Why is HR Different?

12/1/11

Given the emphasis we have had for the past 20 years on building a reputation as "strategic partners" or "business people who happen to work in HR," it always piques my interest when I see HR differentiated from other functional areas of business. A recent item in the online version of the New York Times caught me a bit off guard the other day.

Thomas Edsall, was explaining the re-election campaign strategy of the Obama Administration which he describes as follows:

"All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment--professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists--and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic."

I should note that those who know me know that my political views do not quite fit with the stereotype of "professors" (as in the list above) so I recognize that stereotypes may describe the average, but not the particular individual. But, when I first read this, I wondered why "human resource managers" would be listed, but not "financial managers" or "marketing managers" or "operations managers." Why would the field of HR be singled out from other functional areas of business? James Taranto, writing for Wall Street Journal's "Best of the Web" provides his own explanation for why those in HR would be included as part of this coalition.

"Notice anything missing? This list excludes not only blue-collar workers but also most private-sector businessmen and white-collar employees. The only group here that comes mostly from corporate America is "human resources managers"--people whose job consists largely of complying with government employment regulations."

Now I recognize that Edsall may have simply pulled the HR manager group out of thin air. But the other groups seem logical inclusions, so I am guessing there is some basis for HR falling on the list. So, I wonder why. Is Taranto's explanation (i.e., HR gains more power as government becomes more powerful?) valid, or is there some other reason that those in HR would disproportionately support President Obama's re-election? I don't mean for this to take a position on whether or not such support is wrong, only to understand why, in this case, HR differs from the other functional areas of business.