Women in Government and Leadership | Professionelle

By Angela Atkins

I loved Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. Finally, someone who not ONLY got that as a woman, when you’re assertive, you’re called something nasty – but also has some practical suggestions for ways around it. Having discussed the book with lots of younger HR women, I’ve also found many of them have already starting making decisions not to progress their career as they may be having children in the next few years. Sheryl challenges us to think about why we do this? Are we saying that we can’t deliver because we’re going to be thinking about having children soon? Why don’t we get as far as we can, and then the impact on our career when we take time off for children can be less? So for that and many other reasons, I’m all for leaning in.

However in January at Elephant, we ran an HR Advisors Conference. In a room full of 75 people, 74 of them were women (the one male attendee coped remarkably well!).

Now, HR is a very female-dominated profession. I’d say in lower level roles it’s 80% female. But at a senior level it changes to more like 50/50. So where are the men coming from who move straight into the top jobs? Having trained many hundreds of HR people I can see what’s happening. The men in HR are heading out into the business to get non-HR experience (they’re leaning out) while the women stay in a traditional career path of working only in the HR field. Unfortunately, at the top level it’s not just HR experience that counts. It’s real business experience in operations, sales, marketing or finance. It’s about having the skills to understand the whole business and not necessarily just have technical HR knowledge.

So here’s the problem. For our profession, not only do we need to Lean In, but we also need to Lean Out too and get business experience.

On the one hand this is exciting – that it’s clear what the issue is and how we might be able to solve it (if we want the top jobs of course which is what Leaning In is about), but on the other hand it’s yet another challenge to try and overcome. How to do it? We need to support each other so we can lean out as we lean in and we don’t find it’s physically impossible!



Angela Atkins has worked in HR and training for 17 years. She is the co-founder & GM of Elephant Training and HR and the best-selling author of 2 NZ business books: Management Bites and Employment Bites. She is also the MC of Elephant’s HR Game Changer Conference. For more visit www.elephanthr.co.nz.

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