Gender equality has been at the forefront of discussions in media, politics and the workplace. However, the gender gap is still at 79.6%, and has remained relatively unchanged since 2000, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity. And the pay gap is just one, albeit core, problem. There are also other controversial and complicated issues to solve, from the glass ceiling to paid parental leave.

Claudette Cunitz, VP of Western US Sales for Monster’s unit that works with staffing firms, has more than 25 years of experience in the recruiting industry. Cunitz has learned how staffing firms can help their clients find top female talent plus inspire young women to become leaders like those on this year’s Global Power 100 — Women in Staffing list.

Q: What is your role at Monster, and how has your career progressed to get you where you are today?

A: I’m VP of the Western US region, specifically in the staffing vertical. I head up a sales team and a team of managers that support staffing clients for everything west of the Mississippi.

I spent 25 years in the staffing industry — 21 of those years as the owner/operator of a technical staffing firm. I started to get interested in technology and how it can help with recruiting efficiencies. It was a natural progression to join a company that is innovating like Monster. What’s really exciting is that I’ve built an all-female leadership team for the West. I believe women are not any less talented, but sometimes they are a little less likely to ask for that promotion or the raise. When building our leadership team, the deliberate intention was to look at the entire workforce and to see who has the potential for leadership — and to look at female leadership candidates and whether we gave them a fair shot in the past. The staffing vertical really has a lot of strong female leadership potential. We took advantage of that.

Q: What was the climate like for female leaders in the staffing industry? And what would you say is the thing that bothers you the most now?

A: As I was moving up in the staffing industry, I became very involved in industry associations, and I saw that there were mainly men in leadership positions. The staffing industry is so strong at the branch level with women, but there just weren’t many that were making it up to the executive level. Taking a look at that landscape was a little ominous. You just didn’t see a whole lot of upward mobility for women.

A few family members and I decided to venture out on our own. We were a female-owned staffing firm. There weren’t a whole lot of female mentors that you could look at and say, “This is a good road map for my career.” You kind of had to pave one.

We’ve barely moved the needle in the 25 years I’ve been in staffing. We’re 50% of the workforce, and yet less than 5% of board seats are occupied by women.

Q: Have you had any important female influencers, managers or mentors over the course of your career? What’s the best piece of advice they gave you?

A: My sister, who is the CEO of an architectural engineering firm, has been a great mentor. Along with her, women in leadership in the staffing industry have also been great people to look up to. I was on the board of the American Staffing Association for a few years. Once you find strong female leaders, the conversations about wanting to help just naturally occur. Some of the best advice I’ve been given is to become a consultantlevel individual, which for me means being extremely knowledgeable about your company and your industry and to get actively involved by developing a network of female leaders. I was also taught to try new things: Don’t be fearful, follow your instincts. But if you try something new and it doesn’t work, fail fast. Often we’re too patient, trying to see something through when all the indicators are that it’s not working.

Q: Staffing is a competitive industry, which can make relationships with colleagues and mentors complex. What have you learned about being a leader and mentoring others, in general and with women in particular?

A: I find that women in staffing tend to be very collaborative. They’re very open to sharing. If we have the opportunity to identify talented females in organizations, we should set up mentoring programs, help them identify what they need for their growth, and help them facilitate that.

Q: What is the state of gender equality in the staffing industry? How does it vary across verticals (for example, firms with tech clients, healthcare clients, finance clients, etc.)?

A: We find a lot of females in the commercial space. You find more males in technology and the light industrial space. As you look across the top staffing firms in the nation, they’re still predominantly led by men. There’s still a great deal of inequality, and I’d love to see how we can bridge that gap by helping to grow women leaders.

Q: How would you recommend that staffing firms (both internally and for their clients) contribute to closing the gender gap?

A: Staffing professionals can help increase gender equality at the highest levels by sourcing women for these roles and encouraging them to apply, while providing council on gender equality to their clients. There are a number of tools that can be used to source more, hard-to-find female talent for these roles.

Based on what I’ve seen during my time in the staffing industry, there are many women who are branch and even area managers, but once you get beyond that into the executive leadership, that’s where it falters. There’s a big, big gender gap there. Staffing firms should create and foster an environment with the intention of helping to grow and mentor females into those new roles.

Q: SIA’s 2016 Global Power 100 — Women in Staffing list highlights an inspiring group of professionals. What are some examples of these women’s achievements that particularly inspire you?

A: It’s incredibly inspiring to see a list of so many female leaders in staffing, holding prestigious positions like CEO and President across respected, challenging industries like tech and healthcare.

Q: What are the greatest challenges future generations of women in staffing will face? What’s the number one piece of advice you would give young women who aspire to become leaders in this industry?

A: The challenges are twofold. One is the inequality in pay: We’re still at about 80% of the pay of an individual male. The other is genuine opportunity. I would advise them to persevere, know more and continue to learn, and work hard. As younger generations like millennials and Gen Z join the workforce expecting a higher degree of work/life balance, the staffing industry needs to rethink the business models of today in order to attract future leaders.

There are some large organizations that have implemented family leave for men as well as women. I think that’s a beautiful thing and a step in the right direction, but there’s still plenty of work we must do collectively.