More men in HR would boost profession: Survey

Pay, boardroom status and recruitment pool cited as benefits

When Amir Habashy first came to Canada from Egypt two years ago, he was surprised by the low representation of men in HR. Over the past two years Habashy, who is now an HR assistant with Service Air in Toronto, went on many job interviews but was only interviewed once by a man.

In Egypt there’s a more balanced representation of men and women in the profession, with certain sectors, such as manufacturing, having more men and others, such as pharmaceuticals, having more women, said Habashy. Last month, when he found out 72 per cent of HR professionals in Canada are women, according to Statistics Canada, he wasn’t surprised.

“I thought that was low,” he said.

The high proportion of women, and the correspondingly low proportion of men, could be hurting the profession, according to the recent Pulse Survey conducted by Canadian HR Reporter and the Toronto-based Human Resources Professionals Association.

“Women have made great strides in business, but I think female-dominated professions still don’t get the same credibility sometimes,” said Caroline O’Shea, corporate HR manager at Ipex in Toronto. “A higher proportion of men may give more credibility to the profession because it will be seen not so much as a woman’s profession but as a business profession.”

The survey found 49.9 per cent of 1,354 respondents agree or strongly agree the high proportion of women in HR is something the profession should be concerned about and 70.9 per cent say the HR profession would benefit from having a more balanced gender mix.

The credibility theme comes up frequently in respondents’ comments. One says history has shown professions dominated by women lose credibility. “It’s still a patriarchal society and the influence of men within a profession is still stronger than a woman’s influence. I don’t like to say that, but it’s a reality.”

Another says HR has moved from being viewed as personnel services to being looked at as the “corporate conscience, which is all about motherhood, which I think is partially bred by the fact that executive groups tend to be largely men and HR tends to be largely women. In a lot of cases, the only woman at the executive table is in HR.”

Another respondent says the lack of men causes a lack of credibility at the C-suite level. “This is a function of the majority of C-suite people being men. As it happens, the senior HR people in the firm I work for are all men.” One person says: “Until more men are included in the mix, unfortunately our pay and credibility as professionals is unbalanced.”

While 51 per cent of respondents think the profession should actively recruit more men, only 45.5 per cent think HR associations should be taking the lead role in addressing the gender imbalance.

Not a fan of affirmative action, O’Shea would like to see HR associations and other HR professionals reach out to young men at the high school, college and university level to educate them about, and attract them to, the profession.

“It’s more about broadening the pool,” she said.

HR professionals aren’t very optimistic about the situation improving over the next decade. One-half of respondents (49.3 per cent) think the gender imbalance will only be slightly improved in 10 years’ time while only 2.4 per cent think there will be an equal representation of men and women in HR in the next decade.

With many people seeing HR as a people-centric profession, it makes sense more women are drawn to it than men, said Lojini Subendran, senior HR co-ordinator for Best Buy in Brampton, Ont.

“But there should be more of a gender mix in the future,” she said. The representation of men and women will become more even over the next few years as the profession becomes more technology-based and more focused on business strategy, she predicted.

Survey says…

HR’s gender imbalance

Here’s a sampling of respondent comments from the Pulse Survey on gender imbalance in HR:

• “A great deal of the gender inequality in HR that exists today is a direct result of the history of the profession. It was viewed primarily as administrative, maternalistic and not strategic in nature. Although this has changed somewhat over the last decade, HR is still seen as the shoulder to cry on for comfort.”

• “Although 72 per cent of individuals in HR are women, the men usually hold the top positions. This is something we should be concerned about.”

• “As long as the HR professional is competent the gender is irrelevant.”

• “If the profession is not inclusive, we risk being skewed and, perhaps worse, being labelled as a profession for females.”

• “HR is one area where women have less of a glass ceiling to worry about. It is empowering to be surrounded by strong successful women in an industry. While I think a more diverse representation is desirable, I’m proud to be a part of an occupation that promotes women and their career paths.”

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