In my 9 years as an HR professional, I saw a gender preference in job ads, either “male” or “unspecified”. I have rarely seen an HR manager role requiring a female to fill it. Despite the fact that in our community and globally, the HR workforce is highly dominated by women; the management positions in HR are usually reserved for men! I have been in senior positions during the last couple of years of my career, but being an “HR Manager” is a title that I only took over in 2015. The year is not yet over and I am with my third employer now; so maybe I have created a bit of a theory about the challenges of being a female HR manager.
The challenges that I face are definitely unique and most of the time they make me laugh. Sometimes, however, I really feel how women in our society are undervalued, and how men are still struggling to understand the modern, career-oriented femme fatal! There is no nutshell in which I can lay all my challenges, but if I may sum them up they would be:
On the job:
- Being treated like a woman, not a professional
Co-workers assume that they should pay attention to the fact that you are a woman, and mainly strike conversations on how your baby is doing or your family vacation plans. I see the ice-breaker side of it, but I would definitely prefer having a less personal conversation and one that is more relevant to me as an individual instead, not as a “wife” or a “mother” since I am not acting either capacity at work.
- Business-appropriate verbiage
Being in a society in which most management positions are dominated by men, it is very difficult for men to understand the fact that a woman on the table making tough decisions can be as or more aggressive as they are! I see incomplete sentences that have been censored on the spot to try to make it friendly to my female ears. This is something that I watch and enjoy silently, seeing colleagues trying to be civil which exceeds their self-control abilities.
- Dress code
Dress code is a challenge for a working woman no matter what. Not to mention a woman who is an HR manager. For men, it would be shirt and pants and you are fully dressed for work! For a woman – a veiled one, at that – I always question myself in the mirror in the morning: am I overdressed or underdressed? Is there a term for being correctly-dressed? Do I look professional and unique or do I look like I am trying too hard? Are the heels too high or am I going for a shade of lipstick that maybe frowned upon? Too many questions that I hardly ever have an answer to! I have to say there isn’t a day in which I look at myself in the elevator mirror and feel 100% satisfied with myself.
Off the job:
- Being surrounded by peer pressure
Inside and outside work, I always get my nose rubbed in a conversation that questions my capabilities of having a balance between work and home, work and baby, work and husband, work and you name it! All of a sudden I am faced with a realization that any innocent bystander will have to dip a finger in my pie and ask me questions that try to criticize my work/life balance. Assuming I am doing a lousy job, my lousy job is my business and I do not explain myself to people.
- I hate to admit it, but I have to say that my job influences who I am
I know that it makes perfect sense for a woman who is working as a teacher to have more patience with children, a woman working as a nurse to be more compassionate; typical womanhood qualities. However, when you are in an aggressive industry, in a demanding job, it adds qualities that our naïve society has solely attributed to men. I have become more assertive in a straight-forward way while keeping an award-winning poker face. I have zero tolerance to situations that involve women being undervalued or taken for granted. I have an ongoing urge to make decisions and fix things by working smarter not harder. It is not easy to digest but it is true.
I believe that if your career is not influencing who you are, then you are not doing the right job for your capabilities. There is an interchangeable process ongoing between your personal profile and your career personality. There are aspects that have to be left at home, and you only learn this by working that much. And there are other aspects that you have to bring to the office; these aspects are what set you apart, what make you an individual. There are attributes that you dump at the office door on your way out and there are attributes that you take home with you; value added, ethics and integrity. It is not easy being a manager in a male dominated society. It is really hard being a female HR manager in a society in which the man sees women as wives, mothers, sisters and daughters only. Women have come a long way and they are here to beat you.