The HR Gender Dilemma

Monica Lochrie

Recruiting within the HR industry, you quickly get to grips with the fact that the vast majority of your candidates are female. I have often wondered why this is. Is it because HR is seen as a function that offers empathy and support and these are viewed as being stereotypically female traits? It is because HR – at any level – requires organisation and the ability to juggle several tasks at once and these are also viewed as being female characteristics?

What is clear is that, where male candidates are concerned, their approach to the job is entirely different. Their career progression is much more cut-and-dry than their female counterparts. In my experience to date, although HR is a female-heavy market, more male candidates are able to make their way to the top. And what’s more is, they’re doing it faster than any of the females who are promoted.

Studies show that women are also far less likely to ask for a pay rise or a promotion, whereas men have absolutely no problem in asking for a hike – even outwith annual reviews. It perhaps stems from this notion that women feel like they need to prove themselves and “tick every box” in a role before asking for rightful payment.

Female candidates are also far more likely undersell their skills and abilities for fear of coming across as too pushy or aggressive. It’s a mindset; a drive and a spark that enables you to face to fear of asking for “more” and doing it anyway.

Many women won’t even consider taking a promotion in work because it may entail longer hours or a heavier workload – both of which could have an impact on family life. “Who will pick up the kids from school if I have to work till 6pm every night?” is something that any working mother would worry about. This, in turn, can mean that they stay at the more junior end of the HR market for a longer period of time. In contrast, I find that my male candidates progress quickly from administrator level.

It’s an interesting dilemma to be in. On the one hand, HR (as an industry) is striving to attract more male candidates. On the other, there is the real danger of creating a market-wide gender pay gap because of the uneven path to career progression. And it’s somewhat ironic, given that most HR departments are tasked with creating fair and inclusive workplaces with options to suit all working professionals.

Perhaps HR needs an image update – it’s not the tea and sympathy department; it requires emotion to be taken out of almost every situation and clear, strategic thought. And whilst it could benefit from more male candidates across the board, it would also profit from more female promotion.

So far, the industry has emerged largely unscathed by poor gender pay gap reporting. However, the spectre of this won’t go away if more female candidates are not encouraged to recognise their skills and head towards promotion.

The HRC HR recruitment team is celebrating diversity of all kinds on our company blog this month.

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