I like to think that I am young (33 at present!), I am blonde and I work in HR. And I have been fascinated this month by the blogs of people I view as both my peers and teachers….peers, as we all work in HR; teachers, because I have actively read, followed and learnt from these peoples’ social media for some time now, be it blogs, twitter, google+, the list goes on…and hopefully in the not too distant future I will meet these people.
It began with Richard Westney (@HRmanNZ) and Angela Atkinson (@angelaatkins) who collaborated on a post ‘CEOs prefer Blondes’ (http://hrmannz.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/ceos-prefer-blondes/), which touched on NZ CEO’s preference for HR Managers who were essentially “yes men” who wouldn’t challenge the status quo, or future plans and kept records neat and up to date. Angela backed this up with research on the CEO’s including their education, previous experience and among other things, gender in her blog ‘How Many NZ CEOs Have Worked in HR?’ (http://hrmanagementbites.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/how-many-nz-ceos-have-worked-in-hr/). Notably, it pays to be male, have an accountancy or engineering degree and have stuck with one industry.
Amanda Sterling (@sterling_amanda) responded with her blog ‘Just Because I’m Young, Quiet and Blonde Doesn’t Mean I’m Stupid’ (http://learningtoflynz.com/2014/04/25/just-because-im-young-blonde-and-quiet-doesnt-mean-im-stupid/) with some great examples of stereotyping her as young, blonde and dumb. One of the best responses (in my opinion!) was David D’Souza’s (@dds180) ‘The Sexy Women of HR’ (http://ddsouzadotcom.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/the-sexy-women-of-hr/), was both incredibly funny and incredibly honest at the same time and sparked a whole new debate that is fully worth the read of the comments at the end!
My two cents worth encompasses both angles and potentially a new one. I am young (again – ish!), blonde and in HR…but I owe that to one man who undoubtedly hired me for the reasons the original blog describes. However, the flip side for me is that he also had the confidence in my abilities to shift me from a completely different role and angle of business from what my experience to date would have dictated. Best thing that ever happened to me. HR became my ‘thing’ from there on in. The new role inspired me. I worked harder. I studied. A lot. And made it my business to learn all I could to know about this new avenue.
Years later and in some ways like those CEO’s I remain in the industry where I began, but with a new role. That gives me the edge in a lot of ways. I know how the staff work. I know the profiles that work in the various roles. I know the ins and outs of the system and after all this time I have both the experience and education to back everything up.
On the flip side, it is an old company in an old industry. One where we are desperately in need of breaking new ground – and this is happening both around me, with me and because of me – not that I can take all the credit of course! But I am doing my damnedest to ensure they move with the times. And because I am young (ish!), blonde and in HR – I find I hit roadblocks, and am not taken always taken seriously.
I don’t have the assets David D’Souza mentions (though there are plenty of them in the office!); I’m not the quiet, young blonde Amanda Sterling describes, as I need to get my point across to push, pull or drag us into the new millennium; I’m not as green as Angela Atkins and Richard Westney describe…yet I face a different battle. Parts of the organisation ensure I’m in every meeting and place value on my input, parts view me as “the young, dumb, blonde”, and parts still don’t know exactly what my role is. Yet I have first-hand experience in most of their roles, and having transitioned to HR from sales, I have both the theory and the practice from both camps. And yet it can still be a daily struggle, or a daily triumph depending on who I’m dealing with. But isn’t that HR? Aren’t we there for both the business and the employees? And if it was all easy every day, wouldn’t we be bored? What would we strive for then?
Whilst like most people I’ve love more recognition for the work I do, and more credit for both my knowledge and ability, I believe in some ways this is the lot of HR. We may never be the rock star sales person or the like, but we can be and are the backbone of an organisation. We’re essential to the running of every department if we choose to make ourselves so, and the more we know about their business the better and vice versa. Make yourself essential, make yourself a ‘go-to’ and indispensable, learn your craft and earn your seat at the top table. For your ability, not your youth, hair colour and amenability…and hopefully not for your assets – noteworthy or otherwise!