Is HR really a woman’s world?

HR has long been perceived as a female-orientated profession, and women do in fact account for the majority of its workforce. According to the CIPD, roughly 70% of its members are female. Why is it that fewer men are attracted to the profession?

“The perception is that it’s a female job,” says Dianah Worman, adviser on diversity at the CIPD. “It goes back to the time when Joseph Rowntree and Cadburys did all that work on looking after their workforce. This issue of it being a caring role has evolved from that and those perceptions still inform the public’s perceptions today.”

The CIPD thinks that the perception of HR being a profession more for women than for men is such a problem that it launched an initiative to change that image. Called “Think HR. Think Again,” the initiative, which was launched in September 2010, aims to attract new people into the profession by showing what a career in HR actually entails. “It is not just about being nice to people,” says Worman. “It’s a lot more hardnosed than that. HR professionals have to understand the purpose of the function, how people work in a business and deal with tricky issues such as redundancies and relocation. In fact, they have to have some of the nasty conversations that line managers don’t like having.”

Alison Chisnell, group HR director at Informa Business Information, agrees that the image of HR is most likely why fewer men enter the profession. “I don’t really know why more women are attracted to HR than men,” she says. “Perhaps it is how HR can be articulated and perceived as being people-based and soft, empathetic, etc, rather than data-driven and analytical.”

All HR professionals agree that to work in HR it is important to have good people and communication skills and the ability to empathise with others. Caring about people is certainly an element of the job. But, as Job Beck, an HR adviser at the Association of British Insurers, points out, these skills are not the preserve of women. “You certainly need good people skills to work in HR,” he says. “You need to be interested in people’s concerns and help them through work issues. But it also a pragmatic, business-focused job. As in most jobs, you need a mix of skills and attributes, combined with a good sense of what an organisation needs to support its business objectives and promote a good working culture. These things are not gender-related in any obvious way that I can see.”

Beck thinks that HR is a great profession for both men and women. “As a man working in HR, I think it’s a career that can suit anyone depending on what they want to get out of their job, what motivates them and what they enjoy about work. I don’t think it is better suited to men or women.”

The other gender issue that concerns Worman is the question of why although women dominate the profession as a whole, men dominate the more senior roles. “As with other professions, HR is male-dominated at the higher end,” she says. “Although there are more senior women than previously, we need a more even gender distribution throughout.”

The imbalance at top-end HR can be partly attributed to men coming into HR from other disciplines to take up senior roles, rather than male HR professionals being promoted over female HR professionals as both sexes progress up the career ladder from within the profession.

As with other professions, female pay also lags behind what their male counterparts earn. According to research by XpertHR and the Chartered Management Institute, the average salary for a male HR manager is currently £7,847 more than that of a female manager. The report also found that women in HR face a projected 107-year wait until their take home pay is equal to that of male colleagues. This makes HR the sector with the longest wait until the pay gap equalises.

But not everyone thinks that the top jobs are dominated by men or that salary discrepancies are endemic. Chisnell says that while there is a gender issue in HR, she does not think it is so much of a problem at senior level. “In my experience, and at the companies I have worked for, there is quite an even split at senior level. I have always had strong, high-achieving, senior female HR bosses who are great role models, so it has never really been an issue for me.”

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