What HR Thinks and Feels Survey: Extensive Look Inside HR Profession

Look around at most any HR conference and one of the profession’s little secrets is instantly obvious: human resources is the domain of white, middle-aged women.

A little harder to see is that they are better educated than most of the population, and far better off financially.

Catbert (Dilbert’s evil HR director) notwithstanding, human resources is a pink collar profession that looks very different from the rest of the corporate workforce, let alone the U.S. as a whole.

A gender imbalance in HR

More than a few surveys have noted the gender imbalance in HR. A dozen years ago the federal Office of Personnel Management reported the dramatic change in its own workforce. In 1969, 30 percent of the HR jobs were held by women. By 1998, the percentages were reversed with men holding 29 percent of the jobs. A SHRM survey from 2007 came up with similar numbers.

Now, one of the most extensive profiles of HR professionals ever conducted not only confirms that what the OPM found in the federal workforce applies to the private sector, but the diversity there is just what you would expect from eyeballing conference attendees.

What HR Thinks and Feels: The 2011 HRxAnalysts Psychographic Survey of HR Professionals is a collaborative effort between The Starr Conspiracy (formerly, Starr Tincup) and John Sumser’s HRExaminer. The report is available for sale at HRxAnalysts. Primarily a tool for vendors, the report offers a view of the denizens of the HR world right down to their political leanings (evenly split between liberal and conservative) and their leisure time activities.

The psychographic makeup of the profession is gold to marketers and sales people, helping them understand their potential customers and how to better talk to them. (“Given that HR professionals are generally older than other departments, your sales folks should be experienced in the market,” is one of the many vendor tips in the report.)

For those working in the field, however, the report exposes the uncomfortable homogeneity of a profession charged with promoting diversity in the workforce, even as it celebrates the strides that women have made. (“HR is a paragon of success for women who dominate the ranks at every level,” Sumser writes.)

Survey confirms some notions, contradicts others

The survey is not a statistically perfect profile of the profession. Survey participants tended to be from mid-sized employers, leaving the smallest and the largest companies under represented. And some industries are either over represented or under represented. Yet, as a look at the kind of people who populate the profession, the report manages to confirm some of the conventional wisdom, while contradicting other.

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For instance, two-thirds of the profession is female; 92 percent is white; the average age is 47. On the other hand, the survey found, “While the stereotype is that only generalist experience is foundational in HR, the data suggests that a large majority of HR workers have spent time in recruiting and staffing.” The survey found 88 percent of HR professionals worked in recruiting and staffing early in their career, compared to 68 percent who spent time as generalists.

Rarest are those with experience in diversity (34 percent), executive education and development (27 percent), and labor negotiations (17 percent). Notes the report,

Diversity, for example, is a controversial practice area often seen as offering more obstacles than solutions. Given the overwhelming lack of diversity within the HR department, diversity professionals (who, as a group, are more ethnically and racially diverse than their colleagues) have a difficult trajectory in internal career paths. Given the specificity of their role, diversity experts are more likely to find career mobility by staying in the practice area and moving between companies.”

HR people have extensive experience outside HR

One of the other unexpected findings of the survey is that 82 percent of HR workers have experience in other areas. On average, they spent eight years working in departments other than HR, with the top three being customer service (38 percent), sales (35 percent), and general management (31 percent).

“It’s worth noting,” says the report, “That these are people-oriented and extroverted practice areas. Given the amount and type of cross-functional experience, it is clear that the predominant HR personality suggests a high level of emotional intelligence.”

These details are just a sampling of what’s in the report. There are specifics about the professional certifications (48 percent have at least one), education (46 percent have at least some post grad; 16 percent hold and MBA), affluence (72 percent have a household income greater than $90,000), and longevity (15 years HR experience, on average).

Its 96 pages go well beyond the demographics of the profession, not only providing vendors a clearer picture of who will be buying and using their products, but describing the lifestyle, professional competencies, and more of a profession that touches every worker from entry-level clerk to CEO in every industry and in nearly every business.

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


3 Comments on “What HR Thinks and Feels Survey: Extensive Look Inside HR Profession

  1. …what? This report is $600 and was originally $1200? Talk about getting ripped.

    A couple days of Internet research would’ve given you just as much information with just time as the cost. Frankly, I’d like to see their entire “Method” section of the report – to ensure they follow rigorous research standards – before I put a penny towards it. Oh, and I’d like to know their sample size and sampling methodology as well.

    However, I feel this is reflective of the endemic problem with HR. Useless research, useless research, useless research, results, C-Suite laughs, rise, wash, and repeat. I want to know how knowing what these people do in their leisure time is going to help HR Vendors sell to HR. Are we giving them tickets to their favorite resort or sporting event? Going to give them gourmet food baskets every year?

    FYI, I do work for an HR vendor, I’ve sold to HR, and I can say rather forwardly knowing all this “stuff” about HR is nothing but a distraction. Under no circumstance would I use a generalized profile of HR professionals to drive my sales and client retention efforts. Honestly, this report sounds like most of the useless fluff that comes from HR – a whole lotta talk, not a lotta substance.

    1. I’m an HR professional and take exception to your negativity. Given your low opinion of HR and it’s “useless fluff”, it’s unbelievable that you work for an HR vendor.  But then, you’re probably not very successful if this disdain of your customers is so noticeable.

      Surveys are a simple a tool for compiling lots of information in one place so people don’t have to spend days trying to compile it themselves for free (if that’s even possible).  If you don’t see the value in it, don’t buy it.  However, without buying it, you’re not qualified to know if it’s useless research.

      1. To the contrary, I am rather successful in what I do, so please keep personal attacks out of your comments – especially when you deride the original poster for his negativity.

        I’m aware of what surveys are and what they do, and *actually* I am more than qualified to know what’s useless research and what is not. I’ve conducted surveys, performance appraisals, AND conducted my own research. When the authors share content and not methodology, they’re peddling a product of their research and NOT the research itself.

        As for my opinion of HR, that is based on what a) I’ve seen in the industry, b) my interactions with HR professionals, and c) watching the Twitter HR Talking Heads. When SHRM (yes, the SHRM you probably belong to) tweets the following:

        “Another reason to come to #SHRM 2012 Annual Conference 🙂 MT“@washingtonpost: You can now buy liquor on Sun in Atlanta http://wapo.st/s0Y5CW”

        You can’t help but wonder (as most departments outside of HR do!) WTF?

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