Musings of a Male HR Practitioner 

I recently signed up for the Society for Human Resources Management’s Annual Conference. It is generally considered one of – if not the – largest HR Conferences in the US. Thousands upon thousands of HR Professionals converge year after year to hear some of the best and brightest in the field speak on various topics, and network with their peers from around the country. I have actually worked with people who consider this to be a personal goal; meaning for some people attending “SHRM Annual” is a sort of Mecca pilgrimage for HR geeks. I don’t go every time, but when this year’s flier came in I signed up. It was only when I was talking to my wife did I realize that the conference’s official start date: June 19th, is Father’s Day.

Welcome to HR, dude.

I have long observed that HR is a female dominated profession. I have jokingly said that I understand the plight of male nurses because I am in the same boat. I imagine male nurses going through the same challenges I do, like walking all over conference centers searching for a men’s room because they have all been relabeled women’s (there are STILL lines to get into the women’s restrooms!)

How ironic that the profession that is tasked with ensuring equality has to commandeer restrooms and (presumably) cover the urinals.

All this is not to say that we should begin an affirmative action program for Human Resources; establish a plan of how we are going to actively seek out, recruit and retain more men, though I would challenge that we should not overlook the significance of this. We all have hidden biases and we all are wired differently, especially among the sexes. We all know that women tend to be more compassionate – no secret there; a trait that you would no doubt like to see in your Human Resources practitioners. By the same token men tend to be more logical and less affected by their emotions. Again, something you would want in a Human Resources business partner.

So here’s the deal. Diversity in the workplace is a good thing (I’ll save my thoughts on the merits of diversity for another post). If you don’t agree with that, I am not sure why you are reading a blog written by anyone in HR (unless I asked you to in order to boost my readership. In that case, thank you. You are a true friend).

So if diversity is a good thing, why is HR not embracing it within its own ranks? Because as a profession we have chosen to focus internally and not made the effort to venture out of our comfort zones. HR people are humans. That’s right, you heard it hear first. Sure, our reflections don’t always appear in the mirror, and we have that strong aversion to garlic, but we also make the same mistakes as everyone else, one of which is hiring people like us (especially for leadership positions) – it is easier than recruiting folks who don’t really “know” HR (like HR people all “know” HR), and then training them in the secret and sacred ways of our profession.

Attentive Reader: Wait a minute, is he saying HR needs to stop promoting from within?
Me: Yep.
Attentive Reader: *GASP*

Those of us who have grown up in HR have tended to stay within our beloved department and not made an effort to understand the business that we support. We use the same interview questions whether we are hiring a mechanic or an accountant. We don’t even attempt to learn the business. We don’t take time to work within the business, or attend meetings in the business, we don’t even walk around where the business gets done because we don’t need to know such things; we are HR! The result – we have become exactly what we work to prevent elsewhere: a homogenous team of people that all look (and think) alike.

The solution for HR people is twofold and obvious (at least to me).

First, look for people in other places than you normally look to fill talent in the HR ranks, and not just entry level positions. I have people come to me all the time and tell me they want to get into HR. The problem is, they usually have to start out in entry-level roles. Not that there is anything wrong with that, except that there is a lot wrong with that. Everyone has to start somewhere, I get that unless you want experienced professionals who know your business. Having them start over from scratch kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Oh, and while I am at it, our certifications don’t help. In order to sit for most of the ones I am aware of, you need several years of exempt level HR experience. How are you supposed to get kind of experience that without the certification (I am often asked)? The answer – start out as a clerk and work your way back up, which is not what a lot of people want to hear.

Second, HR folks need to spend time with their business units. Understand what makes them tick. Stop thinking like an HR leader and start thinking like a business leader!

Work with me here, it ain’t that hard.

So, what if you are not in HR (and have no desire to ever be)? Well, skip the first point (though maybe talk to your HR leadership about their criteria. Ask them “what is an SPHR or PHR, and how important is that? Is it really more important than having business knowledge? Can’t you teach them all that HR crap easier than you can teach them the workings of the business? Second, reach out to your HR rep and invite them to your meetings. Ask them to follow you around and get to know more about what you do. What can it hurt? Will you be better, or worse off with an HR person who knows more about your business? Be careful how you answer that…

Who knows, maybe someday I can attend a major conference and find a restroom. One can always dream.

Until next time, y’all!

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