Is it safe to say that women occupy a majority of recruitment roles? Why are there so few men in recruiting? Do women make better recruiters? However you phrase it, it's an elephant in the room -- or rather, industry. Let's examine that elephant a little closer, shall we?
What do the stats say?
In 2011, Israeli economists Bradley Ruffle and Ze’ev Shtudiner published a study that analyzed whether female recruiters discriminate against attractive female candidates, and along the way they captured some some numbers.
*****UPDATE: Bradley Ruffle recently noted via a comment on this post that they expanded their initial survey to 208 companies. 91% of these recruiters were female (with the majority still being single and under 30 years old). More than half were working at employment agencies, while the rest were at companies doing internal hiring. Recruiters were predominantly female in banking, budgeting, chartered, accountancy, finance, accounts management, industrial engineering, computer programming, senior sales, junior sales, and customer service.
What do observations show?
There's also quite a bit of circumstantial/observational/anecdotal evidence worth exploring, which is what sparked the post in the first place. I spoke with four former and current recruiters who all agree that the gender ratio is skewed. Apparently, it's been this way for a while.
“When I started in staffing in 1992, I’d say the industry was female-dominated by at least 90 percent, including upper management,” said a former east coast recruiter. She went on to explain an even more precise "type" for the industry during that era. "I used to look around at trade shows and see it was mostly middle aged women with perfect hair and painted nails wearing Chico’s clothing. They all seemed to service the same areas where they were born and raised."
Decades later, the discrepancy is obvious to Elizabeth James, who spent four years as a recruiter for Kelly Services. “There was only one male recruiter, and he was only there for six months. There were ten branches, and you figure two recruiters at each branch...” She shrugged as if to say, “do the math.”
Jason Kolles, senior recruiter at ShopNBC, said he’d been warned early on that HR/recruiting was a female-dominated field. He feared he'd be seen as the “odd man out," and sure enough -- at one point he was the only man among a team of fifteen staffers.
Indeed, Rebecca Cenni, CEO of Atrium Staffing observes, "there are more women than men in recruiting today than ever before.”
Both Kolles and James noticed, however, that upper management roles include more men, which isn’t all that surprising considering the national female participation rate for executive positions hovers at just 16 percent. But this also suggests that males are entering the industry from the outside, leaving little mobility in the ranks of the recruiters, who are overwhelmingly female.
Why are there more female recruiters?
Now for the stickiest part – the “why.” Are there more women in recruiting because they're better at it, as the consulting blogger Greg Savage so bluntly states? (The subtext being that people gravitate toward professions where they actually excel). If so, what makes them better at it? Or are there more women in recruiting due to outside forces at play, like the level of education traditionally afforded to women? Or what is expected (or not expected) of them, professionally?
A few of my interviewees echoed the environmental explanation -- the "nurture" half of the nature versus nurture argument.
"It didn’t take a degree or even a high school diploma to go into staffing, as long as you were good with people," said the east coast recruiter, which perhaps explains why the majority of recruiters were female in the past. But why does the imbalance persist?
"I feel there is a gentle push toward the profession based on education and environment/benchmarks," said Kolles. "I also feel we have set examples and role models for women so the field of HR becomes more attractive and something to pursue. The same story is true within education.”
One of the most interesting facets of Greg Savage's argument was that female recruiters are especially drawn to being paid based on results. Because of the fact that "the more you bill, the more you earn," compensation is transparent, and the effects of gender discrimination are muted or eradicated altogether.
On the other hand, some of my interviewees had no problem embracing gender differences as innate.
“[Women] have more compassion,” said James. “And I think that encompasses being a better listener. They want to hear what the candidate is really saying. [Candidates] trust you because you care. You want to hear how their interview went. You get attached.”
Cenni had similar thoughts. “Women are uniquely skilled in HR because it employs both hard and soft skills. Hard skills are more technical... Soft skills deal with personality, culture fit, and knowing how to match relationships … In my experience, women have a good eye and instinct for combining these two sides of the HR coin.”
Soft skills also encompass being able to "read" body language, which is one of the stereotypes that Greg Savage touts in his male-recruiter-bashing post. Others have noticed -- and scientifically documented -- the same thing.
“I tend to pick up on other things but completely miss out on some of the non-verbals that come across in interviews,” said Kolles.
It's hard to be a spokesperson for an entire gender - but that's why we have the comments section. Lay it on us. What does your cross-section of the industry look like, and why?