In Human Resources, as much as any professional discipline, we women have hit our stride. Given the opportunity to compete in the field, we’ve succeeded: to reduce turnover, attract and retain those diamonds in the rough, and build reputations for respectable (and even press-worthy) organizational culture. It’s been our ticket to the C-suites of the Fortune 500 – and not a moment too soon. And as the scope of the job changes from “intuition” to data-driven strategy, we have the chance to show our adaptability, too.
But then again, our stature puts us in an awkward position. Despite our best efforts to promote organization-wide diversity and inclusion, all too often we discover unfair treatment – especially of women.
And we want to do something about it.
Really, you want to do what’s best for your own professional development and career goals, but you also want to support the marginalized, underrepresented people in your own organization. How can you do both of these things both effectively and fairly? Even if these distinct goals aren’t completely at odds, how do you send a message to those around you what your priorities are?
It’s a question I’ve seen come up to the surface over and over for a long time. Our exit interview software actually came out of a project to identify the greatest barriers to the advancement of women and minorities in the workplace. We’ve uncovered pivotal opportunities for our clients, but we’ve also encountered challenges that most executives would hope to sweep under the rug.
One of the best – and worst – parts of creating a truly anonymous exit interview system is the abundance of brutally honest answers.
These are the real voices of women at one of our clients. This is a large (10,000+) and decentralized organization, but neither a poor performer nor ideologically backwards. The employees’ reasons for leaving, for example, hardly deviate from our measured industry norms. And yet comments like these are far too common:
“The biggest thing I noticed at [the company] is that if you’re a woman, you had better act ladylike. There was nothing more contemptible than a woman who spoke her mind. As a woman you were supposed to just nod and do as you were told. I was described as “aggressive.” I’m not aggressive. I am passionate and dedicated. I take pride in what I do and do it well. This is not what was rewarded. Being demure seems to be ‘leadership’ quality most desired at [the company].”
“My boss had a very hard time providing accolades, at least to the women who reported to her. She didn’t seem to have a problem telling the men who reported to her that they were doing a good job or even giving them credit for work done by somebody else, but she had a hard time telling a woman that she was doing a good job… Most of the time, my boss would cut me off if I started to speak during a meeting.”
“Men are definitely recognized more than women in the department.”
“I was repeatedly harassed by [a male coworker]. When I demanded it stop… [he] went to management and lied.”
“I was harassed several times and nothing was done about it.”
Of course I’ve picked a few especially unpleasant-to-read examples, but haven’t you felt this way at least once in your career? If not, I envy you. If you’re anything like me, this sounds all too familiar, if a bit distant. And, if you’re anything like me, part of why you’re still in the business is because you believe it doesn’t have to be this way.
But what now?
Imagine these were your findings. Or, maybe you don’t have to. Maybe you’ve already faced this issue within your organization. How do you deal with it? Tell us in the comment section.
About the Author: Deb Dwyer is the founder and president of HSD Metrics, a provider of organizational surveys designed to increase retention, engagement and organizational effectiveness. With over 30 years of combined experience in human resource management and survey research, Deb’s extensive knowledge reaches beyond organizational research to include expertise in work climate improvement, retention, hiring and selection, employee orientation, performance management systems, recognition programs and career development systems.
Diversity. What does it mean to you (aside from a pretty handy street dance troupe)? It’s an important topic to mull over because the modern workplace is expected to employ a diverse workforce, with HR departments obviously playing a crucial role in the process.
But as with so many valuable concepts, the risk of the principle being lost in the rhetoric and its substance replaced by an empty corporate buzz word is high. As HR employees – dealing with the people behind the labels – it is our duty to clarify the recruitment process we are expected to implement and highlight any practical issues that arise.
Diversity and the ‘tick box’ culture
One of the measures of a diverse workplace is how closely it reflects the make-up of the society in which it operates. This has led to government statisticians compiling lists of percentages where citizens are divided into their ethnic group, gender, sexual orientation and numerous other categories and the numbers compared – often unfavourably – with the make up of the company.
If we’re not careful, this can lead to diversity being treated as another item to be included on a growing list of corporate targets. ‘Do we have a disabled guy? Good. Five per cent ethnic minorities? Great. We’re running at 55-45 gender split though; need to even that up a bit.’
Here we stray into that contentious issue of ‘positive discrimination’, and whether it is ever right to recruit someone on the basis of their age, gender, sexual orientation or cultural background. Whatever your position about that, it is a very real dilemma that the Human Resource department has to grapple with – diversity in the real world rather than a utopian concept.
Do we still have an appetite for diversity?
Recent world events have even cast doubts on the value of diversity itself. Struggling economies have led to high levels of unemployment and the accusation by some disgruntled citizens that their jobs are being taken by people from minority backgrounds. And there is no doubt that recruiters in many fields have sought to actively import talent where there is a perceived lack of it from amongst the local employment pool.
With the media highlighting the negative aspects of muticulturalism and the dangers of excessively liberal policies, and the rise of nationalist parties in the political sphere, even the politicians’ are displaying quite schizophrenic behaviours as they reflect the public’s ambivalence over diversity.
Companies as diversity in action
The modern workplace, to varying degrees, mirrors the situation in society at large. People from different backgrounds come together for a common cause and while there are inevitably culture clashes and disagreements there is also a lot of solidarity and shared identity. A company’s success seems often to be related to the extent to which its workforce has been integrated, enabling everyone to pull together. But is there more that a diverse workplace can offer up?
Attack of the Clones
In our drive for diversity, we must ensure that the people we recruit are given the support and freedom to actually express their unique qualities and perspectives. In a modern workplace we need to utilise the full richness of each individual’s experience and tap into their irreplaceable skills and strengths, if we are to remain relevant and competitive as a unit.
Employees are not just representatives of particular demographics in society, they are living, communicating windows into the minds and hearts of the people who share significant elements of their background. If one of our employees uses a wheelchair, he or she will be invaluable in assessing how accessible our company is to other wheelchair users. If a female employee objects to the chauvanistic workplace culture then ignore her at your peril. It is highly likely that sexism is coming across in our products and services, alienating women in society.
In some ways, a diverse company is a gift which gives us the opportunity to interact with society at a deeper, more inclusive level. But we must still make the most of the richness at our disposal by treating employees as respected individuals. Otherwise we risk creating a sham diversity rather like the clone troopers in the Star Wars stories. Here, the individual troopers are largely identified by surface differences alone (hairstyle, uniform trim, etc.) to compensate for the fact that they are all cloned from one source.
Is diversity still on the menu? Absolutely, but only the best restaurants can combine all of the flavours into one appetizing dish.
About the Author: Nicole Dominique Le Maire has gained a reputation as a highly valued leader within the female business and Human Resources Industry. As a multi-talented woman entrepreneur and a global people connector, she is also the co-author of two books, including “The Female Leader.” As a result, she has gained tremendous experience guiding startups and entrepreneurs which has supplemented her MBA, MAHRM, and MCIPD and this has catapulted her to become one of the top leaders in the Human Resources industry. Get in touch via twitter @NicoleLeMaire or one of the business websites, humanresourcesglobal.com, newtohr.com, thefemaleleader.biz
Editor’s Note: Though many of our readers and writers tend to be US or UK based, the goal of Women of HR is to support all women in business, regardless of location. Today we are expanding our reach as our guest author takes a look at the challenges of women in business in Asia.
The business world in Asia needs to take a hard look at why many companies are still hesitant to hire women in leadership positions. Gender diversity in successful organizations has reached a point where women need to be brought into leadership roles. According to UN Women, the Asia-Pacific economy loses USD 89 billion every year by not cultivating the female workforce. This is only one of many reasons why women should be hired into the workforce as leaders.
Perceived Challenges for Hiring Women in Asia
There are a number of basic challenges that can influence Asian employers into thinking that hiring women complicates team synergies. The bottom line is these are just perceptions. Some of the difficulties that employers think they’ll face when hiring women include:
- Prioritizing family commitments
- Un-equal dedication of work hours as compared to male peers
- What-If Scenarios: What if they get married, what if they get pregnant, what if they move away?
- Effort required to become a female friendly workplace
However, don’t you think some of the same scenarios exist for men too? It may not seem like it but family is usually the number one priority for everyone. Challenges need to be worked out for both men and women and it’s unfair to think that just women will let you down.
Benefits of Women in Leadership Roles
More or less we understand the perceived challenges that employers may fear, including the ones listed above. However, the benefits of women in leadership roles and the specific talent they bring to an organization greatly outweighs the concerns.
- Experienced Multitaskers: Rather than taking a women’s requirement to juggle work and family as setback, one should consider that this actually makes them better project managers and team leaders. So much so that BBC covered the topic, scientifically proving that women are better multitaskers. Leaders should ask themselves, if the majority of their male leadership teams were replaced by women, would they actually achieve more?
- Extreme Dedication: Most Asian women know that getting a break in the professional world could come once maybe twice in their working careers. When they get it, their dedication is incomparable. They’re open to working from home, coming in on weekends and bringing their children to work. A report published by TalentCorp Malaysia and Acca revealed that the top 3 reasons why women leave work in Malaysia is:
- To raise a family
- Lack of work life balance
- To care for a family member.
As long as they’re given the opportunity to focus on both family and work they won’t let either one down.
- Different Leadership Styles: Teams in the workplace now want collaborative leadership styles rather than commanding ones. Certain character traits which are more dominant in women such as building relationships, listening and collaboration can create an environment which cultivates both team and company success. According to a survey conducted by HBR, 62% of respondents leaned towards hiring a male CEO unless the company was doing poorly in which case 69% wanted to hire a female leader. People understand that women make different leaders than men in a good way, they just don’t implement it regularly.
In an ideal world, women and men would be considered equal professionals – traits and perceived challenges would not be based on gender. However, anyone who has spent time working in Asia knows that we’re far away from this goal for gender diversity. How have you changed your workplace to be more female friendly, especially in leadership positions?
About the Author: Paul Keijzer is the CEO and Managing Partner of Engage Consulting in Malaysia, Pakistan and UAE. His primary focus is on transforming top teams and managing talent across Asia’s emerging and frontier markets. Download Paul’s Social Media Toolkit to Advance your Career
There are some things in life that truly tie us all together. I think that one of them is music!! Seriously, think about it.
We can remember a certain song or group that defined high school, college, weddings, etc. I distinctly remember the rush of emotion I would get when the High School pep band would play “Jet” by Paul McCartney & Wings during the warm up. Geeked !!
Music follows all people and when you look at that in the context of HR, there is a gold mine of tunes that resonate with all of us. Paul Smith, author of Welcome to the Occupation, gathered some great lists of HR/work related songs that we can all see ourselves in. Check out his post here: Songs About Work 3-D.
Along those lines and to get you hooked, I want you to try these:
THE song when you're thinking about the potential termination of a team member from The Clash!!
Or, when you've had one of those days that seem to drone on and on, there's the new wave classic by Trio – “Da Da Da”
My “go to” song lately has been what I see happening to employees as they come to work each week – “I Don't Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats.
Those are just a few that hit me and you can probably guess what type of music I tend to listen to. What does that say about me? That's up to your interpretation. The thing to remember in this is that the great people around you everyday have music in them too!! They are full of different styles, genres, and themes that get them through each day.
Too often in HR we want everyone to “be on the same page” which really means that we want people to conform to a certain direction or movement. We often aren't looking for their input. We just want them to get in line with everyone else. Wouldn't it be better if we let them express themselves and bring their ideas, approaches and insight to situations? It doesn't mean that we won't reach consensus or agreement.
In fact, it's just the opposite. By involving the diverse reality of employees around us, we come up with better conclusions and strategies.
So, this week, let your music flow!! Let others see the great tunes you love and take in the symphony of those around you. You'll love the mix that comes from it!!
Remember, You've Got the Music in YOU !!
About the author: Steve Browne is the ultimate connector and social media guidance counselor and also works in the trenches of Human Resources. Steve is the Executive Director of HR for LaRosa’s. He has responsibilities for the strategic direction of over 1400 employees. In his spare time, he is active in Ohio SHRM and runs a subscriber-based newsletter called HR Net. Connect with Steve on Twitter as @sbrownehr and on LinkedIn.
After some recent reflection, I am convinced that my childhood has had a huge impact on how I consider various circumstances thrown my way as an HR professional. I can’t help but wonder how many others feel the same way.
A few weeks ago, I was driving to pick up some books for the ILSHRM Leadership Conference at our treasurer’s office. I got the idea of taking pictures of some of the homes I grew up in because it was on my way. I thought I might use them to share with my kids one day.
While doing so, the idea of writing this blog post for Women of HR popped in my head because the memories from seeing the homes brought back visions of similar employee circumstances I have had to deal with in the workplace. Some of these circumstances impacted the employee and their co-workers’ performance while others would just come in and share to get whatever was bothering them off their chest and back to work they went.
My experience has helped me to be a better problem solver and listener with employees dealing with adversity of any kind.
Just the number of homes I took a picture of, eight not counting the three no longer standing or out of state, tells a story. So many employees deal with instability in their life for a number of reasons. For me, I lived in 11 different homes growing up compared to the stability of my 20-year-old (2 homes) and my 11-year-old (1 home).
How many of our employees bounce from home to home? What impact does that have on their job? Psychologists typically only look at your life between the ages of 0-17 as it relates to the impact the experiences between those years makes on the rest of your life. I have a lot of empathy for instability and so much more that employees go through. For example, as I think back to my childhood, I have a much better understanding for employees dealing with:
- alcohol and drug abuse
- emotional and physical abuse
All of these personal problems have a huge impact on employee performance, attendance, and quality.I think overall my background has helped me be a better more understanding human resources professional. It affects how I handle things and how I communicate with people.
It’s not just what we learn in books or on-the-job that makes us good solid human resources professionals; it’s also what we are made of. Our early beginnings, where we came from and how we grew up has a lot to do with how we work with and influence others on a day-to-day basis. It can have a significant influence on our performance and ability to connect with employees, managers, owners and other relationships related to our work.
In HR, no one situation is anything like the other and that is what makes this profession so exciting to work in. I say be proud of your humble beginnings because all in all it is who you are and who you are is an outstanding professional who can handle whatever situation that is thrown at you.
I am a Canadian woman who is a visible minority and so proud to be part of this multi-cultural country that I call home.
I was born with an ‘ethnic’ name (Singh) and married and changed my name to another ‘ethnic’ name early in my career (Chandarpaul). When I changed my name, quite a few people (friends and family) told me not to use my new married name as it was ‘too ethnic, too long and too difficult.’ But I would not hear of it.
They told me that I would have too many barriers against me and would never succeed in the business world nor would I be considered for some jobs or given the same opportunities if I did this. This baffled me. I thought maybe I was naive.
I look back now, almost 10 years after my HR career began, and I laugh at those people. I have had the opportunity to work in my different companies, under varying lengths on contract and this meant I was quite often looking for a job at least once or twice a year. My name has never kept me back, it has never hindered me and it has never impeded my ability to get ahead, I am successful because of my credentials, what I give back to my community and the experiences I embark on and learn from.
Those cynics are the people who try and find excuses for not finding a job. If you don’t have the appropriate skills or don’t apply for jobs that fit your skill set it would be difficult to get that job regardless of what your name is.
So to all the people out there with a difficult, long, ethnic or unique name that gives them character and depth – keep moving on up!
Photo credit Deirdre Honner
About the author: Nita Chandarpaul works full time as a Human Resources Generalist with FNF Canada (a division of Fidelity National Financial). Nita enjoys balancing life as a wife and mother of a two and a half year old! Life is busy and fun and ever changing in the world of HR.
As a Recruiter, I spend many hours on company websites and see the promotion of diversity in the workplace and equal opportunity. “Minorities are encouraged to apply” and “Equal Opportunity Employer” are phrases that provide comfort to those still fighting for these universal truths.
However, as a company’s brand continues to become enlightened, there must be more discussion among employees and job applicants. Too often when presenting a position to an individual do I get “Well I’m not a member of the GLBTQ community, will I be accepted?” or “I think this position would be filled better by a professional that has the same ethnic background represented in the mission.” I almost stop in my tracks from these comments, and struggle in my responses which feel canned.
I do believe that a personal connection to a mission can make a candidate more viable, but those qualities alone does not make an individual more competitive. Further, not all connections are visible. HR employees and hiring managers also ask questions or make hints that make me want to have the EEOC on speed dial. At times I feel like I am treading in a sea of gray.
Our company staffs progressive nonprofits that promote equity for people with disabilities in the workplace, membership organizations that support minority students, and other missions that look to equalize the playing field. When conducting the initial discovery for a position, accommodations for those with special needs or questions about the best fit must be asked carefully and with knowledge of correct terminology and the legality of the recruitment process. Even a Recruiter with the best intentions could possibly offend a hiring manager with minimal words.
As HR Professionals, we are responsible to understand diversity and the positive impact it has on any office environment. A diverse team provides a unique lens that contributes to best practices in all fields. Companies may encourage and even pay for HR employees to become educated in employment law, diversity in the workplace, and how to deal with sensitive issues.
Understanding my own discomfort towards difficult or insensitive questions further demonstrates the need for this type of training. I brought this to the attention to my fellow staff members and supervisor during a recent meeting, and received the similar feedback and stories of insensitive applicants and hiring managers desiring a certain demographic, age, or background.
We unanimously agreed that there is a need for continued diversity education in our workplace in order to grow and assist organizations that need our help the most. As a team, we decided to create a presentation and present it at an upcoming company-wide training.
I am proud to recruit for those missions that promote change in the workplace and in our world as we know it. It is imperative that we continue to educate ourselves in order to be the best resource to these groups, and be the best advocates for the candidates or employees that we hire and represent.
I ask that readers share best practices for diversity training in their organizations as well as how to handle sensitive issues related to discrimination in the workplace.
Photo credit iStockphoto
About the author: Jessica Gross serves as the Lead Recruiter for a nonprofit staffing firm in Washington, DC where she performs full-cycle recruiting for entry level to C-level management roles. Jessica provides career counseling and job readiness assistance to individuals and nonprofits in the DC-area. Connect with Jessica on Twitter as Jessicas144 and on LinkedIn.
The Free to Be movement has had a profound impact on the workforce.
Free to Be kids have changed everything. We’ve broken stereotypes and pursued new career paths. More important, we have raised our children in an environment that is far more diverse and tolerant than in the past.
So, what’s so different about Free to Be’ers?
There are many differences, but for the purpose of this blog, let me focus on the role of women. We are the generation that immediately followed the sexual revolution. We were of an impressionable age when most moms did not work and yet some women were burning their bras. The television was full of a confusing mixed bag of images that included Carol Brady, Shirley Partridge, Mary Richards, Edith Bunker, Anne Marie, Diana Prince (a.k.a Wonder Woman) and Jaime Sommers. These diverging images of women really got us thinking about what we wanted to do when we grew up and as we have grown up our identity has become increasingly broad.
I believe Free to Be kids are great in strategic human resources roles.
This is a gross over-simplification, but whether the potential barrier is sex, race, faith, disability or whatever other adversity an individual may face, our natural way of addressing the issue is to focus on capability.
The interesting part about writing a blog vs. a research or newspaper article is that there is more potential for telling a personal story. For some readers, this blog may take you down memory lane. Read on.
There’s more context for me about being a Free to Be kid.
My mother was a modern woman. After marrying her childhood sweetheart and living as a traditional 1960s housewife, in the 1970s she found herself divorced, saddled with a mortgage and three kids. She worked full-time, sometimes working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Like Shirley Partridge and Mary Richards, she learned to be independent. To the amazement of the neighborhood, she learned how to replace the storm windows on the 2nd floor by herself, change the oil in her car and unfreeze the pipes underneath the sink in the wintertime.
In the early 1970s, my mother was not necessarily in an enviable position. I once asked her why she was wasn’t like other moms. When she asked me what I meant by that I said, “Because you don’t wear your hair in a bun and bake cookies all the time.” With time, Free To Be helped me (and everyone else) to recognize that my mom was OK and, in fact, that she was perfectly normal.
In our day, Free to Be girls had new interests. For the first time, Six Million Dollar Man dolls were as popular with girls as boys. In my time, the Ideal Toy Company also released its first girl version of the Evel Knievel stunt bike. I loved it. She did great pop-o-wheelies! (Yes, that’s a picture above of my sisters and I at Christmas with my stunt bike.)
More so than in previous generations, Free to Be girls began pursuing more male-dominated professions.
I didn’t originally train to be an HR Professional. I studied communications at the University of Iowa and planned on working in media for the rest of my life. It was at a time when women were entering broadcast journalism in droves but most senior jobs were held by men. I think though at the time that I believed it was only a matter of time before that barrier would be broken.
Recently, Ben Eubanks, UpstartHR, wrote an excellent post, Men in HR, a National Geographic Exclusive. In it, he interviewed a wide variety of men and identified the challenges they face today. The funny part for me is that it wasn’t so long ago that HR at the senior levels (where it was no longer personnel) was almost entirely male dominated. Perhaps the Free to Be girls realized that HR was a good place to tap into our strengths and capabilities.
There may be some readers who will view this blog as feministic. I hope that isn’t the case. Sure, there are still many symbols out there that are very distinct for females and males, yet there are many more that have lost their gender identity. Overall, that’s great, because no matter what your sex, it is about your interests and your capabilities.
You like what you like. You follow your dreams. Let the banjo play. We are all free to be you and me.