Diversity sits large in the vocabulary of many HR professionals at the moment. It is clear that within the legal sector there is a push to create an environment full of varied skill sets, background and personalities. The assumptions of those recruiting are being challenged; partners and human resources are being asked to work against an inclination – that of choosing those which are similar to themselves.
And yet as a recruiter of HR professionals, I find myself faced with a delicious irony – there is a huge imbalance in the make up of the HR sector itself. I recently sat down with an eminent HR Director who was looking to recruit an HR Officer. She presides over an extremely successful function, one with Managing Partner buy in and which has provided integral advice and support through an 18 month period during which the firm has grown and changed on many fronts. As an agent representing some of the more talented Human Resource professionals in the city, my mind raced as she went through the personal specifications – those little gems of information that can help me provide the right sort of individual first time. She concluded her list of ideals and waited for me to answer. After a cursory moment, with the excitement of a possible match beginning to bubble, I declared that I had quite a number of candidates who would fit. She, in turn, paused, scrunching up her nose as if the next question was something that didn’t sit easily with her. “Are any of those men?”
Of course this wasn’t a preference just a candid example of an uncomfortable situation in which HR across all sectors is stuck. Bonnie Tyler was not known for her prophecy but her question remains – where have all the good men gone?
Concerned, I ran off a report to see the gender breakdown of the previous one hundred placements EJHR has made. The reading was, although not surprising, a diversity manager’s nightmare. Of that hundred, just 18 were men and of the 5,012 candidates on our database only 876 have the male gender box ticked. This is, of course, just a breakdown from our database but it must be considered a microcosm. I have spoken to many HR professionals in preparation for this piece and none have disputed the situation.
But why is HR such a gender imbalanced sector? A candidate once attributed it to what she called ‘emotional intelligence’. Biased though she may be, she was of the irrefutable opinion that “women were more adept at decision making and advice giving in situations where emotions can be high (redundancies, recruitment, appraisals). Women are strong communicators and also can adopt a stronger pragmatic approach.” Of course, she was making sweeping generalisations and exhibiting the kind of inclinations implied above. There maybe some truth in what she says but there are some exceptional, highly able men in the profession and, as the job distances itself from its secretarial/personnel background and becomes more and more aligned to the business, the gender imbalance could be redressed.
In the past there were perhaps obvious reasons why HR didn’t appeal to men as a profession. It was something that secretaries took care of, merely the monitoring of recruitment and absenteeism. But HR is an evolving sector at the moment, especially in law firms. Good Human Resources Management can have a profound affect on the business and many are seeing that if they get the right HR function, other areas of the business will fall into place – the fee earner can be recruited, trained, developed, appraised, rewarded and retained, all by the same team. Women have been the majority force in HR and therefore should be attributed with turning it round and making it more attractive. It has now become more dynamic, drawing the attention of male graduates and with diversity conscious recruiters looking at their HR teams, the men could well get the nod over their female counterparts. This will make all candidates stronger and will ensure the calibre continues to improve. That can only be a good thing for the recruitment market and subsequently the businesses themselves.
Sam Roberts is a consultant with EJ Human Resources
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