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Soft skills exaggerated in HR

The misconception that HR revolves solely around soft skills could be leading less men to enter the profession.

Research from the CIPD published in September 2021 showed women make up 60% of the HR industry, compared to 40% for men, with a 61% to 39% split in favour of women in senior HR roles. 

The HR industry was also be to severely lacking in diversity, with 9% of roles held by white employees.

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Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director and co-founder of HR consultancy 10eighty, suggested that there are many misconceptions around HR which lead people to believe that roles are better suited to women.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "I've seen it suggested that HR is the 'soft' side of management, but I don't think that's why women choose it and, anyway, it's not true.

"HR is there to maximise employee performance in pursuit of the employer's business strategy. There is, sometimes, a misperception that HR is about helping people but that's only a small part of the story and they are also there to handle challenging issues such as pay negotiations, disciplinary issues and redundancies - not soft at all.

"I do think that often people choose HR because they want to move into the learning and development space and that probably works for many."

Women excel at HR as they tend to be good at forward planning, multitasking and strategic thinking, Sebag-Montefiore added, although technical HR skills aren't always prioritised at senior level.

The research also found 52% of people working in HR have degree qualifications, compared to 35% for the entire workforce.

She added: "These days HR professionals need to understand the business and sophisticated HR data and metrics; it's not an easy option. I think the reason men dominate at the top is that they tend to focus on business, leadership and commercial exposure which is seen as more important than technical HR expertise.

"Senior HR professionals aspiring to a place on the board often need to broaden their business and commercial acumen to project a board level profile."

The gender difference is more pronounced at junior level; with women accounting for 91% of administrative HR jobs, and men just 9% of roles. A LinkedIn poll discussing the topic showed 77% of people thought that the HR needed more men.

Chris Roebuck, professor and associate at Bayes Business School, said men make the transition to HR at a later point after overseeing large scale change in another profession.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: "What these men have realised is that in order to achieve that change successfully, they need to engage people. And in so doing, they have realised that actually, you can have the best plan in the world, the best strategy in the world, but it's completely useless unless people get behind it."

Women's ability to create collaborative rather than competitive teams allows them to take to HR more quickly, Roebuck argued.

He said: "Women are much better at creating themes of collaborative and mutually supportive themes, to some degree than men. Whereas men have a tendency to want to create competitive teams with a winner takes all mentality, because men have a tendency by virtue of meetings in general competitiveness, to want to be the winner."