“You have a degree? What are you doing here?”
This question has become almost standard for me after revealing to co-workers, peers and clients that I am an administrative assistant who also has a bachelor’s degree. However, I find it difficult to decide if their question is a compliment or not; are you saying I am too smart, or too lazy?
But, more so, why does this warrant such a reaction from people? Does the general mindset still perceive the admin role with that picture of a woman doing nothing else than looking pretty at her typewriter and fetching coffee for the morning executive meeting?
Admittedly, while that depiction is rooted in truth, the role has come a long way. It can be argued – without much debate – that the admin has seen a huge evolution from its traditional heyday back in the 1950s. While one apparent change has been the title from secretary to administrative assistant, that significantly mirrors the general transformation of the job’s responsibilities and qualifications.
In 1959, a Texas-based secretary training program provided a quiz with questions such as, “Do I smile readily and naturally?” “Am I fastidious about my appearance?” and “Is my voice pleasing and well-modulated?” There is also evidence from Time magazine, in March 12, 1951, that the MacMahon Secretarial School in Beverly Hills, Calif., coached its students on what to wear and do. Bright red and long hair were apparent “no-nos,” but a potential secretary’s tea technique and flower arranging skills were useful. The sentiment gathered could be that the secretarial role not only existed for business purposes, but also to provide a content and pleasing environment for the office.
Through the 1970s and beyond, as secretarial school was still provided as an option for women in the workplace, days were consumed with filing papers, answering phones, scheduling meetings, and taking minutes on steno pads to later transcribe on manual and then electric typewriters. As the ’80s and ’90s came, the personal computer vastly eased their duties; however, they were still given little credit for their work.
With the growth and transformation of the corporate world in the new millennium, aided by technical advancements, the admin role itself began to blossom as well. Sifting through some various current admin job listings, there are some job requisites that itemize “knowledge in financial markets,” “creating marketing campaigns” and “proficiency in Adobe Creative Suite” as essential responsibilities or essential skills to complete them. You’ll also come upon some postings that list for their requirements, such as “degree preferred” or even “degree required.”
The roles today require competencies that not only call for standard administration, but also project management, IT skills, writing abilities, coordination, planning and collaboration. Throughout my few experiences at different companies, no admin job has been the same. Granted, some responsibilities overlap, such as the usual calendar coordination and expense processing, but during my career, I was instrumental in the opening of a company satellite office 2,000 miles away, have contributed to the presentation of million-dollar proposals to executive committee members, and provided graphic and writing services for various projects.
As the responsibilities stand relative – depending on the corporate setup – admins are a multi-functional integral part of each company, and, at the same time, such experience can carry over well into almost any industry. Even as current and future supervisors are sure to take advantage of advanced, albeit collegiate, skills, I would still consider it a win for putting a degree to use.
The admin job offers the better possibility to easily maintain a work/life balance that is not so attainable otherwise. While we all have our different reasons for choosing this role, today it is exactly that: a choice.
This article was originally published on the Leading Edge Digital Magazine – Winter 2019 Edition