Why is the HR department mostly full of women

Does HR work need more men?

Admission procedure for the master’s program "HR and Organization". The answer of the 90 percent female applicants when asked why they are interested in personnel management is unanimously: "I like working with people, I want to develop them and help them."

If I recommend young people to take on a position as line manager in the operational business, I will be very disappointed.

The images of HR employees and departments are omnipresent: friendly, nice, appreciative people who, apart from the "hard numbers", ensure happiness and self-fulfillment of the employees and shape the culture of the entire organization in a humane manner. That sounds like a meaningful, easy job. It is attractive to women who feel communicative and socially competent. The reality then usually looks different:

Recruiting: It is a pleasure to offer people a job they have long been hoping for. Often, however, you have to turn down numerous other applicants whose life stories you have learned at the same time. These phone calls or emails are no fun. If, in times of a shortage of skilled workers, it is not possible to fill a position quickly despite numerous efforts, all the stress and displeasure of the line managers ends up at HR.

Restructuring: While some make a career, others find themselves in new positions or in a new field of work that they would never have chosen. Some lose their job and have no chance of a new job on the job market due to their age or lack of skills. In such processes, HR has the difficult role of implementing company goals, making fair decisions, communicating with respect and providing support. The HR managers may have hired these people, know their family concerns and now have to support their termination. That can be very emotional and does not fit into the image of the "nice people at HR".

· Fee: HR managers experience double pressure here: top management wants to keep wage costs and headcounts as low as possible or reduce them. Line managers put pressure on them to need more employees and are vehemently committed to raising wages for their good people. In such situations you need a clear, transparent line for the salary structure and a strong personal standing.

The professional mastery of these tasks requires in-depth legal knowledge, process understanding, empathy, fairness and a high level of stress resistance.

Only after these stressful everyday topics come all the "softer" topics that many HR employees prefer to focus on: employer branding, workplace design, cultural development, personnel development and talent management, mentoring, coaching. This is really about the people and their development. And these issues obviously attract far more women than men.

A study in 30 German companies with more than 3000 employees confirms that significantly more women (70 percent) than men work in HR. However, this gender distribution and the associated role models and ascriptions of "soft skill experts" are risky:

Many who work in this area complete a series of training courses in advisory methods and coaching. They would like to coach executives and support organizational development at the highest level and see themselves as "cultural guardians of the organization". Nonetheless, locations are being closed, departments amalgamated or companies are being bought up without HR even being involved in these decisions.

The complaints of the HR staff are always the same: "We are not heard. But we would know how to do it, how to inform and involve the employees. We are always called too late."

No place at the table

The meeting with top management "at eye level", which is often requested by HR, does not actually take place in many companies. For example, HR is often not found in the organization chart as part of the management, but in the "Finance" or "Services" area one or two hierarchical levels below the top management. How is it that many HR departments are still a long way from this role even 20 years after the concept of business partner was introduced?

Business misunderstanding: Many HR managers show little interest in the company's numbers and strategic future issues. But anyone who cannot have a say in balance sheet figures, company processes, IoT, block chain, big data, social media and other important company issues is not "compatible" and is not taken seriously by top management.

· Delimitation: "We're the good guys. We're not just about numbers, we're about people." Anyone who constantly criticizes management's decisions in public or behind closed doors is at most seen as a know-it-all, but not as a person of trust.

· Personnel development without strategic reference: Learning and development should support employees in developing the skills they need to implement the strategy and keep the company fit for the future. If personnel development is designed as a "wish-for-something" and without reference to corporate reality, it loses credibility.

Unclear understanding of roles: Often the frustration is great when HR managers realize that top managers do not like to be coached by them as interns. Because you would like to use the consulting and coaching methods you have learned and deal directly with the problems of individual people. It is overlooked that this would actually be the role of direct superiors or neutral trainers and coaches. So some HR managers steer into a dangerous trap: Expert, business coach, grief, psychosocial counseling center, works council, coach ... All these contradicting roles can be interpreted in the HR function and lead to misunderstandings, excessive demands, breaches of trust and transgressions.

· Remote from operation: Executives measure the quality of the HR department primarily by the support they provide with their seemingly "banal" everyday problems. HR professionals claim they would like to work with people. Far too seldom do they leave their desks to talk to employees on the shop floor or in the warehouse and to be interested in their problems.

If you want to take on the HR role convincingly and successfully, you should bring more with you than the often-cited soft skills: participation in business topics, business administration and IT is required. "Lateral entrants", who first managed operational departments and then trained in personnel management and organizational development, have a clear advantage here. You recognize what the organization needs and can handle.

Will they be men or women then? From my point of view that is irrelevant. (Marianne Grobner, November 14, 2018)

Marianne Grobner teaches at the FH Vorarlberg and is a management consultant.