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.

Article Continues Below

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 (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.)