The HR Glass Ceiling

HR has been very busy over the past few decades, very busy trying to figure out how to get ahead, how to reach those upper echelons of corporate leadership and really influence our function’s agenda. Us HR professionals seem to think we have some secret knowledge that if only if we were able to get in the ear of the CEO, we could really influence the success of the company.

It’s like the HR profession has its own glass ceiling to overcome. We’ve tried a bunch of things to chip way at that ceiling and they have failed.

HR tried rebranding efforts calling ourselves the people department or any assortment of silly names. This effort has failed to highlight our value.

For years, HR has hunted for the elusive “seat at the table”.  Meanwhile, through blood, sweat and tears, we have seen every other department, but HR, get that seat and we are still left at the kids table.

HR professionals went the way of consultancies. By being outside of the business, the business would finally realize how much they needed us. Wrong.

 

 

The problem is not the name of our department. The problem is not which seat we have at what table. And the problem is not whether we advise the company as an internal department or externally, as a consultancy.

The problem is gender stereotypes and the perceived value of masculine versus feminine traits in the business world.

The corporate world is traditionally assigned male characteristics and companies’ that show ultra-masculine traits are generally regarded in popular opinion as successful. Highly sought after leaders are goal-driven , confident, non-emotional, aggressive, independent, disciplined, strong, logical and rational. All typical masculine traits.

HR, a historically female-dominated profession, is described as having feminine characteristics no doubt due not only to the gender of those in the jobs but that HR deals with people issues. Successful HR professionals and departments are empathetic, patient, understanding, receptive, nurturing, affective and helpful.

The same reason women hit the glass ceiling is the same reason why HR isn’t taken as seriously as the IT department or the sales department or any other revenue generating department. It’s because traditional feminine characteristics are not valued in the business environment. They aren’t perceived  as the cold, hard traits that boost the bottom line, build profit and make shareholders happy.

This is not to say that HR should whine and sit idly by doing nothing because the culture holds us back. Oh no, HR needs to be disruptive. We need to push back. We need to be fuckin’ smart and demand that people respect our value. Once more minorities, millennials and Gen Z are sitting on corporate boards and in government, and once CHRO’s are legitimately considered as successors for CEO jobs, HR will no longer be seen as a department to tolerate but a force to be reckoned with.

 

 

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