Over the last few weeks I’ve finally got around to watching Mad Men, I’m only a few episodes into the first series, but I must admit I’ve been pretty much swept away by the glamour of the secretaries in the show, especially Christina Hendricks’ character “Joan Harris”. I’m sure over the next few series something dramatic and terrible happens to her, but in the meantime, she is kicking ass! It got me thinking about the impact of the show on our profession. It certainly has made people more aware of what our predecessors had to put up with from their male bosses! But I’ve also had many conversations with people who think the role is still like that except we use computers now rather than typewriters and are not so much victims of the occasional wondering hand (you know because of political correctness)! Anyway, I thought in this blog post I would enlighten the viewers of Mad Men and dispel the Personal Assistant myth that the industry has moved on somewhat over the last 50 or so years. Do feel free to send this to any of your colleagues or associates that may not realise that!
Dispelling the Personal Assistant myth
We are no longer referred to as ‘the girl’, and we certainly do not have to balance our feminine charms with a can-do attitude in a male-dominated office environment.
We still need to maintain confidentiality. We do have to remain silent even if we know intimate details about our boss that might be brilliant gossip.
We have an abundance of career opportunities, so we don’t have to be personal assistants we choose to be personal assistants!
We do have to put the needs of our boss first, but we do not have to pander to their every whim with grace and charm. We have a voice, and we are allowed to use it!
We can view power like Miss Moneypenny in the 1970s, but we can also wield influence in so many ways. Moneypenny is the women behind the man. PAs are now standing right next to the man.. or woman!
We are no longer the office-based sex symbol flirting with the boss over a filing cabinet, but we are still a symbol of strong, independent women (more often than not) making our way in the world and earning our own money.
We don’t quite need to exact revenge on our unappreciative bosses, but we still need to be recognised and rewarded for the work that we do.
We can be promoted, we can move out of the role into other parts of the business, and we can do more than the position requires. Many of us are juggling multiple priorities, multiple projects and multiple managers!
We see our job as a career, and we work as hard and as long as our bosses. Personal Assistants can demand good salaries and can influence and persuade their manager’s decisions. In Donna Moss’s case making her the Deputy Deputy Chief of Staff at the West Wing!
The typing pool has been replaced by technology, but we are still very much needed by our organisations. We have degrees, we have years of experience, and we are as business savvy as our colleagues.
A million girls would kill for our job! We are working with the most important and influential people in a vast number of industries. But! We don’t have to be bitches to each other to get ahead, oh no we support each other and our female boss’s support us too! Oh and we can have a relationship, wear whatever we want and still be successful!
So we are in the present day, and we are the superheroes of the office. We understand the day to day business needs of our managers, we know the business, and we are making business decisions every day that affect our organisations. We can use our assistant skills as routes into other professions. We can work for the most senior level executives and have their confidence and trust and ultimately we can have fulfilling, varied and exciting careers.
We’ve come a long way since the Mad Men days, who knows what the next 50 years have in store for personal assistants!