Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Secretary = ?

Every lunch time me and the other secretaries sit around a table to eat and chat. I know the image you've just conjured up; it's probably of four or five middle aged women, with common, screechy voices yapping away about stationary, the people we work for or other insignificant matters.
 
I like to think we break the mold.
 
We're a like-minded bunch. Well spoken, young, with a lot to say and always something interesting to talk about. We're well educated; most of us with arts degrees and aspirations to be writers, actors or something else in the media bubble; a couple have left well paid, high stress jobs in Australia to come and live in London while another does this job part time while she trains to be a psychotherapist.
 
Secretarial work has a habit of attracting a real mish-mash of people. Mostly people who, like me, use it as a stop gap to earn good money without having to make a life long career commitment, to fund travel, or university courses. It's the perfect job for those who aren't sure what they want to do but like the security of an office job. The hours are sociable, and flexible, and I hardly ever have to work late. There is of course one other similarity between us all which I was wondering about today, as I looked down the list of secretaries and unsurprisingly, found them all to be female.
 
It's something that bugs me a bit. The engineers, directors, associates, grads who make up the rest of the company have no distinct gender bias. Maybe a few more men, but when it comes to mixing up the sexes in this male orientated industry, there is a good ratio of men to women. So why is this not the case with secretaries? For some reason, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. More so because this company doesn't use the words 'Personal Assistant', preferring everyone to be team secretaries, secretary to whoever, and so on.
 
For me, the word 'secretary' has distinct connotations, mostly outdated and old fashioned. It denotes, to me, someone with no more skills than knowing how to work a keyboard (or typewriter, back in the day), type, make tea, answer the phone and take messages. Above all, it screams 'FEMALE'. other aspects of the 'support staff', the administrators, document controllers, even receptionist, are a mix of men and women. So why is the role of 'secretary' such a resolutely female job? There is nothing to suggest that it's something that men couldn't do (apart from you have to be good at multi tasking...ahem) - so why are all the secretaries in this world female?*
 
 
 
 
*Apart from John Barrowman's PA. He's a bloke. As is Russell Brand's, I believe. Maybe it's ok to be a male PA in the media. But then that's PA, not secretary. Is there a difference?
 
PS. I should mention that I ignore office policy and call myself a PA on my email signature and on the phone, as do a few others, much to the annoyance of some older 'secretaries' who abide by the rules.
 

6 comments:

The Unbearable Banishment said...

You never see the term Secretary used in the U.S. anymore. It has been retired in favor of the more official-sounding Administrative Assistant. And they are almost always, although not exclusively, female. Don’t know why.

pinkjellybaby said...

I remember walking into the big HSBC building in Canary Wharf and being surprised that there were two female and two male receptionists... which is weird, but it was weird.
He was hot though...

Homer said...

I don't want to be unduly controversial but...

'Secretary' might have unglamorous connotations, but to me 'PA' smacks of 'a secretary who's a little bit ashamed of it.'

From a former Medical Secretary and proud!

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

unbearable - Ahh, see, I was 'Team assistant' in my last role. And PA to blah blah. Really, it should have just been 'Skivvy'

pjb - Yeah we have one male and one female here. Makes a refreshing change from a couple of blonde bimbos doing their nails.

homer - No controversy with that one - I'd agree. That's my point. The word secretary makes me feel like I do a lesser job than I actually do. Hense why I use 'PA'. Anyway - it's more about why we all seem to be women, for me it comes down to the message that 'secretary' gives. A bloke won't do a traditional girls job, is that what it is? It shouldn't be. Companies should move with the times.

icelollypalooza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
icelollypalooza said...

I was a secretary in London and whenever I'd tell people what I did they'd give me that look and say "oh, so you're JUST a sech-e-tar-y" as if I was a gormless dolt.

I understand why you and other people call themselves a PA, I would (and have) too. Most of the workload you're given is PA work anyway so why not have a title that reflects that. Tell them you're an EA, that'll rile them.

I've only heard of one male secretary but a friend of a friend told me. Myth or fact?

 

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