#IWD2021: Women in HR: making exceptional impact in a COVID-19 world

By Grace Asiedua Osafo

According to Decenzo and Robbins (2013): “Human Resource Management is concerned with ‘the people dimension’ in managemen”. Since every organiation is made up of people, acquiring their services, developing their skills, motivating them to higher levels of performance and ensuring that they continue to maintain their commitment to the organisation is essential to achieve organisational objectives. This is true regardless of the type of organisation – government, business, education, health or social action”.

From this definition we can deduce that the human resource function is designed to maximise the human capital of an organisation through policy formulation, employee recruitment and onboarding, skill development, performance management, reward systems, employee engagements, and industrial relations with the purpose of attaining corporate goals.

This article seeks to stress the role of women in human resource management, with emphasis on the impact women have made in leadership within the drive to achieve an equal future in a COVID-19 world.

HR in evolution

HRM is a product of the human relations movement of the early 20th century, when researchers began documenting ways of creating business value through strategic management of the workforce.

The function was initially dominated by transactional work, such as payroll and benefits administration; but due to globalisation, company consolidation, technological advancement, and further research, HR now focuses on strategic initiatives like mergers and acquisitions, talent management, succession planning, industrial and labour relations, ethical considerations, diversity and inclusion. These, among other initiatives, contribute to the understanding of Human Resource Management as a contemporary issue owing to their sustained evolutionary nature. (European Journal of Business and Management, 2015)

As the complexities of managing human resources spiked, and employees were seen as resources to achieve the organisation’s objectives, organisations changed the narrative of their personnel management to a human resource department that reflected the contemporary view. Again, we saw the transition into human capital management – whereby the talents and skills of employees are harnessed and developed to meet objectives of the enterprise.

Currently, we stand at the doors of strategic human resource management wherein the human resource management function is a strategic business partner – with an uncontested seat at the c-suite level, serving as workforce adviser in this millennial age.

The essence of Human Resource Management

Human resource management is central to the success and continuity of every business. Without an effective and efficient HR team, there will be no talent in the company. Without talented people who are dedicated to the company, there will be no business.

The corporate vision, strategy and objectives can only be operationalised by human capital whose recruitment, onboarding, training, performance and compensation-management as well as engagements rest within the ambit of the human resource department. Human capital, unlike financial and infrastructure, requires more delicate management in the light of its relevance to the survival of any enterprise.

Human resource professionals serve as workforce advisers, leading the agenda of developing talent and creating the congenial working environment critical to business sustainability. Throughout the ages, the human resource profession’s relevance has increased – making it an indispensable function in all forward-looking corporations.

The success stories of many high-rising employees and fast-growing organisations are hinged on the abilities of HR Professionals who unearthed talents and skills to support business objectives. While other departments in the organisation are 100% productivity-centred and quite hard in their approach to achieve results, women in HR incorporate the perfect blend of empathy, skills development, and an understanding of the strategic plan of businesses to achieve the most outstanding results.

The Role of Women in HR

Thanks to the impact made by the female-dominated HR profession the world over, HR has been accepted to be a major stakeholder and influencer – and remains a critical unit while having a voice in workforce leadership.

Ever since inception of the industrial revolution through to the millennial age, HR has long been perceived as a female-orientated profession – and women do, in fact, account for the majority of its workforce. According to the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD), roughly 70% of its members are female.

Statistics shared by the U.S. Department of Labour’s Bureau of Labour Statistics, in 2018, indicated that in Human Resource Management 73.3% of managers are women. With females leading in Human Resource Management, we can boldly reiterate that the leadership and influence exerted by women in HR are pivotal to the success of business.

The impact made by female HR Professionals in a COVID-19 world

Foundations of business and the world of work have drastically mutated, and the traditional way of managing organisations and employees has been altered as a result of the COVID-19 situation. The very nature of how leadership was conducted has been challenged. The sudden wind of change blown into the economic spectrum by COVID-19 called for an urgent response from all organisations with HR Professionals at the forefront of discussions – making decisions which have great impact on employee health and safety with minimal adverse effect on business growth and productivity. This, in my estimation, has been the greatest test of the impact and relevance of all business functions.

However, in the heart of this quagmire, HR leaders dominated by women helped employers and employees alike to better-manage the challenges by proffering timely solutions. Rather than sticking our heads in the sand amid the coronavirus pandemic, we became proactive leaders in our business endeavours. We stood tall on the occasion and implemented changes which have defined the ‘new normal’ in our organisations. Some of the outstanding contributions are stated below:

Dramatic changes caused by the new coronavirus, COVID-19, had unprecedented implications for companies around the globe and influenced human resource management profoundly. HRM took leadership to navigate in the vague present and unforeseeable future by managing people to cope with stress and continue working remotely so that business goes on with its operations (International Journal of Management Science and Business Administration, September 2020).

We had to embrace the reality of working from home while ensuring that employees acquired the appropriate behavioural and attitudinal traits to support successful virtual work. This was obviously an abrupt shift from routine, and our ability to rise to the challenge and create an enabling environment that supports remote working to drive business operations will be seen as a feather in our cap as HR Leaders.

We built into our systems best practices for managing remote teams effectively by clearly agreeing with teams on defined deliverables, and building trust in teams in order to reduce the probability of alienation or demoralisation while working remotely. We took the opportunity to give clear, specific and time-bound instructions and offer timely, clear and direct feedback. Without this dynamic, the success stories of businesses through the tide of COVID-19 would not have been recounted.

The new ways of working became indispensable for organisations. In the light of this, policies had to be drafted to support remote and virtual work. Women leaders in their agile approach, with the success of the business in mind and welfare of the employees at heart, designed policies which reflected their unique organisational and employee interests. This led their organisations to navigate the COVID-19 waters. Policies drafted also addressed employee health and safety measures in the workplace to reduce risks of spreading the virus.

According to the International Labour Organisation, the economic fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic obliterated some 81 million jobs in 2020.  HR leaders had to deal with the dismissals and reduction of staff caused by the pandemic-induced lockdowns. We understood the need to offer encouragement, out placement services and emotional support by creating fora to listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathise with their struggles. We understood the need to offer encouragement and emotional support by creating fora to listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathise with their struggles.

Businesses had to turn digital to their advantage, and HR Leaders achieved this feat by accessing employee work skills and ensuring that critical roles were filled by talented employees who understood and were able to use digital technologies to provide work solutions. HR leaders bridged the knowledge gap by embarking on employee skill development, with a focus on digital and soft skill training sessions which support virtual work.

Our focus on employee development to drive success of the business at such a critical moment in the history of the world is commendable. Most employees ended up unearthing certain talents and capacities which have positioned them to be more valuable.

HR leaders took great steps to enable employees position themselves in readiness to new ways of working, which were necessitated in order to survive in these times. This new age of working which embraces technology and digital-era organisation design requires that employees have great adaptability, self-discipline, self-learning and innovative skills.

For businesses and employers to succeed in this new age, both have to be adaptable, open-minded and ready to change. We drove this competence into the minds of all stakeholders through consistent engagements and training. We also stressed that the ability to harness creative abilities to solve problems by leveraging on technology will be the highest indicator for employment.

Women in HR are inadvertently more adept at fostering an adaptive and agile approach in responding to internal and external influences: COVID-19 being the most recent and impactful. We made a huge difference and understood the essence of having engaged employees while working to implement strategies to mitigate effects of the virus.


In Ghana, all the HR Conferences designed to carve new paths and improve the practice have been female-dominated. Interestingly, female professionals in HR have had a great number of engagements throughout the years to brainstorm and share experiences and practices to optimise their professional potential and fast-track their advancement in the corporate world, while improving productivity in the workplace. In the light of this, it was quite easy to navigate the troubled waters by sharing knowledge and ideas to excellently handle the work situations which arose from the global pandemic.

Outstanding women leaders exhibit incredible courage that marvels their teams, the organisation and the world at large. Their innate ability to draw strength in order to change the world is absolutely outstanding. Women in HR and all leadership spheres are more passion-driven; and this passion is the fuel that helps to surmount challenges which arise. The interesting assertion is that we birth these virtues in others, and we cannot but enjoy an exciting cycle of stimulating women leaders around the world.

>>>The writer is Founder of Excel HR, an HR consulting firm that provides HR advisory and support for startups and SMEs. She has provided HR Solutions to several organisations including TechGulf, Innovare, Ghana Tech Lab, Peniel Engineering and Solutions, Built Accounting Services, Nanti Systems, Innohub, Bsystems, Crown Prince Academy, ANT Microcredit, Nanti Systems, Cedar Grove.

She is an Associate Human Resource Practitioner from the Institute of Human Resource Management Practitioners, Ghana, with extensive knowledge in human resource administration, holds a Masters’ degree in Business Administration, Human Resource Option from University of Ghana Business School, Bachelor’s degree in French and Sociology from University of Ghana, and Diploma in French from Université d’Abomey Calavi, Benin. She can be reached on [email protected]

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