When I was with Equifax we had a Secretary who was much more than a note taker or appointment scheduler. She was a valuable, indeed, key member of the Training & Development (T&D) and the Employee Relations Teams who eventually evolved her worth and position in the organization as a Planning and Training Coordinator (Thank You Bobbie). When one realizes that her inaugural with the Retail Credit Company (predecessor to Equifax) in 1960 was concurrent with the presence of the last of the Retail Credit Company’s White Gloved Ladies – Bobbie was witness to substantial changes in the company’s corporate culture and business demeanor. Retail Credit was one of the premier Atlanta business institutions where proper young ladies who understood their place entered the very genteel business world. But all that is another story and one that needs to be told.
At Equifax many of the Secretaries belonged to organizations like the National Secretaries Association which morphed into Professional Secretaries International (PSI) in 1982 and later the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) in 1998 which sought to elevate the role of these key players. PSI and IAAP have been major players reminding business about the importance of these key roles and to this day seek to enhance these administrative support positions and provide recognition and networking for their membership. We guess there still may be some Secretaries out there though many became Executive or Administrative Assistants as business sought to more properly recognize the position and the significant role it plays in the operation of any company. Now IAAP embraces a membership with a diversity of office and administrative support job titles at all levels of experience. We salute and thank them for their raison d'être and contribution to business efficiencies.
No doubt we sometimes see changes in job titles made because of political correctness to include stewardesses who are now Flight Attendants and fast food workers who become Crew Members or at one eatery even Sandwich Artists. Garbage men become waste management and disposal technicians while in an even more rarified launch - sanitation engineers. I see it all the time in resumes where housewives have now become home or domestic engineers/managers (OK, OK - Domestic Goddesses) while cleaning personnel or custodians have been resurrected to facilities operators and dishwashers are now kitchen technicians (My first job was as a Pot Washer and I’m still proud of it). The insurance industry has also contributed to the confusion where old timey insurance agents are now Family Protection Consultants. Your hairdresser or barber is now a stylist or even an aesthetic technician. Your paper Boy/Man/Lady is now a Media Distribution Officer …and on it goes… We could bore you with even more politically correct (PC) and ego pleasing job titles.
Yes, the aforementioned border on the ridiculous (unless you occupy one of those slots) while In most other cases position title changes are the result of a change in that function, witness the fast disappearing telephone operator who has morphed into a customer service agent as that function has been automated. Indeed, many supervisors have become “coaches” mostly because industry in all its myriad forms has proved that when a dynamic and focused coaching effort is directed to employee populations as part of a predictable and scheduled process, improvement including productivity and quality of performance of the team has substantially increased. We still embrace the Supervisor job title and concede mightily that coaching is a key function of that job. We need to continue to be smarter and able to better manage and collaborate with our most important resource – our People.
So this has been much more than just a, “silly shift in titles” for Secretaries who have become much more than the plebian ghillies that just made coffee, opened mail, took shorthand (Gregg of course), typed letters and entertained clients and guests. As mentioned above they have become indispensable Executive or Administrative Assistants, et al who have improved on their ability to keep the wheels of business turning. There are even some that have retained the title, Secretary, though with a different purpose, direction and a much more sophisticated position description.
Now some advice for those executives looking for something “between a mother and a waitress” - You have been born in the wrong era. I do remember one prestigious law firm where I worked as Director of Personnel (yes, a long time ago) and where the legal secretaries routinely complained of having to engage non-business related tasks including everything from balancing their bosses’ checkbooks to other personal services all well beyond the now hackneyed, “and all other duties as required by supervision.” We know of one Japanese owned American company where some non-exempt staff (only females) were asked and obliged to perform non-work related tasks including walking the dogs of executives and picking up their newspapers at their residences – all off the clock. Their American HR Director intervened, consulted with the Japanese President of the company and the practice was discontinued.
Those that abused those relationships exposed themselves to liability from several perspectives and could have negatively impacted their work culture and reputation in their communities, as well as their pocketbook. Thank God they failed and in no small part due to discrimination and labor laws and the evolution of more responsible business environments and decision makers that rose above and beyond that 1950’s mentality. The die was cast when the computer replaced the typewriter and mastery of the new tools that an evolving technology became a key requirement. While many secretaries were scared that the computer would replace them, they instead became masters of that technology thus insuring their future in at least those upper sanctums of business.
So, the answer to our question, Are there any Secretaries left? is a resounding, Yes! They have been reinvented as today’s administrative professionals who are multi-taskers, adept communicators with solid interactive skills and with great computer competencies able to handle from the mundane to legitimate and complex business tasks including research and the most sophisticated spreadsheets and record keeping supporting their mostly upper echelon bosses, freeing them up to perform more efficiently in their own macro worlds. They lubricate and fine tune the machinery of the office and keep it functioning at a high level. The noble Secretary has evolved just as business and industry have changed in the 20th and 21st centuries. The men and women who occupy those posts will continue to adjust to meet an ever changing business need and we are all the better for it.
Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen and all those of your ilk and God Bless and Thank You Bobbie Sue Lanham Blanton for your Friendship and great work ethic. Those best wishes would especially include one Betty Buxton who was a Lincoln School/Katharine Gibbs graduate, Private Secretary to two Governors of Rhode Island & Providence Plantations and the Senior Legal Secretary at Edwards & Angell (now Edwards Wildman Palmer) in Providence, Rhode Island. Yes, she is my Mom…
While we may not celebrate a National Secretary’s Day anymore, that day like the position itself, it has evolved into Administrative Professionals Day observed this year on Wednesday, April 24th. So, take that opportunity to thank all those that support your work, whatever their job title, and encourage them to pursue their careers by sponsoring them in organizations like IAAP. You and your company will benefit greatly from your generosity and astute business sense.