What’s the Real Problem With HR? It’s the “Pink Ghetto” Effect

Why does HR feel so broken? Why does HR have a public relations problem?

I think Human Resources struggles to be relevant because it is full of women. It isn’t the only corporate function that suffers from the soft and subtle outcomes related to institutional sexism. It’s just the most obvious.

The competencies that are attributed to successful leaders — the ability to innovate, influence and drive change — are nearly impossible for many HR women to gain because we lack opportunity and access. And we can’t get a seat at the table because we don’t look like any other members at the table.

Perpetuating a cycle

What’s worse is that the men who lead HR are often ashamed of the feminization of the function. They try to differentiate themselves from the rank and file HR members by position themselves as strategic leaders who are rooted in data.

It’s nauseating.

Yes, there are some powerful women (and minorities and gay people) in HR. I am glad you can name two or three of them. When you can name more than a dozen, you let me know.

And it’s not like there are great HR leaders mentoring the next generation. In fact, many amazing women leave HR because it’s a pink ghetto. They are sick of trying to prove their relevancy so they move on to more meaningful work.

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The women who remain? They are often caught up in trying to prove themselves to men, thus perpetuating a cycle of paternalistic dependency and sexism.

I think we need to speak openly and honestly about the role of gender in the decline of HR. And we need more progressive women in positions of corporate leadership, influence and authority.

I hope that when we have CEOs who understand the personal implications of sexism and bias, we will see a different relationship with — and a new perspective of — Human Resources.

This was originally published on Laurie Ruettimann’s The Cynical Girl blog.

Laurie Ruettimann is a former human resources leader turned writer, entrepreneur, and speaker. She is also author of Betting on You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career.

CNN has recognized Laurie as one of the top five career advisors in the United States, and her work has been featured on NPR, The New YorkerUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal, and Vox. Laurie frequently delivers keynote speeches at business and management events around the world and hosts the popular podcast Punk Rock HR. She lives with her husband and cats in Raleigh, North Carolina.