The feminisation of HR (Part 2)

XpertHR’s Michael Carty has published some figures that confirm my Feminisation of HR hypothesis. HR has, indeed, become more female over the last ten years or so. If this graph were extended further back in time, it would almost certainly continue on a similar gradient for another couple of decades.


XpertHR also compared the gender and seniority levels in HR with other managerial professions, showing that women have progressed further and faster in HR than in most other specialisms. Whether this is due to lack of discrimination or just because HR has moved into areas which a lot of women tend to find interesting is anyone’s guess and would need more data analysis and thought than I have time for at the moment. Intriguingly, though, something similar seems to have happened to veterinary medicine, which has attracted a disproportionate number of women relative to other medical specialisms. Hmmm. Dealing with employees? Dealing with animals? No, let’s not go there, eh?

Michael also notes that the proportion of women in HR peaked in 2007 and that it has decreased slightly since. This is probably due, in part, to the Ulrichisation of many HR functions. Women are disproportionately concentrated in the more junior and administrative HR roles. It is these jobs which have been taken over by shared service centres, employing fewer people. Another factor could be the downsizing of HR in the public sector, which started under the last government. Again, public sector HR is disproportionately female, so most of the jobs being shed were held by women. The trend is, therefore, likely to continue, at least in the short-term, as public sector and administrative roles will take most of the HR downsizing hit over the next four years.

Nevertheless, the gender balance in HR is unlikely to go back to its 1980s level. As more professions open up to women, things might even out but, for the forseeable future, HR is likely to be more female than male.

It is rare to see HR managers portrayed on screen. I can only think of two: Terry Thomas’s caddish, wheeling and dealing Major Hitchcock from 1959 and Fay Ripley’s angst ridden, wine swilling Christine Frances from 2009. Now I’m not suggesting that these characters are representative; they are comedy characters after all, but such cultural references do tell us something about how the HR profession is seen. It’s no coincidence that the 1959 character is male and the 2009 one female.

Alas, I can’t find the clip where Christine unveils her mascot for the new 360 appraisal scheme. It’s a giant cat called FantastiCat – because the scheme is about finding out what you are fantastic at. (Geddit?) I can, however, find the classic clip from I’m alright Jack where Major Hitchcock conducts a masterclass in how to deal with trade unions. Both tell us something about how the world, and HR has changed. Even so, I still think we can learn a thing or two from Major Hitchcock.

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9 Responses to The feminisation of HR (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: The feminisation of HR (Part 2) - Rick - Member Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR

  2. Mark Crail says:

    HR may not make much of an impact in Hollywood, but it has made more inroads into television. I wrote about television’s top five comedy moments on the XpertHR Employment Intelligence blog a couple of years back. Perhaps this is due for an update. See

    • Rick says:

      Oh hell, I’ve really goofed this morning. Seems there are loads of fictional HR managers I didn’t know about. Still reckon Major Hitchcock is the best though.

  3. Rick – your research is normally impeccable, but you’ve missed out the HR manager from Dinner Ladies:

    The description in the BBC’s blurb speaks volumes.:

    ‘Philippa is the scatterbrained, middle class Human Resources manager whose well meaning attempts to streamline the work place usually end in disaster’

    Pick the issues out of that one!

  4. Brilliant post, sir. Thank you for producing a follow-up to the original Feminsiation of HR post, and also for presenting your own theories here as to the possible impact of what you term “the Ulrichisation of HR” on the changing gender profile of the HR profession.

    Tomorrow’s post in my short XpertHR series on the gender profile of HR actually touches on similar theories as to how some of the factors that you associate with “the Ulrichisation of HR” might affect the future composition (in terms of gender) of the HR profession. I’ll make sure to add a link through to this post, too!

    Good to see Darren’s already weighed in with a portrayal of HR on screen. I hope you will allow the following relevant clip from the works of Clint Eastwood for consideration into this list (although I fear that Mr Callahan might not ultimately have made it into the personnel department):


  5. Rick says:

    Ah, another series I missed. Just read the blurb on Wikipedia – it says that Phillipa secured her job by having an affair with the boss. I’m sure no-one in HR would ever do that in real life!

  6. Pingback: My 10 favourite HR blog posts of 2011 - XpertHR's Employment Intelligence blog - XpertHR Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR

  7. LKiwana says:

    Very interesting, I am looking at the low proportion of women going into engineering professions, and wondering whether other professions such as HR actively attract women, or it just “sort of happens”.

  8. Pingback: Sabbatical Post – Doing the Basics | Business Matters

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