Where Are All the Men in HR?

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The unasked questions are always the most interesting ones. The question of where all the men are in HR wouldn’t have been asked at one time. ‘HR’ or ‘Personnel’ was a female dominated profession for “obvious reasons” wasn’t it? HR was largely about administration and so close to secretarial work, it was where people went when they were feeling teary and upset, and it was fundamentally about feelings or transactional processes rather than real business outcomes. That wasn’t the kind of work that most men would want to get involved with and, anyway, it is where a woman’s touch was needed. If there was only one woman on a leadership team or Board people would have assumed, perhaps with some confidence, that she was the HR Director. Perhaps they still do.

All of the HR Departments that I have worked with have been majority female and some of them with men making up as little as 10% or 20% of the whole function. People in the business line I have worked with have freely admitted to being surprised to learn that their new HR contact is male with some of them even going on to assume that I’m gay (I’m not). The concept of a heterosexual man in HR is still something that people seem surprised by at anything other than Director level.

I also need to make clear that I’m not advocating some kind of positive action campaign to increase the downtrodden white male heterosexuals of this World. I’m not even trying to suggest that a UK profession that is 70% female (e.g., the CIPD membership) is in some way a bad thing or a problem that requires a solution. I am simply fascinated both by what gives rise to this fact and, if the Personnel world I described above has been consigned to the history books, why the gender balance still seems so skewed?

I want to hear from you why you think so many HR professionals are female. Do you think it is an issue for us or not and, if it is, what we should do about it?

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2 thoughts on “Where Are All the Men in HR?

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  1. This isn’t an answer to your question; it’s just another observation. Organizational Development, HR Analytics, Personnel and I/O Psychologists, and other quant-leaning HR Pros tend to have a more even female-to-male ratio. I have an hypothesis that men who end up in HR are more likely to come from a background of having studied business, employment law, I/O psychology, etc. than women who end up in HR. Let’s face it, at the end of the day HR is just a cozy management job that people kind of fall into for various reasons and then get the appropriate certifications AFTER moving into the position. That’s attractive to women for some reason and it doesn’t hurt that HR is already seen as a female professional field.

  2. Thanks for the comment Jess. I think you might be on to something in that the profession may seem more attractive to women because of the number of women already working on it. I guess my concern is that the converse may be true in that it is seen as less attractive to men for the same reason. Somebody cleverer than me might write a good piece about the experience of men working in HR and, from their perspective, what we can learn that will help us to understand the experience and challenges that women face in male dominated professions.

    Thanks again for taking the time to post.

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