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HR directors in UK boardrooms: A search for strategic influence or symbolic capital?

Raymond Caldwell (School of Business, Economics and Informatics, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 4 January 2011




A place in the boardroom is often considered a necessary if not sufficient condition for HR directors to exercise strategic influence on business decision‐making. The purpose of the paper is to explore the perceived importance of HR boardroom representation, both in a formal and symbolic sense, and to what extent HR directors can exercise strategic influence without it?


Evidence is explored from a survey of 1,188 UK HR practitioners, including 255 board members, and a series of follow‐up interviews with 16 HR directors.


Analysis of the survey findings suggests that boardroom versus non‐boardroom representation of HR appears to matter in four key areas: board members believe they have greater involvement and influence in business planning processes; they have more positive perceptions of the overall performance of HR; they give higher ratings of CEO perceptions of the HR function; and they believe they achieve greater integration of HR strategy with business strategy.

Research limitations/implications

While there are increasingly other formal mechanisms and forums (e.g. executive committees, personal networks) outside the boardroom for HR directors to exercise their influence, it appears that the “symbolic capital” of boardroom recognition and esteem still retains enormous significance and rhetorical appeal for the HR profession.


The paper seeks to reframe the debates on the relative importance of HR boardroom versus executive committee representation as forums of strategic influence, by focusing on the continued symbolic significance of boardroom representation. It is concluded that a reworking of Bourdieu's concept of “symbolic capital” (i.e. professional esteem, recognition, status, or respect) as board capital may be useful in reframing future research on HR boardroom representation.



Caldwell, R. (2011), "HR directors in UK boardrooms: A search for strategic influence or symbolic capital?", Employee Relations, Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 40-63.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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