Human Resources as a function is going through interesting times... while organizations are increasingly realizing the strategic role it plays in driving overall strategy and effectiveness of the organization, yet at the same time HR is not yet seen as capable enough to deal with complexities today's corporate world is characterized with!
This increases the multitude of challenges for the HR Leader, especially when she is a woman representing the critical function! First and foremost, she has to make room for herself among the male dominated top brass, and at the same time she has to prove that business problems are as hers as anyone else's in that clan!
The typical challenges I have faced and I see HR leaders face in contemporary times revolve around following core issues...
Proving your "Business" worth! It is quite imperative for an HR Leader to be at par with a Business Leader in the organization- knowing people is not enough, you need to know how business works, what works and what not and anything HR aspect is truly contextual to the business at all times.
It becomes even more difficult for women HR leaders to do as, firstly, since there is clearly a shortage of women in corporate world's top leadership in businesses- Hence the understanding of a woman's point of view is as it is very limited - remember Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus - this one fact actually comes to play quite evidently at workplace too... 'Sadly, it limits women leaders' ability to influence the male dominated boards/ senior leadership clan to drive their agenda and take decisions.
Being in HR fraternity for long and having worked with various kinds of businesses and organizations, I can confidently say that every time I stand up among new set of leaders, I have to establish credentials on both myself as well as how I have all round business acumen apart from being just an HR Advisor.
Being seen as a "Support" Function! Such a tagging for the entire function makes more sense for a function like IT as Nicholas Carr mentioned in his HBR article in 2003 that "IT doesn't matter" - it has become so ubiquitous to any organization's working that this is a basic hygiene factor these days rather than a competitive advantage, and the lack / absence of it is more visible than presence of it!
However, HR as a function can be segregated into the support and "strategic lever" roles- while operations can be the support part, managing talent is clearly core to any organization's strategy as talent can be the only sustainable source of competitive advantage an organization has/ can have!
This is where the challenges for HR Leaders begin...Whenever HR intends to drive strategic talent management - which of course involve a lot of change management and that calls for time / involvement of business, it is faced with questions related to immediate business returns and when the same can-not be quantified, such initiatives are shunned by business leadership after being tagged "not so business critical".
I had an experience of working closely with a very successful organization- who were forthcoming and progressive in building strategic HR- so long it was not directly affecting core business and the leaders were not in the least impacted by HR's initiatives. As the things moved closer to asking business leaders to question /ask/ do/ change something... there was an immediate uproar from the corner room to leave business alone and let HR keep working on the sidelanes...
Breaking away from the"Myopic"approach! More often than not, I have seen HR Leaders to focus largely on activities than outcomes - They are so overwhelmed with day to day operational and calendar-ized HR -- as the multitude and magnitude of the same is quite high and all-consuming all the time-that this results in their lack of focus on strategic aspects of HR which connects with the bigger picture.
Now, with women HR leaders, this is quite paradoxical - with most of the women HR leaders, I have seen, they are so very well organized, focused on achieving results and getting things done- that this quality tends to be seen as tactical approach rather than being considered as results orientation (which business leaders love!)
In my own experience, till a few years back- my quest to deliver the best output within timelines, I tended to appear to focus largely on things at hand... it was then I realized that my commitment to work is seen more as my lack to look at more strategic things - while I always had eye on the larger objective - it just that I wasn't able to project the same in my day to day dealings... Having learnt my lessons, I just had to ensure that I am able to balance between the bigger perspective and attention to details and today I am seen as one of the most strategic and consulted advisors!
While listing all these challenges as above, I was constantly thinking and amused that despite the challenges being even more for us Women HR Leaders, we are the only ones who are best poised for addressing them since the strengths we have by virtue of being the fairer gender...
Women are keener to learn and adapt! (A report by Edge Hill University in England showed that females are more successful at sharing ideas and experiences with each other and so learn more efficiently than men). Because they are constantly challenged - at work, at home, in society and in strive to do better... women have a higher keenness towards learning and being able to change/ adapt themselves better than male counterparts.... contributes to shaping up and escalating the stature of HR function in any organization. This is the way HR can upgrade its business skills, get recognition and participate in strategic decision making.
In my own professional life, my undying spirit to keeping learning and exploring new has helped me shape an all-round understanding, knowledge and experience that helps me all time in my HR Advisory role. It has helped in a big way that I being a computer engineer and marketing MBA- spent my working years accomplishing diverse exposures ranging from Programming, ERP Implementation, Process Improvement, Management Consulting, Business Transformation & Outsourcing to Change Management , before I found my calling in HR!
While I'm not professing that everyone needs/ has such varied experience, but the quest to keep learning keeps (HR) leaders Agile enough as is the need of today's VUCA world!
Women are more organized! Again through various studies and my own experiences, I have seen that women tend be more organized and adept at multitasking in general as well as under pressure too- no wonder as they are successfully running complex organizations called "Homes" since ages and hence they are now getting successful as HR Leaders too. Thus today's challenging times are calling for more and more women leaders - not just in HR but in business at large- who can stay calm and take sound decisions instead of impulsive ones!
Such organizing and multitasking abilities have helped me a lot to be able to balance between my workplace, my home and my daughter too! Since I have to attend to all three with equal priority, I am always required to prioritize, effectively delegate and empower my team and work collaboratively with peers- my dependency on them has helped me become acutely thorough in my planning and decision making- since I am ultimately responsible for the outcomes.
Women lead with heart! Again a virtuous quality that comes to women naturally, they are leaders who can bring in the balance among the left brain thinker leaders - as to sustain and grow, business need a whole brain thinking / problem solving approach and having women in the top leadership team (as HR Leader esp.) does add a critical perspective which is usually missed by male counterparts!
This is a work ethos that I'm proud of and more often than not, it has always helped me at workplace(s)- this helps me connect with people rather quickly and also convince them of my conviction! Since the passion and sense of ownership with which I approach things, it is quite visible and infectious too! I have been told this so many times on my face itself- and it has helped me getting people to align with my idea and persuade them effectively.
While, I can go on adding to this list of wonderful qualities that a woman upholds to make her an obvious choice for an HR Leader and / or a Business Leader in today's VUCA world... I would like to and wish the wonderful "Peacock" in all Women (HR) Leaders there "in the land of penguins" all the very best to chart their own paths using their unique qualities!