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Men & Women In HR – A Balanced Mix?

Figures released by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) regarding its membership, often a reliable way to look at the HR industry as a whole, reveal a staggering fact. Almost three quarters (72%) of the total membership are women.

It can be rare in established industry professions these days to have the figures so heavily skewed towards one sex or another, and rarer still to find that women have the predominance over men. So what does this tell us about the HR industry, the core skills required, and the industry’s ability to attract skilled professionals from both sexes?

It’s in the genes?
On a broad, generic level, it has often been said that the skills and qualities required to be a successful Human Resources professional lend themselves more to those of the female skillset. Organisational abilities, an eye for detail, empathy, non-confrontational negotiation skills, listening and an overall desire to help have been cited as aspects of the profession that are cited as more feminine traits.

HR’s female ancestors

Historically, HR can trace its lineage to as far back as the late 19th century and the role of welfare workers. All welfare workers were women, and it was their role to ensure that the women and girls in the workforce were taken care of. As more women entered industry during the two world wars, the welfare worker’s role was expanded to include recruitment and training.

The movement from welfare role to Personnel, and subsequently from Personnel to HR, took place in a mainly female context, just as other industries – construction for example – relied on a mainly male workforce.

Having examined the roots of the profession and found them to be predominantly female, it starts to become possible to see how HR has maintained its status as a female-oriented industry. This is not to suggest that men aren’t, or cannot be, successful in HR, but more that women have historically claimed the industry as their own.

A modern issue of perception
Even if the HR industry has sprung from a female dominated lineage, what has stopped men from entering the profession now that we inhabit a more modern age? A large part of the answer to this question lies in the commercial perception that HR is almost exclusively for women.

Traditionally, the perception is that men generally opt for jobs where there are fixed results, measurable and competitive, whilst women have traditionally chosen less aggressive, softer, industry roles. This perception leads to a noticeable result at entry level – there just aren’t enough men who think that HR can create a fulfilling career for them. The perception fuels the reality, and the proportion of men to women within the profession stays roughly the same.

Male at the top
Unfortunately for women however, whilst the CIPD figures suggest overwhelmingly that HR is a female profession, the men still seem to feature highly within two of the most important aspects of any role: promotion and salary range. In middle management, the CIPD research suggests that an average salary for female HR’s is £41,000, whilst their male counterparts take home £49,000.

And whilst the figures show an undeniable majority of women within the profession as a whole, CIPD research reveals that only 40% of HR Directors are women. It can therefore be argued that both men and women dominate the HR profession, albeit in different ways.

If greater equality within the industry is desired, it requires a huge upswell of men to join the profession at entry level, whilst at the opposite end of the career spectrum, more women need to be given the tools and responsibility to break through the glass ceiling that clearly exists.