I often ask HR professionals what they like about their job and the answer is synonymous: “I love helping people.”

People.

It’s what we do.

HR plays such a pivotal and crucial role in organizations throughout the world.

From time to time, I like viewing the labor force statistics related to all kinds of HR positions and what the job outlook is like for the coming years. One interesting statistic that I came across not too long ago showed that 76% of Human Resources Managers are women. Let me repeat that: 76% of Human Resources Managers are women. That’s a really significant number to think about! And the best part: these women throughout the United States are striving to make a positive difference in their organizations.

As we may know from history, however, elevating women to a career of higher responsibility in an HR professional role was not an easy endeavor. However, as we look at a brief history of HR (noting a couple of examples) and how the profession evolved, we can gain a clearer understanding as to why women have become an integral part of the HR labor force and why they have and will become one of the greatest influencers for good.

One example we can look to is the story of Mary Woods. Women weren’t common in the workforce at the beginning of the 20th century and when there was a shortage of workers during World War I era, Mary Woods saw an opportunity.  Ms. Woods was one of the only female workers at her bank.  With the worker shortage, she began recruiting well-educated women to fill bank jobs left empty from men who went off to war.  Starting with only a few replacements, Mary ended up recruiting over 300 female assistants!  After the war was over, however, the bank wasn’t keen on keeping their female workforce and quickly replaced them with men; however, this is one story out of many that contributed toward the beginnings of women participating in HR.

From World War I and II to the Great Depression and through the mid-20th century, women were increasing in numbers, but their treatment and pay was not equal.  Men were given preferential treatment in hiring.  Women were subject to roles that were “lady’s work” like sewing and housekeeping.  In steps Martha Griffiths!  Martha was the first woman to serve on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the first women to be elected to the United States Congress from Michigan as a member of the Democratic Party.  She was instrumental in including the prohibition of sex discrimination under the Title VII in the Civil Rights Act of 1964! Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire or fire any individual or otherwise discriminate in any way based on their race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Because of her efforts, along with many other women during that time, we see far less of this type of discrimination today.

These women are only a few examples of how women have impacted HR across the decades.

Susan B. Anthony, the driving force behind Women’s Rights Movement said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Susan B. Anthony gives us something powerful to think about. The women of the past helped shape the future for future generations of women desiring these types of responsibilities and roles.

Though this article primarily focused on a couple of examples of women from the past, their impact on HR, and the affect that they had on future generations of women aspiring to such roles, the central point comes down to one question: how can you impact the world around you to foster positive change?  If you can’t think of anything off the top of your head…you can always join HR!  😉

By: LeiLani E. Quiray, SPHR

Director of HR for VertiSource HR