The original version of this article was published in Half Times, the digital magazine for Robert Half employees.

Though hers is a storied career of impressive milestones spread over three decades, Rita Steel is much more interested in pointing the lens away from her accomplishments and instead focusing on her work developing diverse leadership in talent solutions.

“What’s most fulfilling to me is seeing people develop and succeed in their careers, growing in the company, and taking on new challenges,” says Rita, president of West and Southwestern U.S. operations for professional talent solutions at Robert Half, where she has worked for 34 years.

A New Jersey native, first-generation American and the first in her family to graduate from college, Rita has built her talent solutions career on the bedrock belief that companies must have a strong and diverse workforce to succeed.

Rita is a member of Robert Half’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Executive Steering Council and serves as the Executive Sponsor for Asian Professionals for Excellence (APEX), one of the company’s five Employee Network Groups (ENGs). APEX was created to amplify Pan-Asian perspectives while creating networks, community, and growth opportunities for Pan-Asian employees.

See this post to learn how Robert Half honored the diversity of Asian cultures with help from the leaders of APEX during this year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.

A commitment to promoting a ‘sense of flexibility’

Early in her career, Rita found herself facing off with a belief system that it was unwise for a woman to try to succeed in corporate America while raising a family. “One of my early goals as a leader was to prove that wrong,” Rita says. “I raised two girls while working.”

She continues, “We all know it’s hard to juggle work and family — but as we were growing and building the company, that was one of the things I wanted to get rid of, that stigma. I wanted to work on that balance for people. I wanted to help instill in our culture and our leadership that sense of flexibility so that people could work hard, have a family, be successful and stay at Robert Half for the long term. And we’ve seen that happen.”

A constant source of motivation: the people at Robert Half

Rita says she stumbled upon Robert Half during her college days. She started as an assistant for a high-level permanent placement biller on Fifth Avenue in New York City while attending Rutgers University — and found it to be fun, exciting and fast-paced.

“How I ended up at Robert Half is that I was looking to get out of public accounting,” Rita says. “I wasn’t thrilled about sitting behind a desk crunching numbers all day. I was able to use my accounting background but apply it in a different way — working with people.”

What’s kept her in talent solutions and motivated her to move up the ladder, she says, is our company’s leadership, team strength, and dynamic, ever-changing environment. “People are the No. 1 reason,” she says. “We have the most talented people in our industry working here at Robert Half, and that keeps me motivated.”

Along the way, Rita has helped countless women and men find rewarding work and gain confidence in their job readiness; she’s also supported the arts as a tool for growth, dedication and discipline. She pioneered our relationship with Dress for Success at Robert Half 20 years ago, which is the foundation for some of our global philanthropic efforts.

Rita also has philanthropic interests outside of work. She and her husband are longtime supporters of the City Ballet of San Diego, for example. Rita’s love of live performance began when she was a child, she says, when her parents often took her to New York City to see a Broadway performance or ballet. Her two daughters, now in their 20s, have also been very involved in dance while growing up.

A focus on excellence and a deep appreciation of mentorship

Rita’s skill for embracing stamina and resilience is evident in her long and successful career with Robert Half. “I ask myself every day, ‘Are we providing clients with excellent service and candidates with great career opportunities?’” Rita says.

She credits her mentor Paul F. Gentzkow, president and CEO of talent solutions, for helping her succeed in her career at Robert Half. “He’s direct and honest in his guidance — this I have always appreciated,” Rita says.

Rita has received several accolades during her more than three decades at Robert Half, including:

  • SIA Global Power 150 “Women in Staffing” (2016-2021)
  • San Diego Business Journal’s “500 Influential Business Leaders” (2017-2021)
  • San Francisco Business Times’ “Top 100 Most Influential Women in Business” (2005-2013) and “Forever Influential Women” (2014-2021)
  • San Diego Magazine’s “Industry Leader” (2017) and “Woman of the Year” finalist (2016)

“If I had to write a headline for my career journey with Robert Half, it would be ‘Fast and Furious,’ says Rita. “Digging in every day, when you think about how far we have come and the miles that we’ve traveled, it really has been fast and furious.”

Follow Rita Steel on LinkedIn.