Men in HR-A National Geographic Exclusive

Men in Human ResourcesIf you peel back the foliage, you can get a glimpse of the elusive “male HR professional.” This is a rare find indeed, and we don’t want to spook him, so we’ll just stand back and watch him awkwardly navigate the waters of his career as the only male in a hundred mile radius…

Has it always been this way?

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…

Steve Browne brings it

I saw Steve Browne talking about being in HR on purpose over on the Women of HR site. Here’s a snippet:

What if you told your amazing wife that the majority of your peers and role models were women, your closest professional friends were women and you go to conferences where over 70% of the attendees were women?

I remember having that conversation with my own wife. :-) Like I said, it doesn’t bother me, but it has added a few twists to my career thus far. I’ve had a few requests to write on that topic, so the next section will be devoted to that.

By popular demand

Recently I let people tell me what they wanted me to write about. Mike Haberman asked me to write on this topic specifically, and I think it’ll fit nicely here. His request:

I would like you to address the issue of being a young MAN in a profession now dominated by women. How have you been accepted by your employer, by your peers, and by your local HR leadership? Anything special you have had to do to gain credibility?

Whew! Not only do I have my youth against me, but I’m also a guy. I was hired by a woman (VP of HR) and worked with a solid cast of women before another guy was hired into the department (more on him in a second). One of the big reasons I was hired was for my love of all things technology, because they had just picked up a new HRIS and were working on implementation. Because of my interest in technology (which was noticed by HR Magazine), I quickly established a place for myself within the HR department. I don’t know if it should be a surprise or not, but none of the other ladies in the HR department are even remotely technical.

As for my peers, I’m not as chatty or inclined to sit down and talk about issues. I think that has had some effect on how I’m perceived at work. While the women in the department think nothing of plopping down in someone’s chair and hashing out an issue, I’d much prefer to figure it out myself or do some research online to see if I can handle it without asking someone else. It’s not that I’m not friendly or professional; I just want to be more independent than the other people in my HR department seem to be.

The place I’ve excelled the most is my local HR leadership. Our board for NASHRM is about 40% male, I think, so I fit in pretty well. And the females in there don’t treat me any differently for being a young guy trying to get his two cents in. :-)

My best friend/mentor is a dude

While I have a lot of friends and influencers who are women out there, the person who I have the most direct contact with and who influences me the most is a guy. I think it’s for multiple reasons, but mainly because we have a lot in common besides our strange fascination with the business of people and all things technological. Funny that out of the tiny percentage of males in the profession, I end up working with one in an HR department of six people. We definitely are well beyond the average male saturation at 33%. :-)

The imbalance online and in real life

It’s funny, because by  looking at my list of HR blogs I follow, the mix is much less tipped to the female side of things. Sure, we have plenty of women out there blogging in the HR field, but as Mike Haberman pointed out in his post on men in HR going the way of the dinosaur, there are some brilliant guys out there pushing the envelope.

There was a fantastic discussion on Drive Thru HR with Bryan Wempen on this topic, and I encourage you to give it a listen. It’s fairly short, but he and Mike have a good time digging into the issue.

My advice

If you’re a man (or a young man–two strikes!) looking to make your place in this profession, then I suggest that you find something to specialize in and become the “go to” person for that. It’s how I got my foot in the door with both my SHRM chapter and my employer, and it can certainly work for you.

What are your thoughts? Are there differences between men and women in the HR field? If so, what are they?

16 thoughts on “Men in HR-A National Geographic Exclusive

  1. Trish McFarlane

    I love hearing this perspective. I personally work better with men and since there have been so few in my HR career, I’ve always gravitated to the men who were in leadership roles in other departments. It’s actually been helpful. When I look back at career achievements and HR achievements outside work, it’s always been because I’ve partnered well with a man. I think there is something to that. Because (stereotypically) men and women approach issues differently, it’s been a great way to achieve more through collaboration. As an example, you and I are a perfect HR team. Nice post!

  2. Krista Francis

    I think you might get slammed for the generalizing. But let me do some of my own. :) I have seen lots of men (in HR or otherwise) who were very compliance-driven, so I don’t see that as a gender issue. I do think there are more women who get involved in HR saying, “I want to help people.” Men might say that sometimes, but I don’t remember hearing it in my office.

    It’s easy to see how HR people are more often women. After all, we came from “Personnel” and what was Personnel but the boss’ secretary handing out job applications and compiling your new hire documents for payroll. Although we’ve come a long way, I think many people, including young men considering career options, still think of HR as women’s work. And since there are so many ways to get into HR, including the administrative route, I can see why there would be more women.

    I’m all for more men in our profession, though! I think the trends will change over time, just like it has with medicine, where a growing number of young doctors are female.

  3. Dave Ryan

    Hey Ben it ain’t much better being an “old” guy as opposed to a young guy. You are living in a world dominated by women – man up and deal with it!

    Seriously there is one thing I have noticed about this subject. I come from the manufacturing world, or what is left of it in this country. In this sector oddly enough you find a lot of men in HR. I am not sure why, but I have a couple of theories. Manufacturing in somewhat of a rough and tumble world compared to banking, insurance or health care. It is also fairly well unionized. I am not sure how the two work together but the end result is more men.

    Labor relations is another area where there are a lot of men in HR. I think that points back to the union thing.

    So the take aways are this, if you want to work around men in HR look to manufacturing or union shop.

  4. Michael Haberman, SPHR

    Great post Ben. I have been reading some feedback on this issue and most post that made it onto a chat board. Many of the reactions were that “how could men be a dying breed in HR when women have always been the dominant players?” Well thirty years ago when I got into HR the reverse was true. 70% of the players, and almost ALL the leaders in HR were men. And in many cases these men had operational backgrounds. NO ONE had a degree in HR. There was no HR.. it was Personnel. SHRM was ASPA, the American Society of Personnel Administration. So the last 30 years has seen a major reversal. There are far many more women, there are degrees in HR, and the profession is much more “professional” (and not necessarily because it is filled with women as one chatter suggested.)

    The nature of the working world is much more “people” oriented and this often appeals to women. But I think the profession needs to be more balanced, with different approaches and different points of views. I think young men should be encouraged to be in HR to provide that balance. Most organizations would be well served to have more Ben Eubanks in their ranks.

  5. William Gould

    I am the sort of in between-aged HR guy that may balance Ben and Dave (at least chronologically because I don\’t claim to be balanced myself). In addition to working in a female-dominated occupation, I also work in a female-dominated industry. Here\’s the shocker for some people – I prefer to work primarily with women (please don\’t let that get out of the bag). Those who bring this issue to my constant attention are the women with whom I work.

    The two most strategic-thinking women I know I\’ve worked for, and I\’ve worked for the two most strategic leaders I\’ve known, who were both women (huh?). I don\’t think that being strategic and visionary, or compliance-driven are necessarily gender-based characteristics. I think that a lot of HR folks would agree that the glue that pulls strategy and employee engagement together are relationships, or the “people orientation” that others have referenced, which is why a lot of people may be driven toward a HR career. Why do we assume that this is a gender-based characteristic? [THUD – that is me falling off of my soapbox].

    I think that Krista is right on with seeing some trends of gender-bending in traditional occupations, such as more women going into medicine, and more men into nursing. And then there are the guys who still get stuck doing the labor relations and compliance-related work in HR. How is that fair?

    Great post Ben! Great comments all. I\’ll take my lumps off line.

  6. Bobbi

    “More of the males, however, seem to be focused on how to keep the goals moving forward and holding onto the strategic focus.” What are you thoughts on how the glass ceiling plays into this? Trust me it is still alive and well. Although women may out number men in HR, men still outnumber women in top leadership roles in the majority of businesses. The people who promote individuals into the strategic areas in HR are usually other men.

    “While the women in the department think nothing of plopping down in someone\’s chair and hashing out an issue, I\’d much prefer to figure it out myself or do some research online to see if I can handle it without asking someone else. It\’s not that I\’m not friendly or professional; I just want to be more independent than the other people in my HR department seem to be.” This one really did rub me wrong! J I know you were speaking on women in your department, but come on, how long have they been in the profession. I think it is unfair to lump all female HR professionals into one category. I am all for coming up with a solution on my own via research, deep thoughts, etc, however I do respect those who have been in the trenches long before me and sometimes you can\’t beat real world advice. There is only so much an article or website can teach you.

    If your goal was to start a discussion, job well done!! Coming from a profession where the majority of the people in the courtroom thought I was the judge\’s secretary and not a peer because I was a women and a young women at that (I even had an attorney refer to me in a letter to my boss as the “young female attorney” in your office), it is hard for me to feel any heartburn for the males in the HR profession. Remember women still only make 76 cents for every dollar a man makes!!

    Great job in starting a very thought provoking conversation!

  7. Benjamin McCall

    With the exception of one job, my career has been surrounded by women. Many time with me being the only one. From what my sisters and colleagues have said in the past, I am lucky. Without going in to deep, I work wel with the women in my departments. As I have said in the past – maybe it’s because I have 4 sisters.

    I guess I was born for HR lol

  8. Tim B, CHRP

    Middle-aged HR guy here!

    At first, when I started my formal transition from front line Operations Management into the HR field, I wondered if I would have a tough time because the field is so female dominated. However, I remember something my wife told me about 2 different companies where she worked…

    “It’s not that I don’t like my work, where I work or the people I work with. It’s just that there are too many women here and not enough men!”

    …she said it…not me!

    She was the first to admit that there needs to be a balance of male and female in the workplace for many reasons. It was then that I realized that I may actually have an advantage. My most challenging task was to get my “foot in the door” after completing my formal education.

    Out of my five last supervisors, 4 of them were female. Being in the HR field, I can quite easily identify someone’s personality type, regardless of their gender. However, I have also learned that men and women have clearly different approaches to work relationships and expectations.

    Great topic!!

  9. Damon Klotz - The HRockstar

    Interesting post.

    As a 21 year old HR Professional I have definitely noticed this trend at AHRI (Australia\’s Version of SHRM) events/conferences as well as in the workplace.

    This current scenario poses a very interesting question, are we missing out on a great marketing opportunity?

    Attention! Young Male College Students, have you considered a career in HR? Well if being in a profession where there will be four women for every male then HR is for you!

    But in all seriousness, the gender equation hasn\’t posed any real problems for me. I enjoy working with a diverse range of professionals from both genders and have learnt a lot from both my female and male directors.

    My mentors have also been females and I\’ve developed immensely over the past two years under their nurturing arms.

    On your point about being a go-to-guy, I\’ve become that guy for social media, effective presentation techniques and designing engaging presentations. It has definitely been a great boost for my career so I definitely agree with that point!

  10. Jim aka Evil Skippy at Work

    Yet another male HR guy here — this one of an age that shall not be mentioned. This article gave me a flashback. I broke into HR in 1978. I stopped counting the number of times people gave me funny looks or made comments about HR being a “female” profession. Others asked why I was not focusing on “real” work. The attitude toward HR back then, at least in my experience, was (a) HR handled recruiting but real management was somewhere else, and (b) I would never get promoted because the highest HR positions were “reserved” for women to help with the EEO profile.

    So I had a sex change operation and enjoyed tremendous success. KIDDING! About the surgery, I mean. I did leave HR (temporarily) to attend law school and work as an employment lawyer, but I continued to work with HR people and have loved doing so. It is great to see the profession growing in respect and reputation.

  11. Leon Noone

    G’Day Ben,
    It sounds like exactly the same issues that women in HR used to complain about in the 70s and 80s.
    In those days HR in Australia anyway, was dominated by males.

    This old bloke suggests that you simply be really good at what you do. You’ll always be discriminated against in a greater or lesser way for a whole variety of major or minor reasons.

    Outatanding performance is always a good way to go. And , of course, make sure you have fun.



  12. Kristina

    So Im a little behind and Im catching up on some of your posts…I heard about your Men in HR post and finally had time to sit down and read for myself. You and I have something in common and its obviously not gender.. its age! I am the youngest office manager for our company (out of 22 offices) and for the first 3 years of being here I was the youngest employee. I don’t count this as a strike anymore. I remember being very intimidated at company wide meetings where I was the youngest person in the room with a pool of seasoned professionals. I would think “These people (notice I say people and not just women) arent going to take me serious” I was constanty referred to as “kid” or “young’n”. Even worse than going to company wide meetings would be for me to walk into a monthly NASHRM meeting with 100 or so professionals. I felt like they were all staring me down and judging my lack of otj experience. The point is, it took me a while, but I no longer consider my age a strike against me compared to my co-workers. One thing I have found is I am a very useful tool to my company to implement change. The older managers in the company are set in their ways and resist change with all their might. I have become the example for change! When it’s time to implement something new the owner of our company comes to my office… we make it happen and then we show our other offices how it works. Thats just one example how Ive embraced my inexperience over others experience. I don’t want to tear your post apart just remind you to embrace your young age :) …

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