I want to discuss something and I’m still forming my thoughts on how to express myself clearly and eloquently. But I just don’t want to wait any longer, so I ask you to bear with me, and let me break it down.
I’ll start with a little personal background. Before I started my business, for 25 or so years I worked in the administrative field, mostly as a C-suite executive assistant. At one point I was pretty much in charge of a 400+ facility and was earning that sought-after six figure salary. I left to pursue other things and returned over a year later to another company in a lower position, but one that allowed me time to go back to school and build my current business.
I started as a receptionist and worked my way up. I’ve worked in many industries - one of the benefits of that set of skills is the transferability - and they included agriculture, publishing, construction, automotive and healthcare. At that level in that position, the work is generally the same as are the struggles.
I am a Certified Administrative Professional through the International Association of Administrative Professionals, and it’s a NCCA-accredited certification. I also hold the Organizational Management specialty designation, so suffice it to say, I know what I’m doing when it comes to running an office and supporting an executive - or an entire team of them.
What I’m struggling with is how much the administrative professional is still searching for the recognition it deserves. There are movements within administrative communities to drive change for title standardizations, recognition of valuable contributions by these professionals, demand for higher salaries, and demand for training and advancement. To be seen as Strategic Business Partners. And maybe promoted into Chief of Staff and executive positions. And yes, I know it does happen, but why has the general conversation not changed in two decades?
There are multiple professional organizations and top consultants and trainers around the globe that focus on providing training for admins. They all hold their own conventions and summits or training sessions in their own effort to provide training to advance careers.
But the part I struggle with is that I’m not convinced that any of this is going to make a difference.
I know that I’m going to get dragged through the mud for what I’m going to say. And I recognize that it’s a broad generalization and does necessarily apply to everyone, but here it goes:
First…why is a lot of the training taken by and provided for admins titled, “(fill in the blank) for admins,” or just hour-long segments at conventions?
Why not just take a financial accounting or marketing course? Maybe, just maybe, part of the reason admins aren’t taken as seriously as they should be, is because their training appears superficial (I know it’s not, but appearances matter!), particularly at the C-Suite level. Everyone else in the C-suite usually has a formal education - finance, legal, marketing, sales, operations. If you want to be seen and accepted as an equal, but don't have what is considered a formal business education, do you really think it strange that you're perceived differently? I understand first-hand that, in that position, most training happens on-the-job as you work your way up, working with different departments, learning directly from the most talented people in your organization, but it’s a perception. And perception is reality.
Next, I think the fight - for lack of a better term - needs to be taken directly to the boardroom and the HR department, not just within the confines of admin organization surveys and on-line training. To keep lamenting how much of a talented bad-ass you are kinda seems like its falling on deaf ears and ineffective to me.
I read every day, on different social media accounts and platforms, how these talented professionals, who are highly skilled problem solvers, negotiators, coordinators, trainers, mentors, communicators, are often overlooked by their executives as valuable members of their executive teams. What needs to change?
There needs to be a revolution and a change of mindset, if anything to ensure that the profession survives coming artificial intelligence - because it’s only getting better, more encompassing and more integrated into office functions. Executives and HR leaders are the ones now that need training and guidance. I’ve worked for some large companies, global companies, that weren’t familiar with the fact that there were multiple associations dedicated solely to the advancement and training of administration professionals.
There are companies and executives that, while they know they operate better with the partnership of a talented admin, they don’t expect or want to pay anything near what they’re worth. Just today, I found employment ads asking for 8-10 years of experience, a degree and 24-hour on-call status…and the starting pay is maxed out at $50-60k.
There was another one claiming excellent compensation for $36k. And another for $19/hour.
Trying to prove myself wrong, I searched for information or training on how best to work with an assistant. I found extensive, multiple, informative articles - posted by admin associations. So they’re being read…by admins. Not executives.
Articles in Harvard Business Review included summaries of very basic articles written by admin leaders, and those written by HR or other professionals, specifically directed at executives, were describing how to get your admin organized, including how they should color coordinate files, record your meetings so nothing was missed…and no disrespect to entry-level admins, but this is NOT stuff that an executive should concern themselves with.
And there were more on how to assign tasks…and contained scripts for answering phone calls (insert eye-roll here).
There were a few that suggested having your assistant attend meetings with you and how to communicate with them, like they should be treated differently from the rest of the executive team.
I found an e-book, written by a software engineer, no less, that regaled the reader with the basics of how an admin brings value to the office - you know, scheduling meetings, travel arrangements, checking email, screening calls. Wow. Such progressive thoughts.
I checked SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management) for articles and information. I found job descriptions that are boring, and an article on titles, which just spoke about them being simple and consistent across your organization, not directly related to the admin profession. I found one article - ONE! - on having a Chief of Staff, but the author suggested that it was better to not only find people to fill the role from all areas of the organization, but to make it a rotational role. That role, and the title of Strategic Business Partner, is not being promoted or recognized as part of the admin development process by the leading HR organization!
Then I thought I’d check the topic of trends and forecasting for executive assistant - and the search returned nothing…Zero. Nothing. Apparently roles and duties are to remain status quo and don’t deserve attention.
Except I did find a lot of information about how the role is being fulfilled by AI. Any admin worth their salt appreciates and loves working with AI to make jobs easier, but also that everything an admin does, particularly the intricate parts, is best handled by a human.
How does the admin profession change, evolve or advance? Start involving outside forces more. Invite a more diverse group of speakers to your meetings and conventions. Address the HR professionals - they’re who the executives turn to for advice. I’m not sure yet what else but I can feel ideas bubbling - like I said, I’m still trying to get my thoughts straight. But you can't keep the focus centralized on the admins themselves, doing the same thing over and over and expect the same results. Something needs to change.