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Why Do So Many Women Work In Human Resources?
Batya Wiseman

TEL AVIV – New research from Ben-Gurion University found that 91% of those working in human resources in Israel are women. It is data that largely conforms to recruiting and personnel departments around the developed world.

According to the figures released by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK, 72% of human resources staff in that country are women. Furthermore, when Forbes magazine published the top 10 best-paying jobs for women, it found that 71% of the workers in human resources in the United States are, in fact, women.

What is the explanation for this phenomenon? There is a mix of theory and hard facts, but we can divide it into three basic categories:

1. History
The human resources profession emerged from the domains of therapy and counseling. Its first version appeared in the 19th century, staffed by “social workers” who were mostly women. During the two World Wars, when men were off fighting, a large number of women went to work in the industries. From then on, the jobs evolved into hiring and professionalising. At the time the jobs in the domain did not require a large set of skills, and sometimes not even a completed high-school curriculum. Since higher education was mainly reserved for men, the field developed with a dominating feminine presence. The same can be said of the educational sector, and remains this way until the present.

2. Workplace discrimination
Even though most human resources employees are women, it is telling that the top spots in the field are still largely kept for men, who also earn proportionally higher salaries. It reflects a broader deficit for female career advancement that remains in many Western countries. In Britain, for example, men earn 20% more than their female counterparts. According to the latest figures collected by the Israeli Bureau of Statistics, a woman earned an average of 66% of a man’s salary. These figures may help explain how so many women gravitate toward human resources, where salaries are relatively lower than in other sectors.

And despite smaller salaries, the pressure in the field is just as big. “Unlike before, the HR sector in general, and particularly amongst recruiters, now requires a wide variety of professional skills and a high level of education,” says Liliya Pauker the recruiting director at AllJobs.com, an Israeli recruitment website. “Those who work in this field have to manage with very intense jobs, irregular and hard working hours and must meet rigorous business objectives set by their organizations."

3. A better fit?
This risks slipping quickly into stereotyping, but many researches tried to identify the feminine qualities and characteristics that could be helpful as a recruiter. For example: Better listening capacities, empathy, good organization skills, a capacity to negotiate without conflicts and most of all the desire to help the person in front of them.

These characteristics, according to some studies, are also part of the evolution of female genetics. Greg Savage, the former CEO of Aquent International (an international HR firm), is sure that most recruiters are women because they do the job better. “Women listen better, they ‘get’ the person sitting in front of them, they understand their real needs and motivations, thus they are able to find the best job for that person,” he argues.

But others scoff at what they see as worn-out assumptions that women are more “suitable” for that profession than men. “Even though today nobody prevents a woman from becoming a software engineer or a man from becoming a director of the HR department, many women still don’t think they are able to become engineers. Therefore, when a woman is good in math, instead of becoming an engineer she goes to architecture,” explains Idan Liad, a recruitment director. “The same happens with men: instead of running an HR department, they turn towards business administration, economics or law, which in terms of capabilities and requirements are very similar to the field of human resources.”

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