Today’s human resource department is very different than the personnel department of long ago, when it was once relegated to more administrative work in addition to hiring and firing employees.
But times have changed. Businesses are now seeing the value human resource leaders can bring to the table. Today’s HR professionals act as strategic business partners, helping to set company goals and establish partnerships to achieve them. As the field has changed, so have the people who work in it. Look at one data point: women now hold 70 percent of the human resource jobs, but research from the United States Office of Personnel Management showed that, in 1969, women occupied 30 percent of the jobs in human resources.
In my experience working with large companies and organizations, there have always been more women than men in human resources. And in my experience in teaching at the university level, I’ve seen more women than men in my classrooms. I think the reason could be the competencies that are required of today’s human resource professionals. While HR is no longer just a tactical “hire and fire” field that administers benefits and payroll, it often requires skills such as nurturing and developing talent, collaboration, building teams and a high degree of emotional intelligence that often thought of as occurring more naturally in women. But there are other competencies required for the future that people in human resource need to have. These include strategic positioner, change champion, credible activist, capacity builder and integrator and innovator. These will be the qualities that make great human resource leaders in the years ahead.
Human resource and diversity leaders are important to the health of an organization, because they help build a culture that supports inclusion of differing people, viewpoints, and perspectives. This leads to healthier, more innovative strategy development and progress that supports company growth. After all, if everyone is the same and has the same ideas, there is no energy to fuel change. That is not how a company grows, changes and becomes more successful.
Companies also need to make sure their workforce reflects their customer base. In other words, an organization needs to look like its customers, to the extent that is possible. If a company sells shoes to a certain demographic, then the company should have employees who are similar to that demographic. The customers are then more likely to see the company as credible and believe it is walking the “diversity” talk.
Continuous improvement in the human resource department requires a strong diversity commitment from top leadership to attract, retain and promote the best. So it’s critical that human resource and diversity leaders are engaged in developing, recruiting and selection strategies to attract diverse talent. And doing so might include using a wide range of resources that haven’t been tried. But again, it will take commitment from that company. In the end, it could also help increase the population of men in human resources, bringing even more balance to the team.
There has never been a better time to work in human resources. The challenges are high. Organizations face a shortage of skilled workers, an aging baby boomer population, an increasing number of millennials, and generation Z entering the workforce, as well as the high cost of health care. Yet smart companies recognize that HR professionals can help with those challenges through strategic planning, change leadership and leadership and talent development strategies.
Individuals who want to be that human resource leader with the competencies required today should consider the opportunities that exist in human resources. They will definitely have the chance to use them, develop professionally and, therefore, advance at faster rates. And at the same time, human resource professionals should not wait to be asked to the table. They should take the initiative to ask other leaders in the organization what it is they need from them. The future of organizations is diversity: both in the backgrounds of employees and the perspectives of leaders. Step up. Help craft the business world of tomorrow.