Is HR Really Female? Is it Really That Important?

The Godfather of HR, John Sumser, put up a post over at HRExaminer – HR is Female – from a report by HRxAnalysts that shows 75 percent of those in HR are female, white, etc. (I know you’re shocked – good thing someone funded that survey!)

My question is – who cares? (besides John – who it thinks everyone in the HR community is more influential than me.)

Now the guys at HRxAnalysts (John and another guy with a very impressive resume that includes StarrTincup) will say that those who sell to HR care. By having this data you can better prepare your sales presentation and tact to potentially close more buyers, etc. But that isn’t really my question.

Who cares, in terms of is it really that important? I mean really.

Surveys can perpetuate a notion

HR is the one part of every organization that it isn’t suppose to matter if your female or male, white or black, straight or gay, cat or dog.

One problem with surveys like the one above is they perpetuate a notion – a notion that “HR is Female.” I know they are just stating facts, but in the end, they are also making a conclusion: “HR is Female.” What if HR wanted to be “Flamboyantly Gay Male?” Nope; can’t do it – “HR is Female.”

What if a Female wanted to be “Operations is Female?”  Nope; can’t do it – “Operations is…”

Oh wait, you don’t know what Operations is, do you? No you don’t, because no one did some stupid survey about it and made it official, did they?

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Operations might be Female, or Male, or Single-Black-Female-with-1-kid, but you don’t know that. So now when you look at Operations, you don’t see Female, you see “Possibilities.”

HR is Female — and a lot of other things, too

I love data, but sometimes we measure just to measure, with no real purpose in why we are measuring. Then when the measurement is done, we have to publish something – even if it really has no real bearing on anything.

Yep, HR is Female, and she’s smart, and she’s mostly white, and she mostly likes dogs – but HR is also Male, and she is also black, and she also likes cats.

My advice to HR vendors trying to sell to HR  is this: get to know HR for who she/he is, build the relationship, find out if your product/service helps solve a need they have, and go from there (tip: it takes more than one phone call and a visit – and not all HR Pros like donuts, some like bagels).

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


4 Comments on “Is HR Really Female? Is it Really That Important?

  1. Good take on the subject! I feel that highlighting differences without a purpose (i.e. HR is female, Engineering is male, etc.) can actually hurt more than help, because it isn’t solution based; its purely descriptive. After these generalizations come the rationalizations, (i.e. Men aren’t emotional, women are not good at math) which again are over generalizations. Then we have a “problem” for some reason and no way to solve it. I think gathering data on “does it matter” would be much more interesting and groundbreaking than gathering data purely for descriptive purposes. Again, great read!

  2. Et al. –

    My comment about John Sumser is an inside joke at FOT where many of the FOT Pros have been named to John’s infamous lists of great HR Pros. Let it be known – I think highly of John’s knowledge and his work at HRexaminer. (hopefully this will now help me get on a list as well!)


  3. Hey Tim: Great post. I thought it would be useful to shed some light on the actual research project.

    John’s post was based on 1 data point in a report that contains thousands of data points. The purpose of the report was to provide insight into all aspects of the HR professional – not just gender, race, age and other demographics. But people alway polarize around the gender issue. The research in the report covers everything from career aspirations and professional development plans to leisure activities, lifestyle choices and general outlook. The significance of the report is that it seeks to replace years of stereotype and less-than-flattering characterizations of HR professionals with hard data (collected from over 1000 participants across a 3-year period).

    Ironically, the final outcome is that it shows the true intellectual and philosophical diversity across HR professionals, rather than positioning them as a monolithic culture that is this or that. Vendors spend billions of dollars marketing to HR professionals without really know who they are as people. Unfortunately, mass marketing is one strategy that must be used in a successful marketing mix, and having access to information about your target buyer is critical to the success of that investment. I think before you dismiss the validity of the research project, you would at least need to read the report and understand the purpose of the research.


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