To celebrate International Women’s Day, HRD talks to a leading researcher about the current state of gender diversity in HR and what can be done to further support female HR leaders
“HR is the only function where there is true gender diversity compared to other functions which are clearly dominated by men,” Sunil Puri, head of research & insights at the Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI) told HRD.
According to last year’s HCLI study, HR Leadership Stall Points: Developing the Next Generation HR Leader, 57% of all regional CHRO positions are filled by female leaders – a testament to how the function has already reached gender equality at least in recruitment numbers.
The report also found that 75% of the HR leader group – those next in line to become CHRO – are women. As you continue down the ladder, the domination of women becomes even more pronounced, Puri said.
This is primarily due to how HR is seen by new graduates and the general public, he added.
“HR has traditionally been perceived as a slightly soft function. So at the entry level, anybody who wants a better work-life balance tends to choose HR as a career. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are more women graduates who lean in that direction.”
However the percentage of women leaders decreases for more senior positions, with a number of barriers preventing women from being chosen for these sorts of roles.
Puri noted there are two main areas of expertise which prospective female leaders may be lacking in: stretch goals and mobility.
“What we have found is that women leaders are less likely to take chances with their careers in terms of taking on really tough targets or assignments that really stretch them,” he said.
“We have also seen that women leaders tend to have less international exposure when compared to men in HR or any other function within an organisation.”
To encourage greater numbers of women leaders, organisations should tackle these two key areas and promote better professional growth and diversity.
“For instance, organisations can give global exposure to women leaders early in their careers when there are fewer constraints in terms of family life,” Puri said. “Send these leaders out of their home country early on and give them some global experience.”
Talent sponsors can also be used to shine the spotlight on potential women leaders within a firm, he added. In this way, candidates of both genders need not be overlooked when a position opens up.
“It’s critical that there are very senior level mentors for women leaders,” he said. “Not only can they mentor these women leaders but they can also make a business case when considering these candidates for senior business positions. They will know which women leaders are good and capable when the conversation finally happens around the succession pipeline.”
Finally, organisations can promote senior women leaders who have made it big within the company.
“Celebrate their success and send the message down the organisation that gender diversity is critical,” Puri added. “I think sending that message is very important.”