European J. International Management, Vol. 3, No. 4, 2009 457
Departmental status in light of a growing
proportion of female staff: the case of
human resource management
Astrid Reichel*, Julia Brandl and
Interdisciplinary Group of Management and Organisational Behaviour,
WU Vienna, Althanstrasse 51,
Vienna 1090, Austria
Email: email@example.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Abstract: Human Resource Management (HRM) has a history of striving
for acceptance and legitimacy in relation to top and line management.
The identification of factors influencing HRM status, therefore, is very
important for the field. One of these relevant factors is gender. On the
occupational level, there is evidence from various occupations that an increase
in the proportion of women is associated with a status loss in these
occupations. Besides one stream of literature that states that gender is an
omni-relevant and -present category, there are also other approaches which
hold that the category of gender has lost its relevance, and functional attributes
are the dominant categories in the workplace today. Using a multilevel model
of 1508 companies located in 17 countries, this study analyses the impact of
gender composition and functional attributes on the organisational status of the
HR department. It reveals that while gender still has a significant influence on
status, education and experience are more important.
Keywords: HRM; human resource management; status; strategic integration;
gender; education; experience.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Reichel, A., Brandl, J.
and Mayrhofer, W. (2009) ‘Departmental status in light of a growing
proportion of female staff: the case of human resource management’,
European J. International Management, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp.457–477.
Biographical notes: Astrid Reichel works as an Assistant Professor at the
Department of Management, Vienna University of Economics and Business.
She received her Master and Doctoral degrees in Business Administration
from the University of Vienna. Her research focuses on international and
comparative human resource management, professionalisation of HRM, the
HRM-performance-link and careers.
Julia Brandl is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of
Management, at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. She has a
Diploma Degree in Public Administration and Political Sciences from University
of Konstanz, Germany, and a Doctoral Degree in Business Administration
from Vienna University of Economics and Business. Her research focuses on
cultural modernisation and its implications for the legitimacy of human
Copyright © 2009 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
458 A. Reichel, J. Brandl and W. Mayrhofer
Wolfgang Mayrhofer is Professor of Business Administration and holds a
Chair for Management and Organisational Behaviour at Vienna University of
Economics and Business, Austria. Previously, he held teaching and research
positions at the University of Paderborn and the Dresden University of
Technology, both in Germany. His research interests focus on international
comparative research in human resource management and leadership, careers
and systems theory. He has co-edited, co-authored and authored 22 books and
more than 100 book chapters and peer-reviewed articles. He regularly conducts
training sessions for both public and private organisations, especially in the
area of outdoor training.
The history of Human Resource Management (HRM) has long been and still is
characterised by a constant pursuit of acceptance and legitimacy, especially in relation
to top and line management (Antony and Crichton, 1969). HR scholars argue that the
eligible status of HRM depends on the full support by and participation in the top
management group in conjunction with integration into strategic decision-making.
Although some authors argue that not only the role as a ‘strategic partner’ but also
undertaking short term administrative tasks can create value for the firm (Ulrich, 1997),
a large body of research explicitly or implicitly stresses the importance of being able to
influence strategic top management decisions. The research field of strategic HRM has
grown extensively over the years, but in many organisations top managers and line
managers do not concede the high status of a strategically important function to HR
departments (Buyens and De Vos, 2001). For the ongoing efforts to advance the status of
HR departments, it is important to identify detrimental as well as beneficial factors and
find out how they affect the status of HR departments.
One of these potentially important factors is gender. HRM is dominated by women
(Simpson and Lenoir, 2003). Especially on the staff level, across all industrialised
countries women hold well over 50% of all HR positions (Brandl et al., 2008a). Over the
last decades, their numbers both at the staff and managerial level have steadily increased
more than in any other managerial function (Roos and Manley, 1996). Despite the
awareness of the large number of female HR professionals and the ongoing feminisation
of HRM, gender as a potentially relevant factor for the status of HR departments has not
attracted much attention. Apart from the organisational demography debate peaking in
the 1990s (e.g. Williams and O’Reilly III, 1998), there is comparatively little empirical
insight into the effects of organisational gender demography, i.e. the gender composition
of the organisation’s workforce on organisational processes and outcomes.
On the occupational level, however, there is a large body of literature that addresses
the relevance of gender as a category in the context of work and the status effects
associated with the quantitative dominance of women in occupations: Much of the early
20th century provides evidence that an increase in the proportion of women in
occupations is associated with these jobs being devaluated and losing status. Secretaries
and school teachers are typical examples for these developments (e.g. Legge, 1987;
Departmental status: the case of HRM 459
Wetterer, 2000). However, over the past four decades societal developments such as
the striving for equal opportunities, women’s rights, gender equality or increasing
diversity have left their marks on the institutional context, especially in the area of legal
regulations, and also at the occupational and organisational level. Thus, compared to the
mid-20th century the proportion of women in higher education (Ramirez and Wotipka,
2001) and in the active workforce has increased (for the USA, see e.g. Toossi, 2002), and
women have greater access to different segments of the labour market including top
positions in business and politics. Parallel to that, organisations have introduced – by
following modern management knowledge and/or institutional pressures such as legal
requirements or public opinion – more formalised management instruments and
processes in most areas of HRM, including recruitment, selection and promotion of
employees. Among other factors, these processes reduce the amount of biased decisionmaking
(e.g. thinking in stereotypical gender categories) and strengthen the importance
of categories such as formal expertise, experience and past track record (Pasero, 2002).
To be sure, career disadvantages of women are still clearly evident in terms of
income and hierarchical progression (e.g. Allmendinger and Podsiadlowski, 2001).
However, the fact that women are a self-evident part of the workforce and increasingly
represented at all levels of public life and organisations revives the question about the
effects of the proportion of women at the occupational, but also at the organisational
level. As outlined above, the large body of recent research focusing on the effects of
women’s entry into professions has been conducted at the occupational level without
considering organisational factors (Hardin, 1991). At the organisational level, research
addressing the effects of gender demography within organisations focuses on salary
(Pfeffer and Davis-Blake, 1987) and disregards status.
This paper analyses the effects of the proportion of female HR specialists on the
status of HRM within companies. It argues that gender is still a relevant category in the
context of work; thus gender composition of the HR department has an effect on HRM
status. Owing to the changing societal context we also expect functional characteristics
such as experience and education to influence the status of the HR department. Data for
the empirical study come from Cranet, an international research network dedicated to
analysing HRM developments in public and private sector organisations with more than
200 employees at the national and country-comparative level in a trend study which
began in 1989 (Brewster et al., 2004). Currently, 41 countries are part of the network.
For our analysis, data are used from the survey conducted in 2004. One thousand
five hundred and eight private companies from 17 industrialised countries are included in
the empirical study.
This paper makes three core contributions to the HR literature. First, by analysing the
relevance of gender composition, a factor that has been largely ignored, it adds to one of
the core issues of HRM, i.e. identifying and understanding variables that help to improve
the status of HRM. Second, focusing on the organisational-level transcends the dominant
occupational view and allows a more refined analysis of gender composition effects,
a better understanding of organisational processes and the formulation of consequences
useful for managerial action. The focus on the organisational level follows multiple calls
to use organisations instead of industries and occupations as the primary unit of analysis
460 A. Reichel, J. Brandl and W. Mayrhofer
(e.g. Bielby and Baron, 1984; Reskin et al., 1999). Third, explicitly targeting the status of
an occupation in organisations also allows for a more fine-grained study of the dependent
variable status. The great majority of gender studies have used income gaps as a proxy
for occupational status.
With the use of a large international sample that includes individual, organisational
and contextual variables, we also respond to calls for more comparative as well as
multilevel research, each of which holds the promise of a greater understanding of gender
2 Theoretical background
2.1 Relevance of gender as a category in the work context
Broadly speaking, three approaches have emerged in research on gender. The first is
mainly rooted in feminist research and stresses the continuing relevance of gender as a
category in work and in other contexts. In contrast, researchers mainly from a modernist
background claim an increasing irrelevance of gender as a category of difference in
modern societies. They point towards decreasing gender differences in various societal
segments. The third approach is rooted in the research on the concept of world society.
It holds a differentiated view claiming that there are areas in which gender inequalities
remain unchanged (e.g. income), but there are also fields where gender differentiation
has disappeared (e.g. law, access to education). In some areas, gender differentiation
depends on the prevalence of specific conditions. Context (especially work) is highlighted
as important (Heintz, 2001).
Authors stressing the ongoing importance of gender as a category basically follow the
argumentation of West and Zimmerman (1991) that gender is omnipresent and -relevant
and that ‘doing gender’ is unavoidable. Accordingly, they see gender differentiation as
very relevant for the constitution and legitimation of institutions and institutional systems
(Knapp, 2001). Gender as a category is constitutively embedded in the continuing
reproduction of gender inequality at work. Ridgeway (2001) argues that the ongoing
differentiation of employees according to their gender is due to interaction. In
interactions the use of the category gender is seen as unavoidable and in work life
interactions are inevitable. These processes lead to gendered labelling of occupations.
Specific work is arbitrarily associated with men or women (Gildemeister et al., 2003).
When there is a change in the dominance of one sex in an occupational field it is usually
connected to a re-interpretation of the occupation. This re-interpretation happens ex post.
After the change people try to create a fit between the respective occupation and the sex
that has newly gained dominance in the occupation. This process is highly selective and
arbitrary. The female- or male-dominated occupation is integrated into a coherent system
of reference and accepted as ‘typical’ female or male. In order to find social acceptance,
these patterns of assignment and definition of male and female work need to appear
plausible. The basis for plausibility in ‘doing gender’ (Seeg, 2000, p.40) processes is
gained through analogy building between the occupation and other activities coherent
Departmental status: the case of HRM 461
with the current female (or male) stereotype. The high degree of selectivity and
arbitrariness in the assignment of stereotypes can even be found within one occupation,
e.g. female X-ray assistants constitute their aptitude by stressing the necessary social
competence while male X-ray assistants point out the technical skills necessary to do the
job (Teubner, 2004). Interpreting an occupation as ‘typical’ male or female in most cases
not only assigns differences but also different values to certain tasks and occupations.
Authors belonging to the group researching the persistence of gender inequality thus
claim that processes of modernisation do not leave much of a trace when it comes to
gender-hierarchical distribution of power (Wetterer, 2000).
In contrast, the second group named above exhibits ‘skepticism about the use of
gender as an analytical category’ (Bordo, 1990, p.135). These authors question whether
the category gender is outdated (Maihofer, 1995) or they claim a relative reduction in
gender effects (Pasero, 1995). Pasero (1994, 1995, 2002) challenges the omnipresence
and -relevance of the category gender and argues that it has lost its power as the leading
category. The crucial factor in modern society is a functional one. Because of this ‘new’
differentiation according to functional differences, society is not pre-structured by
asymmetrical gender relations. The semantics of inequality and asymmetry between men
and women are replaced by semantics of equality. More than ten years ago, Pasero
(1995) predicted that in everyday life in modern societies the rigid categorisation based
on gender will fade. The asymmetries between men and women as well as the mere
differentiation itself will decrease and finally will no longer make any social sense.
Stratified societies will change into functionally differentiated ones. This is based on the
assumption that categories are only valid as long as they are associated with an approved
societal mentality. Gender will make less and less sense while the social sense of
functional categories increases.
Pasero (2002) describes the coexistence of the two viewpoints presented above as a
paradox in gender research. On one hand research focusing on gender inequalities is
conducted in a more and more differentiated way. On the other hand the relevance of
routines of differentiation between men and women are more and more challenged. The
first group criticises the latter and argues that de-thematisation differs from irrelevance.
Even if gender is declared as functionally irrelevant, it is very effective on an affective
level (Knapp, 2001).
The third group of authors also diagnoses decreasing relevance in the category gender
but their view is more differentiated. Although they argue that a model which focuses on
differences between men and women has been displaced by a norm of gender equality,
they acknowledge that there are mechanisms that hinder the realisation of this principle
of equal chances (Heintz, 2001). Their line of arguments is based on the notion of
world society (e.g. Meyer et al., 1997), a stream of research that focuses on global
developments, and shows that equal opportunity norms are a truly global trend that is not
limited to postmodern western milieus. Irrespective of economic development and
cultural traditions countries at least formally subscribe to the principle of equal
opportunity. This admission is necessary in order to legitimate themselves vis-à-vis the
world public (Ramirez and McEneaney, 1997). Worldwide ratification of the Convention
on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is
important evidence for the recognition of inequalities and their interpretation as
illegitimate (Wotipka and Ramirez, 2005).
462 A. Reichel, J. Brandl and W. Mayrhofer
In connection with the worldwide implementation of the norm of equal opportunity,
the de-institutionalisation of gender emerges. The thesis of the de-institutionalisation of
gender differentiation states that in today’s modern societies, gender differentiation is not
routinely anchored in institutions. Mutual expectations of a certain gendered behaviour
are questioned and decisions for or against a certain behaviour are dependent on the
situation and (the) conditions at hand. There was a shift in the conditions for reproduction
of inequality. De-institutionalisation, however, does not equal a mere loss of relevance
of gender as a social category. Gender-based differentiation is instead seen as one
means of social differentiation that can but does not have to be used (Heintz and
Nadai, 1998; Heintz, 2004). Maintenance and reproduction are dependent on context.
Gender-based differentiation is instable and can thus be affected by conditions and
context (Gildemeister et al., 2003).
2.2 Gender composition and status
Authors stressing the unavoidability of doing gender explain that occupations are
arbitrarily stereotyped as ‘typical’ male or female according to the momentary sex
dominance. They further argue that gendering occupations cannot be separated from
valuation. The change in sex dominance in a certain occupation is closely linked to a
change in the status of the occupation. Feminisation of occupations leads to a status loss
(Wetterer, 2000). This is because gendered labelling and stereotyping includes gender
status beliefs. These are assumptions about differences in status and values between the
sexes. Such assumptions are based on the idea that one sex outclasses the other
(Ridgeway, 2001). A number of studies shows that most gender-stereotypes assign men a
higher status than women, i.e. male-stereotyped characteristics and behaviour are valued
more highly than female ones (e.g. Eagly, 1987; Conway et al., 1996). Managerial
authority is one of those traditionally masculine-stereotyped characteristics (Berthoin and
Izraeli, 1993; Anker, 1997). It is valued much more highly than attributes that match
staff-level positions. Work that is associated with women tends to be instrumentalised
and subordinated. In contrast to the division of labour based on sex differences where
biological sex is the key and verifiable basis for the division, the gendering of work is
not ‘natural’ and self-evident but needs deliberate effort (Gildemeister et al., 2003).
Experimental studies show that tasks prevalent in occupations labelled as female are
interpreted as less demanding, which is why a lower wage level is legitimate (e.g. Major
and Forcey, 1989). Accordingly, the gender composition of an occupation was found to
have a significant effect on the wage level (Baron and Newman, 1990; England, 1992).
Female-dominated job categories and industries are concentrated on a low wage level
(e.g. Allmendinger and Podsiadlowski, 2001).
Research focusing on the effects of gender composition and the status of occupations
accredits and stresses gender as an important category for work. They describe various
status effects not only for the status of ‘female’ occupations compared to ‘male’ ones but
also the effects of horizontal segregation (Wetterer, 2000), ghettoisation (Reskin and
Ross, 1990) or other subcutaneous forms of gender-based distribution of status, e.g.
lower status of medical or judicial disciplines that are dominated by women such as
pediatrics or family law (Böge, 1995).
Departmental status: the case of HRM 463
Researchers stressing the omni-presence and -relevance of gender issues are not
the only ones claiming to see status differences between female- and male-dominated
occupations. World society scholars do as well. Although they argue that a model
focusing on male-female differences has been displaced by a norm of gender equality,
they acknowledge that there are mechanisms that hinder the realisation of this principle
of equal chances (Heintz, 2001). They claim that ‘egalitarian gains in one domain are
accompanied by new forms of stratification’ (Ramirez and Wotipka, 2001, p.232).
The classification of certain occupations as ‘typically’ male or female, thus, is not
inalterable. Ridgeway (2001) states that it can change between age groups and it can also
vary between different organisations. A change in gender composition within a certain
occupation or an organisation can be one reason for a change in the gender ‘label’.
It has often been claimed that the assignment of people to occupations and positions
takes place mainly in organisations and that it is not the labour market but the companies
that decide who to recruit or promote (Wolf and Fligstein, 1979). Thus, it is very
puzzling that the level of the organisation does not attract much interest in empirical
gender research. The vast majority of research findings are based on data from the level
of occupations or industries. Qualitative studies focus on interactive processes. However,
neither occupations nor industries ‘employ workers or constitute the settings in which
people work’ (Reskin et al., 1999, p.336). This was already criticised in the 1980s (Wolf
and Fligstein, 1979; Baron and Bielby, 1980). But 20 years later, researchers still call for
a focus on the organisational level because companies ‘link the “macro” and “micro”
dimensions of work organization and inequality’ (Baron and Bielby, 1980, p.738). Some
assumptions and a handful of studies exist on the organisational level indicating the
relevance of organisational conditions. They have shown that ‘levels of inequality in
work organisations are affected by organisational demography …, the degree to which
personnel practices are formalized’ (Reskin, 2000, p.707). None of these studies,
however, focuses on the status of an occupation within companies, despite it being, as
argued in the introduction, the most relevant factor for HRM.
2.3 Gender composition and status in HRM
Today, women constitute the majority of employees working in HRM. In an empirical
study of 2004 data from 22 countries including the majority of EU countries plus Israel,
the USA, New Zealand and the Philippines, Brandl et al. (2008a) show that in all of these
countries the majority of HRM staff is female. In most cases the proportion ranges from
60 to 80%. In France, the number of women in HRM is especially high at 95%. Over the
last decades HRM has undergone massive feminisation. In the USA, for example,
women’s representation in HRM rose from 27.3% in 1970 to 41.5% in 1980 and to
53.2% in 1990 (Simpson and Lenoir, 2003). Compared to the staff level, the percentage
of women holding HR director positions is much lower. This reflects the typical pattern
of vertical occupational segregation (e.g. Allmendinger and Podsiadlowski, 2001), one
of the most recurring phenomena in gender research (Reskin, 1993). Within Europe
percentages vary between 14 in Spain, 21 in Austria and Germany and 59 and 64 in the
UK and Hungary, respectively. In Australia, 55.19% of all HR directors are female,
in the USA the number is 50.59 (Brandl et al., 2008b). Despite considerable variation
464 A. Reichel, J. Brandl and W. Mayrhofer
between countries and a pattern of vertical segregation, more recent empirical research
indicates that the feminisation of HR departments after 1970 also led to an increase in the
number of women in managerial HR functions (Hardin, 1991; Roos and Manley, 1996;
Blau et al., 1998).
However, HRM has not always been a women’s job. As in many other occupations
there have been changes in the dominance of one or the other sex and also in this case a
re-interpretation of the tasks took place. After World War II there was a labour shortage.
The competition of companies in finding and recruiting employees positively influenced
the status of personnel management. The personnel manager was seen as very important
for the company. This was accompanied by the creation of professional associations
which were active in professionalising their knowledge base and the position of
personnel within management.
“This work and the status and salary scale of personnel managers suggested the
profession was now identified as integral to management and predominantly
male. At least in the short term, the transformation to the positive approach was
built upon factors that operated to limit the participation of women in personnel
management. The transformation expressed and entrenched the gender interests
of the … men engaged in personnel management.” (Trudinger, 2004, p.104)
For the last three decades, HRM has increasingly become a female profession.
Accordingly, analogies were found to stereotype HRM as a ‘typical’ female job. For
example, ‘personnel as a function dedicated to the management of people would seem
to be an “ideal” job for women’ (Gooch and Ledwith, 1996, p.99). Female attributes,
however, match profiles of lower level positions more than senior managerial positions.
Within the HR profession, sex-role-stereotyped images tend to be taking care of others
(Canniffe, 1985; Gooch and Ledwith, 1996) and bridging capital and labour in lower
level positions not including strategic managerial work (Gooch, 1994). On the other
hand, managerial authority is traditionally a masculine stereotype (Berthoin and Izraeli,
1993; Anker, 1997). It is valued much more highly than attributes that match staff-level
One stream of feminist research argues that gender is a category constitutively embedded
in the continuing reproduction of gender inequality at work. For many occupations,
the highly selective and arbitrary process of labelling an occupation or certain tasks
as female or male has been shown (e.g. Legge, 1987; Teubner, 2004). This deliberate
effort to interpret work as male or female is very closely linked to value. Gendered
labelling in most cases includes assumptions about differences in status and values
between sexes (Ridgeway, 2001). Empirical studies convincingly demonstrate that most
gender stereotypes assign men a higher status than women. Not only occupations
dominated by women (horizontal segregation) but also tasks within one occupation
majoritarianly carried out by women have a lower status. This is especially true for
strategic managerial tasks (vertical segregation) that are clearly male stereotyped
(Eagly, 1987; Berthoin and Izraeli, 1993; Conway et al., 1996; Anker, 1997).
Departmental status: the case of HRM 465
Although these findings are not concerned with occupational status within
organisations, the status effect of stereotyping seems to be so strong and universal that
we also expect it to appear within organisations. We assume a high proportion of women
on the staff level lead to labelling HRM as female and thus to a devaluation. On the level
of the most senior HR person, we argue that strategic managerial work in the top
management team does not fit female stereotypes. Thus, if a woman holds this position it
is less likely that she is involved in strategic decisions.
H1: Gender composition of the HR department affects the departmental status of the
H1a: Higher proportions of women are associated with lower organisational status.
H1b: HR departments led by a female HR director have a lower organisational status
than those led by men.
Although we presume that the core argument concedes that gender is still a relevant
category not only at the societal, but also at the organisational level, we take a
differentiated position. Adhering to the paradox of contradictory concurrency of erosion
and reproduction of gender segregation (Wetterer, 2004), we also attach value to the
international trend of equal opportunity. While we do not assume that gender as a
category loses its relevance and is completely displaced by functional attributes, we still
believe that functional attributes have gained importance. The global trend of equal
opportunity is so extensive that countries subscribe to the principle of equality between
men and women regardless of their cultural tradition and economic development. Thus,
we assume that while gender continues to be relevant, functional differentiation, i.e.
education and experience, too, influence the status of the HR department.
H2: Functional attributes affect the status of the HR department.
H2a: HRM departments led by more experienced HR directors have a higher
organisational status than those led by less experienced directors.
H2b: HRM departments led by HR directors with higher education have a higher
organisational status than those led by directors without higher education.
Although trends of equal opportunity are truly global and are subscribed to by countries
with very different cultural and economic backgrounds, there are differences in speed as
well as in extent to which countries, e.g. ratify conventions. The CEDAW, for example,
was ratified immediately and fully by postmodernist industrialised countries whereas
many Muslim countries ratified it much later and had major concerns regarding some
articles (Wotipka and Ramirez, 2005). The countries in the sample all are western
industrialised countries and the companies studied are private ones. They also feel high
pressure to admit to principles of equality in order to legitimate themselves vis-à-vis
the world public (Ramirez and McEneaney, 1997). We argue that these organisational
and national contexts provide the most fertile ground for truly implementing equal
opportunity. Thus, we argue that functional attributes in western industrialised societies
are even more important for differentiation than the category of gender.
H3: Functional attributes contribute to a greater extent to the explanation of organisational
status than gender composition.
466 A. Reichel, J. Brandl and W. Mayrhofer
For the analysis, we use data from 1508 companies located in 17 countries worldwide.
Our propositions are explicitly concerned with the organisation, but although our study
focuses on the company level, its nested structure has to be taken into account because of
its complex variability (see below). Besides, it is likely that not only variables on the
company but also on the country-level influence the status of the HR department
(Brandl et al., 2008b). Thus, we introduce country-level control variables.
Data at the company level have been generated within Cranet, a research network
dedicated to analysing developments in HRM in public and private sector organisations
with more than 200 employees in a national, cross-national and quasi-longitudinal way
since 1989 (see Brewster et al., 2004). For the current analysis, survey data of 1508
private sector companies from 17 countries is used. In creating the sample, we aimed at
covering a certain geographical range plus a variety in traditions of equal opportunity.
Thus, the final choice of countries covers Southern-, Northern-, Eastern- and Central
Europe plus Australia and the USA. The year of introduction of women’s suffrage as a
very basic form of equal opportunity ranges from 1902 in parts of Australia and 1906 in
Finland up to 1971 in Switzerland (Ramirez et al., 1997). The national samples are
largely representative of the company population; response rates range from 5% in the
Czech Republic and France to 79% in Bulgaria. All respondents are HR directors, i.e. the
most senior person in the HR department.
Two of the three measures used on the country level are aggregated from the
representative country samples. For country-level data on enabling social policy
practices, the analysis uses part of a scale and the corresponding country values
published by Mandel and Semyonov (2006).
4.2.1 Status of the HR department
The dependent variable is measured at the company level. It includes both potential
(‘formal’) and enacted (‘informal’) forms of strategic influence (Galang and Ferris,
1997). Therewith we follow Provan’s (1980) concept of power differentiating between
potential power as the capacity to exert influence (e.g. formal authority, membership in
key decision-making groups) and enacted power as the actual use of this power by
allocating resources (e.g. responsibility for pivotal activities). Formal influence is
measured as representation of the HR director on board (‘1’ = yes, ‘0’ = no) and informal
influence as the degree of involvement in strategy formulation (‘3’ = from outset,
‘2’ = through consultation, ‘1’ = on integration, ‘0’ = not consulted). A composite
measure with both items equally weighted ranges from 0 to 2. During the history of
HRM the group to which personnel practitioners have to look for acceptance and
legitimacy most critically and frequently is their own management (Antony and Crichton,
1969). The ‘history of personnel specialists … is the history of a struggle for status to
become full members of the management team’ (Antony and Crichton, 1969, p.165).
Thus, status and authority depend on becoming part of management (Watson, 1977,
Departmental status: the case of HRM 467
4.2.2 Gender composition of the HR department
We use two variables in order to capture the gender composition of the HR department in
a certain company. The first is the organisational demography variable that captures the
percentage of female employees (compared to male employees) working in the HR
department and thus ranges from 0 to 100. To complete the measurement of gender
composition we additionally consider the most visible and prominent person of HRM in a
company, i.e. the most senior HR person. The variable is coded as ‘0’, if the HR director
is a man and is coded as ‘1’, if the director’s position is held by a woman.
4.2.3 Functional attributes
As outlined above, especially the modernist approach stresses the importance of
functional differentiation. Two characteristics often regarded as prerequisites for
managerial positions are education (Long, 1984; Monks, 1993; Gooch, 1994) and
business experience (Monks, 1993; Simpson and Lenoir, 2003). Experience is measured
as the number of years working in HRM. Education is coded as ‘1’, if the HR director
has an academic degree and as ‘0’, if she or he does not have a higher education.
4.2.4 Company-level control variables
On the company level, we control for the size of the company (number of employees)
and the relative size of the HR department. This is measured as the number of employees
working in the HR department as a percentage of the number of all company employees.
Besides the two gender demographic variables in question we control for the percentage
of female workforce and the absolute difference between the percentage of women
working in the HR department and the percentage in the whole company. It is one of
the basic assumptions of gender demographic research that demographic similarity is
beneficial for various organisational processes.
4.2.5 Country-level control variables
On the organisational level, we have argued that the perceived degree of feminisation is
not only determined by the relative number of women working in a certain field but also
by the gender of the most senior person. Following this line of argument we aggregate
the variables percentage of female workforce in HRM and gender of the most senior HR
person to the country level, i.e. the average percentage of female HR staff in a country
and the percentage of HR departments led by female directors per country.
Further we control for enabling social policies as one way to translate international
trends in equal opportunity into national law. The influence of enabling social policies
has been shown to influence the strategic integration of female HR managers (Brandl
et al., 2008b). We measure such policies by employing two items of the ‘welfare
intervention index’ created by Mandel and Semyonov (2006). We standardise (creating
a range from 0 to 1) and combine the number of weeks of fully paid maternity leave
and the percentage of children aged zero to six in public childcare to an index ranging
from 0 to 2.
468 A. Reichel, J. Brandl and W. Mayrhofer
5 Method of analysis
In our sample, the companies (especially HR directors of the companies) are nested
within the countries. Thus, the observations within one country are not independent. To
account for this hierarchical data structure, we use multilevel modelling. Hierarchical or
multilevel linear modelling is a theoretical and statistical means of combining different
levels of analysis into a single framework. Thus, it is an appropriate technique to analyse
our multilevel data. In particular, hierarchical linear modelling takes into account nested
sources of variability and the following dependency of the data (Luke, 2004). Given this
form of complex variability between companies as well as countries, wrong conclusions
are likely to be drawn if these different sources of variability are not adequately
considered; e.g. in an OLS regression this cannot be taken into account (Sjöberg, 2004).
Hierarchical linear modelling is usually carried out in multiple steps (e.g. Luke, 2004;
Sjöberg, 2004; Snijders and Bosker, 1999). Deviance and the Aikaike Information
Criterion (AIC) are measures for unexplained variance. They should therefore decrease
with the addition of relevant variables in every step. The difference between the deviance
(–2 log likelihood) of two models is distributed as a chi-square statistic with degrees of
freedom equal to the difference in the number of parameters estimated in the two
respective models. This allows us to calculate a level of significance. AIC directly shows
if the model fit has been increased by the addition of variables to the model because
unlike deviance, it is corrected for the number of variables and hence does not
necessarily decrease with the addition of further predictors (Luke, 2004).
In our case, we construct four random intercept models adding variables with every
step. We assume different levels of independent variables in different countries but
similar types of relationships between independent and dependent variables in the
respective countries. Thus, we use random intercept models which allow the regression
lines of the higher level units (i.e. countries) to have different intercepts but force them to
have the same slopes (Luke, 2004).
Table 1 displays the country-level variables and the number of companies in
each country used for the hierarchical linear regression. The sample size adds up to
1508 companies in 17 countries. Enabling social policies are highest in Sweden followed
by Denmark, France, Finland and Hungary. Australia, Switzerland and the USA are on
the other end of their scale with very low levels of such social policies. Internationally,
HRM on the staff level is dominated by women. In each of the 17 countries more than
half of the employees working in HRM are women. In 11 countries the percentage of
women working in HRM in an average organisation is over 70%. On the HR director
level, we find different results. There are only four countries in which more than 50% of
all HR directors are women: Australia, Hungary, the UK and the USA. Besides the
relatively high percentage of female HR directors, they are also characterised by high
proportions of women on the staff level (around 80%).
Departmental status: the case of HRM 469
Descriptive statistics – country level
of female HR staff
Percentage of female
Australia .35 77.30 55.20 107
Austria .73 67.44 21.10 81
Belgium 1.26 65.80 26.50 93
Czech Republic 1.19 72.23 35.90 31
Denmark 1.68 74.15 37.80 97
Finland 1.32 74.80 39.60 53
France 1.33 73.93 31.10 70
Germany .88 65.79 21.10 104
Hungary 1.32 84.32 64.30 26
Israel 1.17 72.11 32.80 33
Italy 1.21 59.86 9.30 24
Spain 1.08 55.52 14.00 49
Sweden 1.86 70.26 43.20 98
Switzerland .44 72.71 32.60 92
The Netherlands .99 66.85 38.20 101
UK .63 79.76 58.80 390
USA .46 80.69 50.60 59
Table 2 contains means and standard deviations of as well as correlations between all
company-level variables. For the correlation matrix, the whole sample was used – not
addressing the nested structure of the sample. The status of HRM is generally rather high
with a mean of 1.31 on a scale ranging from 0 to 2. The average HR department is rather
small. It is 1.6% of the company size which on average is 1076 employees. Almost 38%
of the employees are female but because of the high number of female employees in
HRM (mean 72.75%), the mean difference between female staff in HRM and in the
whole company is almost 40%. Mean HRM experience among HR directors reaches
almost 14 years. The mean for education is .720 which indicates that by far more
than half of the HR directors hold an academic degree (coded as ‘1’, no academic
education = ‘0’). The mean of the binary variable gender of the HR director lies
below .50. Since one indicates a female HR director and zero a male one, this number
shows that female HR directors are outnumbered by male ones. As we have already seen
from Table 1, the opposite is true for the percentage of women on the staff level. Almost
three quarters are women.
470 A. Reichel, J. Brandl and W. Mayrhofer
Correlations – company level
Variable Mean SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1. Status HR department 1.31 .694
2. Company size 1076 3393 .051**
3. Relative size of HR department 1.60 4.90 –.011 –.036
4. Percentage of female workforce 37.74 30.61 –.020 –.030 .119***
5. Difference % of female workforce
in HR department and company
39.50 29.95 –.087*** –.066** .028 .076***
6. Experience HR director 13.94 8.64 .107*** .128*** –.016 –.030 –.082***
7. Education HR director .720 .445 .137*** .048** .020 .026 –.046* .011
8. Sex of HR director .411 .492 –.127*** –.057** –.009 .105*** .317*** –.212*** –.098***
9. % of female workforce in HR
72.75 24.22 –.136***
–.084*** –.085*** .188*** .413*** –.123*** –.078*** .616***
Note: n = 1508.
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.
Departmental status: the case of HRM 471
As outlined above, hierarchical linear modelling is usually carried out in multiple steps.
The null model (model 1) informs about unexplained variance and it reveals that there is
significant unexplained variance on the company (Wald z = 37.070, p < .001) as well as
the country level (Wald z = 3.48, p < .05). The Intercorrelation Coefficient (ICC) for
the intercept only model is .139, showing that country accounts for almost 14% of
the variability in the data.
The addition of company-level control variables and functional attributes in model 2
produces a highly significant decrease in deviance compared to the intercept only model.
Thus, the amount of explained variance rises with the inclusion of company-level control
variables and functional attributes. In particular, education and experience show a highly
significant influence on the status of HR directors. The more experience and the better
the education, the higher the status of HRM. Accordingly, hypotheses 2a and 2b are
supported. The difference between the percentage of women in HRM and the company
exerts a significantly negative influence on the status of HRM. Both the total number of
employees and the percentage of women in the company have no effects.
Entering the measures of gender composition, gender of the HR director and the
percentage of female HR staff to form model 3 further increases variance explained to a
highly significant extent. However, compared to the variance explained by experience
and education this increase is small. Entering variables experience and education in a
separate step after the control variables decreases deviance from 4578.226 to 3879.103
[Chi 2 = 699.123 (df = 2), p < .001], which is a much higher value than the difference in
deviance [Chi 2 = 24.188 (df = 2), p < .001] that results from entering the variables of
gender composition. Comparing the two differences in deviance that result from entering
functional attributes and gender composition leads to 699.123–24.188 = 674.935,
which is also a Chi 2 value and highly significant. Thus, functional attributes add more
to the explanation of variability in status than gender composition does. H3, hence, is
supported. The gender of the HR director has a weakly significant negative influence on
status suggesting that a female HR director negatively influences the status of HRM in
the company. The percentage of female employees in HRM also has a negative effect
on status but this relationship is not significant. Accordingly H1b is supported while
H1a is not.
Entering the country-level control variables to build model 4 leads to a highly
significant decrease in deviance of the overall model and also to a considerable effect on
ICC that is concerned with the variability between countries. Enabling social policies
have a very strong, highly significant effect on the status of HRM. Both variables of
proportion of women on the country level show negative effects on the status of HRM;
however these relationships are not significant.
The final model reveals significant influence of education and experience as well as
gender of the HR director on the status of HRM. Enabling social policies on the country
level also have a strong positive effect on the organisational status of HRM.
472 A. Reichel, J. Brandl and W. Mayrhofer
Hierarchical linear regression
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4
Intercept 1.31 (.050)*** 1.10 (.067)*** 1.14 (.092)*** 1.38 (.720)
Control variables and functional attributes
Company size .000 (.000) .000 (.000) .000 (.000)
Relative size of HR department .083 (.355) –.096 (.361) –.040 (.375)
Proportion of women in workforce .000 (.001) .000 (.001) .000 (.001)
Difference between proportion of women in HR department and in company –.002 (.001)** –.001 (.0005)+ –.001 (.001)+
Experience .009 (.002)*** .008 (.002)*** .009 (.002)***
Education .213 (.033)*** .208 (.033)*** .212 (.035)***
Sex of HR director –.069 (.038)+ –.097 (.042)*
Proportion of women in HR department –.001 (.001) –.001 (.001)
Enabling social policies .354 (.089)**
Proportion of female workforce in HRM –.007 (.012)
Proportion of HR departments led by women –.001 (.006)
Deviance 5559.473 3879.103 3854.915 3205.406
3897.103 3876.915 3233.406
Difference in deviance 1680.370*** (df = 6) 24.188*** (df = 2) 649.509*** (df = 3)
.147 .147 .044
Variability between companies .422 (.011) .396 (.013) .394 (.013) .400 (.014)
Variability between countries .068 (.020) .068 (.020) .068 (.020) .018 (.009)
Note: + p < .10, * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.
Departmental status: the case of HRM 473
7 Summary and discussion
Based on various streams of literature and basic perspectives on the role of gender as a
core category when analysing organisations, this paper has basically taken the position
that gender composition still plays an important role when looking at outcome variables
at the organisational level; however, other factors such as functional attributes, e.g.
experience, education, increasingly play a major role when looking at the organisational
effects of gender composition. Beyond the level of the organisation, country-specific
elements of the institutional environment, such as social policies supporting women in
their efforts to handle work/non-work conflicts or the availability of role models and the
existence of a general acceptance of women as an integral part of work life as expressed
in the workforce participation rates of women, are important.
The analyses support a number of core elements of these arguments. Gender of the
most senior HR person has a significant influence on the status of the HR department.
The composition of the workforce on the HR staff level, however, does not affect the
status. Education and experience of the HR director have a highly significant impact
on the organisational status of the HR department. These functional attributes in fact
contribute to explaining the variability in status to a significantly higher extent than
variables of gender composition.
Expanding on previous research, this paper focuses on the status of the HR function
as a crucial outcome variable and, thus, on the organisational level. The insight gained
from the analyses of the influencing factors on HR status contributes to the debate within
HR about the role of the HR function and, implicitly always encased in that, the
importance of HR within the interplay of various organisational functions. The results
of the paper indicate that looking at the role of HR without taking into account the sex of
the top HR person as well as key functional characteristics such as experience
and education is incomplete. Beyond the more strategic considerations about the
basic assumptions on managing organisations, e.g. the type of products and services
the organisation produces and the respective production processes or the age and
qualification characteristics of the workforce employed as well as the labour market
situation, that traditionally are used to explain the various roles of HR, the variables
analysed in this paper add to this picture. In essence, attributes ascribed to the HR
function via the HR director seem to play an important role when explaining the status of
the HR department. Both the gender of the HR director as a more value laden category
which still plays an important role as well as experience and education as functional
attributes influence the status of the HR function. This leads to the conclusion that only
through the interplay of manifest functional attributes and variables effective at the more
latent level such as gender and the attributes linked with that does one get a more
comprehensive picture. In turn, these point towards micro-political and maybe even
unconscious processes that are at work here, strengthening a view of organisations that
goes beyond the rational and more mechanistic perspective of organisations.
In terms of the more fundamental views about the role and importance of gender as
a core category for analysing organisational processes, the results of this paper support
a bridging position between the rather one-dimensional views of seeing feminisation
automatically leading to a downgrading of the respective profession or organisational
unit on the one side and, on the other side, the view that gender loses explanatory power.
The results underscore the importance of both taking into account the effects of gender
474 A. Reichel, J. Brandl and W. Mayrhofer
of key decision-makers at the organisational level when looking at the status of an
organisational unit and going beyond it, i.e. other attributes of these decision-makers as
well as organisational and contextual variables. This points towards the necessity of
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