Sunday, 30 August 2015

The only man in the village

Recently I've been reflecting on being part of a minority group - men in the HR profession. I thought I'd spend this blog sharing my observations about this and what impact it has, if any. 

Read on...

I've encountered it all over the place so it's definitely a thing. But it's taken other people pointing it out recently to make me dwell upon it. 

In my current role and organisation I'm the only man in an HR section of 18. In my previous two organisations out of a total of around 30 different HR professionals in two companies I was one of only three men across both. In my work delivering CIPD qualifications for six years, I taught around 120 students and can recall only five male students. When I was a CIPD student myself I was the only man on the course for each year I studied.

I go to conferences and networking events and the audience and attendees are predominantly female. 

The CIPD once said that 72% of their members are female. In another bit of teaching I do, student numbers are almost exclusively female too and it's estimated that over 80% of new entrants to the HR profession are female. 

And there's lots of other statistical evidence on the subject too.

But do I mind?

I might well be in a minority group but I don't feel neglected, disregarded, discriminated against or otherwise excluded, for the majority of the time anyway. It doesn't bother me much. Once I did joke that I was the token male and felt like some kind of positive action role model, but that was in jest. It did make me think though about why women outnumber men so much in our profession?

I put a lot of stock by Allen and Barbara Pease' research on the differences between men and women. Although delivered HERE in a very light hearted way, there's a considerable body of research behind it and some relevant truths to explore too. He doesn't mention HR in this when he talks about professions and occupations with high gender imbalance, but the principles are the same - you can see lots of HR work being perceived in the same way as Counselling, which he does mention - as a fluffy, talking profession where you listen to lots of people complaining. 

I generalise, of course, and am just extending Pease' anecdote. But is this why the HR profession attracts more women than it does men? There's certainly not much of the geo-spatial and logistical co ordination Pease asserts attracts more men. Though there IS a lot of problem solving. 

What do you think?

Interestingly though when you look at the top levels of the HR profession, the numbers are a lot more equally divided. This suggests that whatever barriers there may be to men entering the profession, there are not as many preventing men from succeeding and advancing in the profession once they have entered it. Or does it suggest that the further away from the front line of HR you get, the less those types of roles are likely to be attractive to women? Again, just referencing Pease' line of thinking here. 

Pease also suggests that there is something about how the brains of gay men work that enables better relationships to be forged with women, and to share some of the same characteristics in terms of skills at certain jobs and attributes to succeed in them. Although this is another generalisation, there is some relevance to HR as a profession where there does seem to be a higher proportion of gay men than in some other professions. Indeed, of the various men I have referenced in my introduction above as having been part of my peer groups, around half have been gay, and it's often been the case that people have assumed that I myself am gay simply because I'm a man working in HR. Again, this doesn't bother me at all, but it's interesting how stereotypes start to develop. 

Hence the title of this blog, a reference to the Little Britain character Daffyd and for a good illustration of this, this sketch in particular. It's how I sometimes feel when I encounter another man in my HR team. 

A while back a team I was in were looking to arrange an Awayday that included a fun element and various options were presented for the team to choose from. The menu of choices included some things that were definitely aimed towards the female dominated team, though that's not to say that I might not have enjoyed them too or that some of the women may have disliked them, just that it would have been outside my comfort zone and there were no activities that catered exclusively for the male minority - and perhaps that's entirely right, after all I'm a minority of one and it's difficult to cater for all. 

On a recent training course there was just me and one other man in a group of 13 trainees, and at one stage the trainer made reference to this in order to make a point. I didn't mind, and the trainer herself admitted she was taking a risk by raising the point, but it again highlighted how obvious it must be to those looking at the HR profession from outside it. 

Interestingly though, with equal pay increasingly in the limelight and seemingly due to expand its legislative range soon, this article suggests that men in HR tend to receive higher salaries than women - which can't be a situation anyone in the profession is proud of. 

Earlier this year, David Jackson (who you should all be following on Twitter) wrote about it in his own blog, from which I've taken some inspiration.

We aren't the only profession with such a gender imbalance though. For the reverse situation, see IT in this article.

In David's blog he poses the question should we be bothered by the statistical imbalance?

That's a good question but I'm inclined to say no. Until someone can prove that HR needs more men in order to be more effective, and IT needs more women in order to be more effective, I can't see a compelling case for doing anything at all.  Yes, there are minority groups and I'm one of them. But it's not doing any harm, or preventing anything from happening, as far as I can see at least. 

It's just a statistical phenomenon. 

Its not causing me any problems.  And I haven't heard any other man complaining either.

If I'm the only man in the village, so be it. 

What do you think?

Till next time...


PS in other news, wedding invites now issued and it's just one year till the big day! Oh, and Poppy FINALLY slept through the night for the first time in ten months!

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