Gender disparity in HR industry

Women have always had a strong presence in Human Resources. Historically, women filled roles as Payroll Clerks in small businesses moving into multi-task accountabilities as the business grew towards mid-size. But, no one thought of HR as a career path or its management a real profession. While there have been great changes in that cultural perception, it’s worth looking at gender disparity in the HR industry as a whole.

The known numbers 

In general, the numbers indicate that women remain a strong numerical presence in HR roles. Depending on the industry sector and size, women have made strides to more power positions even though it is difficult to firmly assess the pay differential.

Workforce ranked the top 100 businesses for Human Resource management. They partnered with Glassdoor to rank performance in “workplace culture, employee benefits, diversity and inclusion, employee development and talent management, human resources innovation, leadership development and talent acquisition.”

American Express, Google, and Accenture lead a list of leading global brands. All of the companies except eight are American firms. Only eight of the 100 have fewer than 10,000 employees, and the smallest has 2,000.

DiversityInc also ranks businesses for their performance based on analysis of core practices:

  • Pipeline: workforce breakdown, recruitment, existing talent, pathway structures
  • Equitable Talent Development: employee resource groups, mentoring, movement, fairness
  • Leadership Commitment: accountability for results, personal communications, visibility
  • Supply Chain Diversity: B2B with companies owned by members of underrepresented groups

Their Diversity Top 50 List includes 25 of the businesses on the Workforce Top 100 List for Human Resources performance. It’s a meaningful if not overwhelming correlation.

  • Women account for 33.3% of the Senior Management positions in the DiversityInc Top 50 and 28.8% across all U.S. companies.
  • Women fill 41.4% of Management jobs in DiversityInc’s Top 50 and 39% of Management titles throughout U.S. businesses.

Calvert’s analysis shows the placement of women in the top five executive positions in the S&P 100:

  • 44 have no women or minorities.
  • 37 have one women or minorities.
  • 19 have two or more women or minorities.

The summary statistic at HR America is that 81% of Human Resources positions in the U.S. are held by women.  And, women hold 51% of the Human Resources Director jobs.

What the numbers mean about gender disparity in the HR industry –

It’s difficult to say what statistics mean when business behaviors vary a great deal across industry sectors. It’s difficult to say when few organizations see the purpose and functional relevance of HR in the same way. And, it’s difficult to differentiate newly evolving high level HR specializations.

Women have always staffed personnel offices largely in administrative titles as different level clerks and specialists. As a business population grows, HR positions will multiply to specialize in HRIS liaison, EEOC compliance, Labor Relations, Risk Management, Ride Sharing, Talent Management, and more.

These are generally line supervision posts with a scope of responsibility as broad as the increased workforce requires. For instance, in a business of 750 employees, most of these accountabilities are juggled by a staff of multi-tasking clerks under direction of a very hands on HR Manager.

The larger companies make room for a directorship in HR. They typically back into the need for a more strategic voice. They need problem solvers and predictive analytics. Their reluctant move reflects their continuing assumption that HR does not pull its own weight, that problems need it, and that it contributes no material gain.

So, while many women have advanced, there remains glass ceiling on the value of the job itself. Chief Financial Officers, IT Directors, and Marketing VPs are all in career market pools where they can virtually auction off their strengths and potential. But, ambitious HR pros first have to sell organizations on their need for the position itself.

Why women are “right” for the role –

The social dynamic of a workforce has specific identifiable needs. People working in a structured environment satisfy operations and financial interests with cost-effective performance. But, those same people form a lumpy stew of emotions, resentments, sensitivities, politics, expectations, and other idiosyncrasies.

That dynamic seems best served by personalities that promote creativity, prefer big-picture thinking, negotiate intuition and feelings, and understand nonverbal cues. This volatile and unpredictable dynamic requires resilience, agility, and high accountability multitasking. Women may serve these needs more naturally than men.

Women function differently than men. Psychology Today observes  anatomical and physiological reasons that limit negative stereotyping:

  • Men and women process things differently due to physiological gender differences in gray and white brain matter.
  • Male and female brains also process biochemical reactions differently; serotonin, estrogen/testosterone, and oxytocin influence resilience, patience, nurturing, and relationship bonding.
  • And, female brains have verbal centers in both hemispheres of their brains while males have them only on the left-side. Women then tend to use words more frequently and excel at verbal relationships while men suppress the verbal expression in favor of analysis.

Now, all such differences are open to a spectrum of degree with men and woman sharing some or all of the other gender’s behaviors.

There is a match then between these psycho-physiological behaviors and employee needs. This explains why women, representing what BizMerlin calls, “the good mix of talent and skillsets” have been attracted to Human Resources as a career path, and it explains why they have excelled as managers.

It also explains why they hit a glass ceiling when it comes to the most senior roles as HR Director. The numbers show that those who make decisions on organizational structures tend to cap the woman’s progress at Manager.

Entrenched in traditional gender mindsets, they proceed from assumptions:

  • They diminish the ROI of human resources management as non-productive “soft skills” managed as a necessary evil.
  • They think of Director as lacking the skills in strategic thinking, planning, and negotiating that they have attributed to men.

Georgene Huang, writing for Women@Forbes, notes that two-thirds of the women working in HR feel they experience gender equality, much higher than the 55% of the average women who feel they are treated equally.

Because of the “natural fit” women have with employee needs, they are left to pursue well paid paths until they hit an employer’s specific cap for women. And, because of their close relationship with other women in the field, on their staff, and among the workforce, they tend to remain in active roles. This inadvertently forestalls their self-development in strategic roles or pursuit of power positions. So, when considering gender disparity in your workplace, you might ask, Georgene Huang, writing for Women@Forbes,

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