HR’s Embarrassing Secret: We’re About the Least Diverse

For those of us working in HR and those who partner with us, it’s no secret that the majority of HR professionals are women. This rings true across the country and across all levels.

Women currently account for 75% of the HR workforce and  74.2% of HR managers in the United States. HR remains the one area within the C-Suite where females outnumber men. Women are 55% of the CHROs of the 1,000 largest companies. In fact, the number of females in HR has been rapidly rising since the 1970s across the globe. So, now the question is: why exactly is HR predominantly women and should we be concerned? Is this a story of female success that we should leave alone or should HR be seeking more gender diversity?

Why so many women?

There are many reasons HR is dominated by women today. In the US, the decline of unions and the growth of the service economy in the second half of the 20th century gave rise to the “Personnel Department,” where the role was heavily administrative and focused on tasks such as payroll processing, benefits administration and training. Those most qualified to work in this area came from secretarial and administrative functions, which were mostly populated by women.

Another profession women were heavily involved in at this time was teaching, and teachers were logical choices to work in personnel since training skills were valuable and teachers were often college educated.

Personnel also paid more than teaching and secretarial functions, driving women to the profession and giving them an opportunity to rise up in the business world. Today, while our society continues to make efforts to combat stereotypes of women as nurturers and caretakers, females still overwhelmingly populate people-oriented fields such as nursing, social work, and child care. Society is comfortable with women managing the people-side of the business in HR roles.

Where’s the diversity in HR?

Is this a problem, and if so, what do we do about it? While it is progress to see more women in the C-suite and dominating a field, diversity is as beneficial to the HR department as it is to any other area of the business. A diverse workforce, not only in terms of gender, provides a greater array of ideas and creative viewpoints to draw from. Businesses with more diverse workforces show greater financial results and employee engagement, so it is to HR’s benefit to diversify. It is also critical that HR acts as a role model for the rest of the organization – it can be challenging to convince other departments to focus on diversity if HR isn’t doing so in the first place.

How to improve HR diversity

Yet if the majority of HR graduates are female, as are entry level HR professionals, what can we do to address the gender gap?

First, we must continue to redefine HR as a strategic function, not as an administrative one. To recruit more men into the department, we must rebrand ourselves. This means increasing use of data, metrics, and technology in HR, which will help drive more men to our field.

Second, undergraduate and graduate college programs should participate in community outreach, finding opportunities to target males and help them understand various HR career options.

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It all starts with education, because if men are not entering HR university programs, they will not obtain the skills and professional experiences, such an internships, which lead to entry level positions. Anyone who has recruited for an HR role has likely experienced this challenge – even if you are intentional about trying to find male candidates, often the individuals with the most relevant and impressive experience are female. This challenge increases with higher level roles requiring more experience, and the cycle continues to perpetuate itself.

The diverse interview

Additionally, when recruiting for HR jobs, it is important to have a diverse interview and selection panel to reduce biases and obtain a variety of perspectives. Candidates frequently look to interviewers to assess if and how they will fit within the organization, so a diverse panel can send a strong message that an organization values diversity. At the same time, it is important to celebrate HR’s history in providing opportunities for women in business.

All of this requires organizations to commit to being a business beyond bias, which helps make the world run better and improves people’s lives. And it begins with HR leading the way – we must remember to stop and take the time to improve our own function and from there, we can help the rest of our business succeed.