The Day I Got to Talk About Business (and HR) at Harvard Business School

On the day I got to talk about business at Harvard Business School, I advised every woman to stay out of Human Resources.

I didn’t intend to deliver that message. I was invited to speak at the 22nd Annual Dynamic Women in Business Conference at the Harvard Business School because of my unique experience as both a Human Resources leader and marketing executive with The Starr Conspiracy. It was an especially big honor to attend because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the decision by Harvard to allow women to enroll.

The theme of the conference was simple: How do you define success?

“Really the worst job across the enterprise”

I sat on a panel with women like Sara McKinley, a Project Manager at Google +, and Amanda Pouchot, who is the co-founder of Levo League. We discussed gender, social networking, and navigating the business world while maintaining a strong and credible professional brand.

Laurie Ruettimann, third from right, speaking at Harvard Business School
Laurie Ruettimann, third from right, speaking at Harvard Business School

But then I said it.

No self-respecting woman would work in Human Resources. It’s really the worst job across the enterprise.”

Many in the room nodded in agreement, but some Harvard Business School students and alum were dismayed. They have an interest in the Human Capital space.

And as we explored my position, I spoke to thoughtful women who believe that data-driven decisions can help to attract amazing talent and transform organizational cultures.

Article Continues Below

“The world needs more women leaders”

I simply said:

If you really want to do Human Capital Management, go work in logistics or IT. Go spend some time as a consultant focused on improving an organization’s supply chain. Go run a business and be responsible for a P&L. Then come back to HR when you have actually done the work of working. You’ll be much more valuable once you have some real experience.”

For every McKinsey and Deloitte, there are thousands of other companies that have no real use for modern day HCM buzzwords. They do need smart and amazing women who can bring their companies back to profitability. And it just so happens that if you run your business properly, you are doing great HR by default.

The world doesn’t need more young women in talent management and executive compensation roles. The world needs more women leaders. You get there by doing real work in real jobs.

So I stand by my advice that I gave at Harvard Business School: The best and the brightest women in America should stay away from HR.

You can find more from Laurie Ruettimann at her blog, The Cynical Girl.


Laurie Ruettimann (LFR) is a former Human Resources leader turned influential speaker, writer and strategist. She owns a human resources consultancy that offers a wide array of HR services to human resources leaders and executives. Check out her LinkedIn profile here. You may know Ruettimann as the creator of The Cynical Girl and Punk Rock HR (retired), which Forbes named as a top 100 website for women. You may have also read her book, I AM HR: 5 Strategic Ways to Break Stereotypes and Reclaim HR. (RepCap Press, 2014.)