The changing face of HR bosses

by 06 May 2010

New research from PricewaterhouseCoopers has revealed how the make-up and background of top HR executives has changed over recent years with gender, age, education levels and skill sets all evolving.

Who gets the top job? Changes in the attributes of human resource heads and implications for the future surveyed the top HR role in the 100 largest US companies in 2009, recording the attributes of the incumbents in those roles, and then comparing those attributes to the individuals who held similar roles in the 100 largest companies at the end of 1999.

HR chiefs have apparently gone against the grain in a corporate world where concerns about glass ceilings that prohibit women from advancing are wide-spread. The survey showed that since 1999 the percentage of women holding the top HR position increased from 27 per cent to 42 per cent a decade later.

Furthermore, while top executives have on average been getting younger over the past two decades, the average HR head was slightly older than the rest of the boardroom in 1999 and remained so in 2009.

In terms of skills background, talent management was the most common among the top HR officers. A quarter of them (25 per cent) had experience in the talent management field, followed closely by compensation and benefits and organisational culture.

The biggest increases in experience were in employee surveys, arguably a proxy for “HR metrics,” which was not a widely-used term in 1999. The biggest fall-off was in the area of labour affairs, reflecting a decline in the role of unions.

Another surprising finding was in the area of education levels. While the percentage of top HR executives who held at least a Bachelor’s degree rose, as did the percentage with a Master’s degree, the average years of education held by these executives actually declined. This is because a trend emerged of fewer PhDs and lawyers holding the top HR position – reflecting a decline in the importance of specialist fields, the report said.

It also revealed that the nature of the career path taking professionals to these top HR jobs has changed. While it used to be more common for executives to come into the top HR job from another function, the percentage that came from outside HR in 2009 was only around 20 per cent - much less than a decade before.

For more on this story see the next issue of HR Leader magazine – Issue 199


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