Why We Need More Women (Thought) Leaders in HR

Ahead of this evening’s awesome DisruptHR Chicago event, co-organiser Nicole Dessain offers her take on why the world need more female leaders in HR.

HR and Achieving Gender Parity

It seems everyone has a point of view about the lack of representation of women – especially when it comes to technology and leadership roles. Hidden in plain sight is a gender parity problem that affects our very own HR profession. You are probably thinking now: “What is she talking about – HR is like 90% female, isn’t it?!” Indeed. That’s why I was shocked to read about a U.S. Department of Labor statistic as referenced in a recent Workforce Magazine article indicating that male HR managers make about 40 percent more than female HR managers, and only 11 out of the 50 highest-paid HR leaders were female despite the fact that ours is a female-dominated profession.


Let’s take this line of thought a little further.

Close your eyes and list your top three thought leaders in Human Resources. Chances are your list includes the likes of Josh Bersin, John Sullivan and Gerry Crispin.

Were there any women on your list?

Now, let’s do the same exercise for high profile CHROs. Former Google Chief People Officer Laszlo Bock was the first one that came up for me here.

And what about academics in our field? Adam Grant, John Boudreau and Dave Ulrich make the top of my list.

Nothing against all of these amazing thought leaders, as they each have and continue to innovate HR. But how can it be that a profession that’s predominantly female has not managed to produce as many, if not more, female (thought) leaders?

The previously referenced Workforce Management article offers a possible explanation, “In general, male CHROs tend to spend the most time on strategic activities (i.e., adviser, counselor, coach) while female CHROs tend to spend more time as talent architects.”

In other words, men focus their time on advising and sharing their thoughts, both internally as well as externally. Women, on the other hand, dedicate their time on making sure programs are designed to meet their immediate customer’s needs – heads down, single-focus. I was one of those female HR leaders once. Only in hindsight and based on the experience of having to build my network and external brand from scratch when I became an entrepreneur do I know how incredibly short-sighted I was in neglecting to build my reputation as a thought leader all along.

In my more than 16 years of working in HR organizations, as well as coaching and consulting with CHROs, I have also noticed that women tend to more often question the external value of what they do. I often heard comments like, “We do this in our company but I am not sure if it’s a best practice,” or “I don’t know that I have anything to say that would be interesting for the audience.”

Collectively as women in HR and really any field, we need to get better at speaking up about the things that we think need changing, testing our ideas early and iterating with the feedback we receive. Only with the collective brain power of all – men and women – can we accelerate the pace of change required for our function to remain viable in the years to come.

At DisruptHR Chicago tonight, we aim to showcase diverse voices. Across all of our events starting our speaker slate has been 70 percent female. We heard from CHROs such as Dorie Blesoff and Dawn Burke, mid-level managers like Katie DeVoto and Stephanie Waite, as well as emerging leaders such as Ellen Steele Kapoor.

I make it my mission to scout for the untold HR stories. I want to hear from those female HR leaders who have been too busy doing the best job they can but haven’t had the time to share their new approaches, their failures and successes, the lessons learned that others yearn to hear so they can be inspired to change their own, stale practices.

So, why not share your story starting today? Submit your application to speak at DisruptHR Chicago here. Our team coaches you through the entire process and we will make sure that the stage you’re given to stand on is only the beginning.


Your turn: What ideas do you have for advancing women into (thought) leadership roles in HR?


Want to stay connected to our community of HR disruptors? Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe to our DisruptHR Chicago newsletter.

Author: Nicole Dessain

Nicole Dessain is the founder of talent.imperative, a next-generation talent management consultancy, and the co-founder of DisruptHR Chicago, a movement aimed at inspiring the HR community in Chicago. Nicole’s background spans 15 years of corporate HR and management consulting experience, resulting in a keen focus on business outcomes paired with cutting-edge knowledge of emerging trends in the talent space. She loves to share her passion for talent by writing and speaking about it. Nicole has been quoted in the Chicago Tribune, HR Magazine, Workforce Magazine, and Talent Management Magazine.

Share This Post On
468 ad