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Death by HR: Who Staffs HR Departments? Mostly Women…

Death by HR

Death by HR

Information on the staffing of Human Resources (HR) departments themselves is not easy to come by. HR-focused writings tend toward academic Social Justice gobbledygook, and commonly-observed dominance of HR staffing by women and “soft” degree majors is hard to confirm with hard data from individual companies, though there are some statistics collected at the national level in the US. Historically, Personnel departments were staffed by the same type of people one would find in accounting or finance — clerks and paperwork handlers — but the managers tended to be male (as they were for other corporate functions.) As Personnel became HR and HR-specific degree programs began to appear, hiring shifted to people who had studied HR as a field — with simple organizational psychology, benefits law, and concepts of social equity and diversity baked in to new graduates. What did not get studied so thoroughly was economics, technology, specific types of business knowledge, or statistics. HR graduates today are trained in a party line Social Justice ideology which sets them up as enforcers of government edicts on diversity, with less emphasis on ideals of merit and productivity that would promote the competitiveness of the business they are supposedly helping to direct.

Business advisor Ram Charan noted that typical HR managers had little perspective on the overall business, as he wrote in the Harvard Business Review:

But it’s a rare CHRO [Chief Human Resources Officer] who can serve in such an active role. Most of them are process-oriented generalists who have expertise in personnel benefits, compensation, and labor relations. They are focused on internal matters such as engagement, empowerment, and managing cultural issues. What they can’t do very well is relate HR to real-world business needs. They don’t know how key decisions are made, and they have great difficulty analyzing why people—or whole parts of the organization—aren’t meeting the business’s performance goals.

Among the few CHROs who do know, I almost always find a common distinguishing quality: They have worked in line operations—such as sales, services, or manufacturing—or in finance. The celebrated former CHRO of GE, Bill Conaty, was a plant manager before Jack Welch brought him into HR. Conaty weighed in on key promotions and succession planning, working hand in glove with Welch in a sweeping overhaul of the company. Mary Anne Elliott, the CHRO of Marsh, had had several managerial roles outside HR. She is overhauling the HR pipeline to bring in other people with business experience. Santrupt Misra, who left Hindustan Unilever to join Aditya Birla Group in 1996, became a close partner of the chairman, Kumar Mangalam Birla, working on organization and restructuring and developing P&L managers. He runs a $2 billion business as well as heading HR at the $45 billion conglomerate.[1]

Charan’s observation is that effective HR heads came out of business operations, not from academic programs with a social sciences and labor-influenced background. But new HR hires are now low-paid (relative to engineers and sales) and inexperienced recent graduates who have limited understanding of the business, its products, and competitive markets. Such people will likely have no difficulty believing in the mythical gender “pay gap” because they themselves have jobs in a kind of feminine and minority ghetto within the company, where most of their fellow HR staff believe in affirmative action and social justice efforts as a moral crusade. One lesson from this tendency: if you are staffing up your own company’s HR department, start at the top with someone who is deeply experienced in your business and will hire HR staff who demonstrate a commitment to making the best products with the best people to survive and profit in a competitive marketplace. “Activist” HR staff who see your business as a platform for doing social work—who want to mold your employees to promote social welfare and support social justice causes—will gradually dull your company’s competitive edge and in the long run destroy it. Overseas competitors, especially Asian companies, will not be as hampered by hiring policies designed to right social wrongs.

We’ll look later at how the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is top-heavy with blacks and women, showing that the EEOC itself is not achieving statistical representation or diversity. The same is true of their internal enforcers, the HR departments. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects statistics on occupations and shows this data for 2015:[2]

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Composition of workforce by job category

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Composition of workforce by job category

Notice that women dominate the HR profession—with above-70% representation in both management and staff of HR. Blacks, meanwhile, don’t do quite as well in HR management—but are overrepresented by 30-40% at lower levels.

This is US-economy-wide, of course, and individual companies and industries may diverge from these averages further. It is a common observation, for example, that Silicon Valley companies have even more female-centric HR staffs. And as at the EEOC, Latinos remain underrepresented in both HR management and staff. When your HR rep comes to tell your team that you have to give preference to minority and female hires, ask them when HR staffs will recruit enough men, Asians, and Latinos to achieve true equity and diversity.

Some HR professionals decry the female ghettoization of HR. James A. Landrith, a male HR professional, wrote of his experience as a male in a female-dominated role:

For years, men did rule the HR world as most companies could not see a female employee outside of the administrative ranks, food service or cleaning help. As the profession transitioned from “personnel” to “human resources” the gender mix tilted out of balance. I don’t particularly view this imbalance as negative or positive. It simply is the reality….

As a man working in a field heavily dominated by women, it can be both a challenge and an advantage. I’ve been dismissed or treated as a nuisance as the sole male in a given group by a female supervisor who was quite happy to develop her female subordinates, while doing her best to alienate or ignore me….

The reactions from employees outside of HR departments have been the most dramatic. Quite often, they are surprised when the “new HR” is a man or they wonder if I am “from corporate.” I work hard to win the trust and respect of the people who depend on me to assist them with their concerns or interpret policy and ensure it is enforced fairly. My gender is not key to my success in human resources work, but it is obvious to employees that I am different. After over a decade of HR experience, I am still contacted periodically by employees from prior locations and even former employers. Often, they just need a friendly ear to listen to them vent or they want to pick my brain regarding an issue that is bugging them. That is about building trust and confidence—not gender.

… The assumption that women are naturally more compassionate and maternal when in positions of power or authority is quickly dispatched when dealing with an authoritarian type in a human resources role. There are plenty of women who operate under that philosophy while performing their duties. I’ve encountered them in supervisory roles or as peers.[3]

Stereotypes and generalizations about female-dominated organizations would suggest that they are more emotional, less logical; more safety-oriented and less willing to take risks to accomplish higher goals; more likely to talk about feelings than to act; and more cliquish and petty, and less likely to focus on the larger goals of the organization. Of course these generalizations are untrue of many specific women in HR roles, but “Ben” writing as a young male HR professional comments:

I can still remember the first time I walked into a NASHRM event and looked around. There were about a hundred people in the room. Of that number the six guys (including me) stuck out like sore thumbs. It kind of made me laugh, because I’ve never worked in a job where the men outnumbered the women. It doesn’t really bother me, but I’ve always been a little curious about why the imbalance occurs.

I don’t want to lay any blanket statements on the ladies out there, but my little experience seems to point to most of them focusing on compliance and how to keep things “safe.” More of the males, however, seem to be focused on how to keep the goals moving forward and holding onto the strategic focus.

Like I said, I don’t like blanket statements and generalities, because I’ve certainly met dozens of female HR pros with a high strategic focus. However, due to the high percentage of women overall, there certainly are a lot of them who are doing that compliance work…[4]

Some HR professionals are quite happy with female dominance and see it as a natural result of stereotypically feminine strengths in nurturing and empathy. Male writer John Sumser hyperventilates at HR Examiner:

HR is the only predominantly female function in the contemporary organization. It is the beach-head of accomplishment in the generational move of women from home to the executive suite. While the oft-repeated stereotype is that men are HR’s decision makers, the truth is that women occupy two-thirds of the HR executive seats.

It’s useful to imagine that the people who populate the HR Department are heroes. The function provides work, upward mobility and access to the heart of organizational culture for a class of people with little organizational history.

Being a fundamentally female function, HR behaves differently than other parts of the organization. It’s more networky and can be nurturing. It’s natural that development is housed here.

The essence of HR might be its ability to make clear judgments about really intangible things like personality, potential and match-making. These are stereotypical female things.[5]

Some feminists suggest high-performing women have been slotted in HR roles as a means of shunting them off the CEO track.[6] It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy—as women came to dominate HR departments, HR has come to be viewed as a pink-collar ghetto, a feminized and lower-status department from which few would graduate into the highest levels of management. As managers from the rest of the company rise, they see HR as a nuisance that does more to impair their work than assist, and so when they become CEOs and members of the board, they continue to see HR as a necessary evil and not a source of competent and effective executives.

The reasons for the disparity and the gender imbalances [in HR] remain open for debate, as does the impact created by the imbalances. For some, it is a taboo subject that stretches the limits of political correctness and therefore is only marginally discussed. For others, the imbalance is profoundly important and demands further discussion and research…. Willock (2007) states that “75% entry of women into HR is too high, and you get the sense that something is wrong here.” Other comments from HR executives interviewed for Willock’s article ranged between moderate concerns with the high percentages, to an alarming concern that this should be a burning issue that needs to be addressed… there are varying opinions as to whether or not the high numbers even matter. Some believe that the imbalance may hurt the profession in ways that cannot be clearly validated, and might be speculative at best. Are women, for example, hiring their own into the profession because of a certain comfort level within the majority? Or is it simply because men see the profession as a matriarchal stronghold designed to nurture and administrate, while offering little in the way of power and advancement?[7]

HR departments have in many companies been “captured” by the political forces outside the company that regulate labor, punish violations with fines and public shaming, and pressure companies into paying off diversity activists looking for support for their causes and sinecures for their political allies. The increasing complexity of regulations and government enforcement have, as in academia and hospitals, increased the number of deadweight HR employees needed to handle administration. Like the commissars and parallel political officers of the old USSR, HR functionaries are unconsciously acting not only for managements wanting managers to avoid legal and ethical trouble, but for governments reaching into the organization to achieve political goals and promote government control of private businesses. Smart managements will neutralize these tendencies by paying close attention to attitudes and activities of HR managers and staff. While companies need to avoid trouble with governments, they need the best employees and competitive products and services to survive and thrive.

[edit: Welcome, Instapundit readers! And thanks to Janet Bloomfield for blogging about my book here. She adds some useful comments from her perspective.]

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. 

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


[1] “It’s Time to Split HR,” by Ram Charan. Harvard Business Review, July-August 2014.
[2] “Household Data Annual Averages,” 2015. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “HOUSEHOLD DATA ANNUAL AVERAGES. Employed persons by detailed occupation, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity [Numbers in thousands]”
[3] “The New ‘Women’s Work’: On Being A Male Human Resources Professional,” by James A. Landrith. The Good Men Project, October 30, 2012.
[4] “Men in HR: A National Geographic Exclusive,” by Ben, UpstartHR, September 23, 2010.
[5] “HR is Female,” by John Sumser. HR Examiner, March 30, 2011.
[6] “60% of compliance officers are women—and that may be a bad thing,” by Shanto Atkins, Quartz, March 28, 2014.
[7] “Human Resources: The Complexity of the Gender Imbalance,” by Benjamin Banks of St. John Fisher College, May 2010.

More reading on other topics:

Death by HR: The Great Enrichment to the Great Slackening
Death by HR: Good-Enough Cogs vs Best Employees
Death by HR: EEOC Incompetence and the Coming Idiocracy
The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and the Weapon Shops of Isher
Regulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop
Captain America and Progressive Infantilization
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
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More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy