Is the Australian HR profession a “pink ghetto”?

by Miklos Bolza15 Aug 2016
A New Zealand study has cast a shadow over the industry’s gender equality in a trend which may also be found here in Australia.
The survey, conducted by the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand, found that 84% of respondents said HR was overwhelmingly over-represented by women.
In particular, one respondent referred to HR as a “pink ghetto” where “talented females within a corporate environment seem to cluster”.
Is Australian HR guilty of the same gender mismatch? HC talked to three local HR experts to find out their views.
“From my perception of going to HR conferences or events, I think there is a higher representation of women,” said Naomi Mourra, head of HR for Australia & New Zealand, at BBC Worldwide.
“As the role of HR becomes more influential, I think it will be a more attractive role to men. In a company where HR has a bigger role to play, I think you do get more diversity. However if the perception of HR is the fluffy people stuff, that may not be attractive to men.”
Having a better gender balance is beneficial in any field, she added, as industries which are not diverse risk losing credibility.
Iain Hopkins, managing editor of HR Director, said that results of a recent APAC survey pointed to evidence that there was some disparity within the industry.
“The perception from inside and outside of business is that HR is a female-dominated area. This is reinforced by results obtained by HR Director’s recent APAC HR Report, which was based off a survey of 3,184 HR professionals. In that survey, 27% of respondents were male and 73% were female,” he said.
“If this is a fair representation of the HR workforce, I’d suggest that HR teams should be champions of change in business – they should be embracing D&I and showcasing it to the rest of their organisation.”
Klaus Duetoft, senior director human resources for eBay Australia & APAC, had a more neutral response.
“In my view, I don’t think about this as a gender question,” he told HC.
“Rather I would seek to answer whether we, as a profession, are bringing in the right capabilities that are needed to help our business leaders and organisations thrive in a rapidly evolving, highly competitive global marketplace irrespective of gender.”
Following on from this, it is important to position these requirements and directions towards new candidates thinking about an HR career, he added.
Related stories:
Are female leaders facing a ‘glass cliff’?
Unravelling the gender equality paradox
Senior males with daughters more active on gender equality, says report


  • by Eric Cooper FAHRI 15/08/2016 12:38:06 PM

    I have the good fortune to have spent over 40 years in HR .The function was largely staffed by males. Some organisations did have a more diverse mix male/female however the percentages were opposite to that which exists today.HR Managers and Directors were mainly guys.
    Much of the change has emerged from the drive to have gender equity, the rise of Human Resource Degree and Masters courses and the growth of HR as a meaningful business contributor driven by legislation and compliance and law and employment relations making an interesting and challenging occupation,one of the best roles available .A huge increase in female HR graduates I believe is a key factor. Just attend the annual AHRI Conferences and count male attendees.Not a bad thing as capability and capacity to do the role is key.I think there are just so many talented females now in this sector. Again 40 years ago we did not care too much about what gender you were it was , at least in the major multinationals, how good you were at your job.The industrial relations scene has also dramatically changed with the reduction in,and amalgamation of,many Unions.This in turn has reduced the opportunities for Industrial Relations roles which also had a large male contingent.
    Its a changing world and HR has a much higher profile, and is an attractive career role.I also recall a study which revealed that females were better naturally at administrative tasks than males and HR at all levels has a high degree od Administration so another reason for success in HR. The opportunity is development to get these folk to the top team table .

  • by HR Dude 15/08/2016 2:37:56 PM

    I'd like to see another cut of this data. What roles do we see more women in within the broad spectrum of HR? Is it the 'soft and fluffy' that tends to have more women? What about industrial and employment relations?

    Another question that instantly jumped out at me was the employment lifecycle for female employees. Is it a case that it is easier to manage family commitments in HR than the other business units? HR can be far less deadline orientated than some areas of a business (not without deadlines of course, just different). This might be a small pull, but overtime it concentrates more females in the sector. A similar effect occurs in some government departments, where we have much higher amounts of females than males.

    I'd also be interested to know how many self-employed business consultants doing HR-like work are female. My guess would be far less than males.

  • by Steve Rowe 15/08/2016 5:39:42 PM

    Affirmative action in favour of women has been going on at the senior levels in HR for years. I would estimate, and I have had this confirmed by my search contacts, that at least 2 out of 3 of the larger generalist HR roles in corporate australia these days are effectively "women only". The flow is as follows: 1. Board/ CEO rightly embarassed about the lack of female representation in senior leadership - particularly in the listed space. 2. CEO (typically male) - expresses to headhunter a "strong preference" for a woman. 3. Headhunter, already looking at a market largely populated by women hardly bothers to approach male talent unless is a "wild card". 4. Another woman appointed to a senior HRD level. I am a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion and gender balance in particular. But what's happening in top end HR is actually undermining the diversity cause, the women's cause and ultimately the credibility of HR. The buck though must stop with the "pale, stale, males" that initiate the recruitment in the first place.

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