The HR Juggler

The Gender Agenda in HR

Posted on: January 30, 2011

A couple of days ago I was asked to provide comment on the gender divide in HR. My immediate reaction was that I really don’t have very strong feelings on the subject at all.

Sure, I recognise that HR is a profession dominated by women (up to 70% apparently) and that there seem to be more men at a senior level than a junior level…but it doesn’t keep me awake at night. I don’t personally believe that the CIPD need to go on a major recruitment drive to get more men into the profession, evaluate how easy it is for women to progress within it or analyse why more women are attracted to it than men. To me, I don’t feel it matters hugely; it is what it is.

This undoubtedly reflects my personal experience of working in HR; certainly I have consistently had fewer male colleagues than female HR colleagues. But I have also found in the companies that I have worked for that there is a fairly even split at the senior HR Director or Head of HR level and that gender is not an issue, either in perception or reality. Throughout my career (and specifically when I had an HR boss rather than a CEO-boss) I have almost always had high-flying, high-achieving, immensely senior female HR bosses, who have been great role models.

As to why more women than men work in HR, I can only venture that it is perhaps to do with a perception of HR being soft and empathetic (traditionally seen as female qualities), rather data-driven and analytical (traditionally seen as ‘hard’, male strengths). Of course, HR is and should be both, though I sometimes suspect we don’t embrace that as much as we could or should. And I know I for one, initially chose HR as a career “because I wanted to help people…..” 😉 It does of course happen sometimes that I’m able to do that, but not usually in the way I originally envisaged.

What I would really like to know though is this: am I just lucky in my experience? Are gender issues within HR a real, live-and-kicking debate and a source of frustration for you in your organisation? Does it differ by sector? Am I missing something in all of this?

I would love to hear your views!

8 Responses to "The Gender Agenda in HR"

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Karen Wise, Alison Chisnell. Alison Chisnell said: New Post: The Gender Agenda in HR http://bit.ly/hO0VRE It it relevant and does it matter? Would love your views! #hr #hrblogs #connectinghr […]

great question. in my role, we run executive education events, I deal with a lot of senior HR people and I have to say I think the split is pretty even, but maybe just edging on the female side. Your statement about you “just wanting to help people” is spot on, does it matter if you are male of female if the driving goal is helping people to develop themselves and guide, advise people?

We are brought up (evolve even) to notice difference in gender be it deliberate, inherent or unwitting. This won’t ever create a totally equal environment for either sex but some gender balance can emerge.

In HR, it’s a lack of balance that is the gender issue. With traditionally a largely female environment, labels or even expectations of HR being soft or empathetic are easily attributed but with no foundation or purpose. In fact the gender issue is a perpetuation of stereotyping which can’t be good for anyone.

Also, I still hear of those moments in the office when a group of women stop talking as their male colleague walks past, then resume their hushed conversation. Perhaps HR is not always as empathetic as we like to think!

I agree that there is a perceived notion of HR being an empathetic (feminine) vs analytical (masculine) role. Even though the reality is HR encompasses both. I do think the distribution varies greatly across industries. I’ve also observed male managers advance into HR roles whereas females study and seek positions in the field. Maybe that has something to do with a greater male population in upper level HR positions?

Coming into HR from a retail background I am use to the same kind of gender balance with men taking the senior roles but females being the majority of the workforce. Not sure a specified recruitment is needed to balance this but senior HR professionals should keep diversification in mind for all positions especially within our field.

In my last organisation, with an HR function of 500+ people globally, there was a pretty good mix male/female, although in some countries it was predominantly female HR employees.

Although the VP is male, the majority of the HR Leadership roles were taken up by women, both at corporate and regional level. I noticed there were more male regional managers in Europe/Africa/Eurasia whereas Asia Pacific, Latin America and North America were predominantly female managers. Could it be cultural?

Adding to the gender mix, I noted more females leading HR functions traditionally seen as “male type, data driven, analytical” ie Remuneration, Tax and HRIS/HR Projects, and males leading the “soft and empathetic” functions, ie, L&D, Org Capability, Medical & Diversity.

Whilst some cultures may tend to have more female HR employees, I believe that in general there is more of a mix, not only gender but also in other aspects of diversity.
Ultimately, it shouldn’t matter anyway, as long as whoever is doing their job does it well and help the people, right? 🙂

[…] is according to UK HR director Alison Chisnell, in a recent post on her outstanding HR Juggler blog.I would like to pose the following question to XpertHR’s female readers: Why did you […]

[…] is according to UK HR director Alison Chisnell, in a recent post on her outstanding HR Juggler […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 235 other followers

HR Juggler’s Archive

%d bloggers like this: