I’m sure you have noticed in most debates, especially political ones, each side tries to label the opposing side with something. The goal is to find a single word that then can be used against that person or group. It almost always ends badly for everyone involved.
Labels have been around for as long as humans have. They are the ultimate short-cut. Put your 1-word description out there and everyone takes the implied meaning and goes with it. The problem is that most of the time, the label is either inaccurate, or people’s perception of the label is inaccurate.
In addition to the more informal areas we find labels, we find them in the business world. There are labels that conjure up certain ideas and images, and we rarely question them. (I’m not talking about business clichés here – I’ll deal with those in another post.) In the work that I do for a living, the oldest label is “secretary.” Let me guess, images like this come to mind, right?
We can probably thank Hollywood for this. Every movie and TV show I can remember as a kid in the 1970s and 80s that had a secretary could fit these images – at the boss man’s beck and call, at least somewhat under-dressed, taking memos and typing and whatnot.
Nevertheless, people who actually did these jobs accepted it, and even embraced it. There was even a professional trade group formed for them, the National Secretaries Association (or NSA, which was formed in 1942). When that group grew to include people in other countries, it became Professional Secretaries International (PSI – not to be confused with the scientific abbreviation of Pounds per Square Inch).
Eventually, though, the term “secretary” did fall out of favor, thanks to the ever-changing and -increasing responsibilities in the role, along with rising objection and eventual prohibition of flirting/personal relationships being a prerequisite to the assistant’s career advancement. “Administrative Assistant” became the normal name for the role. By the close of the 20th century, if all you could do was type and smile, you had been left behind. PSI changed its name once again, to the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). Things had really changed by this point in time. Anyone that has ever been an administrative assistant (or “admin” for the sake of brevity) would probably agree with an image like this being accurate:
More titles were added under the admin umbrella, including Executive Assistant, Admin Specialist, Receptionist, Admin Analyst, and many more. To some degree, it was an exercise in labeling – how do we find a label that will describe what she does without causing severe offense?
Oh, yeah, the pronoun thingy. For at least the last 100 years, the overwhelming majority of people that have been in these roles have been female – as much as 98% of them. As a result, whenever this role is discussed in general terms, you will almost always hear feminine pronouns used. That never bothered me; it’s hard to get all offended when someone says something that applies to 98% of the audience. You can’t please all the people all of the time. Actually, I embraced the role of being the exception. I joined IAAP in 2003, once I had settled on this as a career, rather than just a job. Going to conferences was a blast. In addition to the fact that my outward appearance is such that in a crowd of 1,000 people, you can see me individually, being one of about 20 guys in a 1,000-person conference is also going to stand out.
Early in my time with IAAP, I saw a presentation about something called the Virtual Assistant – this thing where you started your own business, worked out of your home, and partnered with other business owners to do their administrative tasks, freeing the other business owner to spend more time with clients or marketing to find more clients. I fled that in the back of my mind, thinking I would want to do that one day. “One day” became March of 2018, when I launched this business.
The role of administrative professional continues to evolve. There are more people like me in the role these days – a 2018 survey by IAAP showed that males now make up 6% of the people in these roles, significantly more than that 2% it had been for a long time. To me, that’s still a non-critical issue. What’s critical is that the business world understands how complex the role has become, and that those in the role are appropriately compensated and appreciated for helping the business be as efficient as possible. It is a madhouse out there!
Are you a business owner that could use some help with your administrative tasks? Go here for a list of what Full Force Enterprises can help you with, and contact us so we can talk about what we can do to make your business greater.