I think there’s a perception that HR is a profession for women; one that requires a softer set of skills that many men wouldn’t believe they possess nor would necessarily want to develop. Having entered the profession as an HR generalist, I know this perception couldn’t be further from the truth.
The irony is that HR evolved from the male-dominated arena of industrial relations. They devised strategies, set objectives, measured success and concerned themselves with ‘personnel’ issues to make sure they had the right people in place to get the job done. I’m not sure that business needs are much different today, so it’s strange to think male entrants can’t see the value of taking a role in HR. I can’t think of a profession that offers greater opportunity to influence across a whole business on such a wide range of issues.
How can we raise the number of men entering the HR profession?
I believe many male potential entrants don’t actually know what HR does. So we need to paint a more compelling picture of what we do, and the outcomes we’re looking to achieve. The way the armed forces have marketed themselves recently is a good example – the recruitment campaigns show a range of roles available. We could look to attract more male candidates by emphasising the more analytical aspects of our work, for example working in HRIS or remuneration.
We need to shake off our image of being about handing out tissues. HR is a great department to learn about how an organisation operates and how people policies underpin commercial success and, more widely, economic prosperity for the country.
It’s interesting that you’ll find male attendees on CIPD courses held around the country that have just retired from the armed forces. They must be thinking ‘well I’ve managed groups of military personnel and led them through some pretty intense situations so I know a thing or two about how to build teams, develop capability and motivate people'. It’s these and other ‘career converters’ that the HR profession could benefit from. I think businesses should worry less about seeking male HR graduates and start employing people on their life experiences, with the option to professionalise them later with HR qualifications.
Will the male of the species survive and thrive in HR?
I’m optimistic that we can help shift the demographic and get more men into the profession if we start to change the way we talk about ourselves and truly convey the value of what we do. In my team at Ordinacne Survey, for example, I’m one of four men in a team of 22 women. Just a year ago there was only one man (the reward manager) and prior to that none. So already I see things starting to change.
Will Davies is the HR director at Ordnance Survey