I recently did a ½ hour talk to some Year 10 (15 year olds) on “A Career in Human Resources”. It was part of a whole pic-n-mix day of career options and, given I was up against the RAF, finance and medicine I was pleased to see about 50 curious types pitch up. Obviously about two thirds were girls and, as it so often the case, the boys were the first to answer.
“What is HR about?” I queried.
“It’s about making people happy” replied one chap
“That’s fine, and why would you want people to be happy?” I reposted
“Because happy people make a happy company and a happy company makes a better profit” answered this sagacious young man.
Once we’d established the point of having an HR function, the school children’s interests settled on two key areas: how much could you get paid and how quickly could you get to top-dollar. The boys and girls were also intrigued to know where on the scale shown on the screen I was; “I’m in a small box somewhere near the fire escape labelled ‘Self-Employed’” I quipped – nowhere near a ladder of progression and salary increases. As I looked at the sea of happy, shiny optimists I didn’t want to tell them that as things stand the boys might get to the FTSE 100 HR director £500,000 salary, but that the majority of girls wouldn’t – albeit they would make up 70% of HR professionals, and might get better grades, and acquire more qualifications and so on – but come the final board room reckoning the chances are they would be somewhere else (making Pudsey cupcakes if it’s this same week in November in 20 year’s time…)
I wondered about a notional geography teacher from the 15th century telling class that the world was flat and that Mr Columbus was unlikely to return. My conceit was that he would have been teaching what he took to be the truth when revolutionary change was just around the corner; and maybe the balance and options for women are just about to change too. Keen to pursue this idea for my blog, I Googled ‘flat earth’ for material to support my thesis. Well, blimey, turns out that back since the days of Pythagoras people knew the world was an orb, a ball, round like an apple spinning silently in space. And people all over the globe knew this, not just the Greeks. Believing that the ancients thought the world was flat is, apparently, one of the great misconceptions of history.
By this token maybe we do know how to give girls career routes to sustain their momentum, it’s just that the thinking is a bit fragmented still. It needs to be dragged together because otherwise we will not benefit from the skills, ability and energy that women can bring to every level of an organisation – they are, literally, a human resource not being fully utilised.
Talking to an HR friend I suggested ideas that had occurred to me, like no longer using a 5 day week – or having a working day that runs in 8 hour chunks – or having completely goal orientated jobs where you get to go when you’re done. “Oh,” said my friend, “we already do lots of that in the NHS”.
Maybe lots of good new things are already happening – we just don’t all realise it? Opportunity Now, the gender equality campaign from Business in the Community, is currently doing a survey to find out more about gender balance at work. If you have a couple of minutes it is worth adding your experiences, whether you are male or female and if you are older or younger than the 28 – 40 focus. Go to www.project2840.com to have some input.