White Out

This article accompanies The Feminization of HR.

Thursday, March 1, 2012
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Not only is HR a vastly female-dominated profession, it's also a vastly white profession. Ninety-two percent of all U.S.-based HR professionals identify themselves as white, according to What HR Thinks and Feels: The 2011 HRxAnalysts Psychographic Survey of HR Professionals by HRxAnalysts, a Bodega Bay, Calif.-based analyst firm covering the HR industry.

In the United Kingdom, 94 percent of HR professionals listed their ethnic origin as white in the 2001 Census.

This simple demographic fact has many diversity experts and HR professionals gravely concerned. After all, they question, how can a function that is so ethnically and racially unbalanced effectively serve an increasingly diverse workforce?

"Ethnic-minority cultures are quite different from one another," says Atul Shah, founder and CEO of Diverse Ethics Ltd., in Colchester, England, and author of Celebrating Diversity: How to Enjoy, Respect and Benefit from Great Coloured Britain. "That cultural intelligence is very important for HR professionals to understand and appreciate. If they are not from a particular culture, they are unlikely to have that sensitivity and intelligence."

Working with a diverse HR staff has definite advantages, says Tracy McCarthy, senior vice president of human resources for Chicago-based SilkRoad technology inc. One of her previous employers had a 75 percent Hispanic workforce, making it crucial for HR to mirror that ethnic makeup in order to effectively serve the needs of the employees.

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Unfortunately, most HR departments don't even come close to accurately reflecting the demographics of the workforce.

According to Shah, that can be especially problematic when it comes to matters such as recruitment, potentially leading to conscious and unconscious bias. Shah is so concerned about the matter, he recommends that companies take recruitment duties out of HR's hands if they don't take steps to diversify their own ranks.

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