Although it’s still — as James Brown once sang — a man’s world, a new research paper from Wharton finds that HR increasingly is becoming a women’s profession.

In a new report, “Who Gets the Top Job?” Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli and post-doctoral fellow Yang Yang reveal that between 1999 and 2009, the percentage of female top HR officials increased from 27% to 42%.

The researchers based their conclusions on a study of the top HR positions in the 100 largest U.S. companies, measured by revenue, in 1999 and again in 2009.

Yet while the profession has grown more diverse by gender, it remains as monotone as ever in terms of broader career experiences. "It's puzzling and a little surprising," says Capelli. "Everyone says that HR executives need broader experience as well as more business experience, but it looks like it is still a siloed career. Compared to a decade ago, they are even more likely to have begun their career in HR and spent most of their time there."

Indeed Capelli and Yang find that in 2009, just 20% of pros nabbed the top post job from outside the HR field, compared to 30% in 1999.

The pro vs. business leader distinction is an important one, Capelli argues. "General purpose business executives are trying to figure out what makes sense for the organization, while a professional acts like an accountant or a lawyer with a standard set of solutions to problems. The business executive says, 'Let's figure out what works for our business and makes the most sense for us,' rather than turning to a standard tool kit and rolling out an accepted solution."

Interesting point.

So, I ask you: Do you consider yourself more of a ‘professional’ or a ‘business leader’? How do you think that label improves/detracts from your company’s and/or your peers’ perception of you? Do you care? Sound off in the comments.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit News content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access