it and have it roll off your tongue is important. I worked with a leader a little while ago and we practiced it. He stood in front of the mirror and said it over and over and over again so that when he was talking about this work, he could include everyone. Before he practiced and learned, he said, ‘We want to really make sure we include LGB, you know, that acronym.’ Does that make you feel included? No, it does not. Those small acts of knowledge and practice can make such a huge difference. One leader being able to say LGBTQ+ makes such a difference to the entire organization. If you are a part of that community or not, it still gives everyone a sense of a culture of inclusion.



Report: “The Future of Diversity & Inclusion in the Contingent Workforce

U.S. Census Bureau of Labor Statistics: A Look at Contingent Workers

BetterUp: Contingent Workforce Management: What Employers Need to Know

FoxHire Blog: Strategies to Assimilate Your Contingent Workers in With Core Employees

HBR: Your Company Needs Independent Workers


Holly Corbett

As the Director of Content at Consciously Unbiased, Holly Corbett is fueling inclusion through storytelling to build a passionate community and creating experiences inside organizations to transform workplace culture.
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