From time to time I will post writing assignments from my various classes, back dated to the date of writing, but always tagged under Higher Ed. This assignment was from my Speech and Communications class
Good morning. I’m Linda Anderson and I am the Executive Assistant to the two young entrepreneurs who run an app developer startup called Myriad Mobile. I’m going to talk to you today about my chosen career and how it has evolved over time. I’ve had a boss who threw a stapler at me in a fit of rage. (He missed) I’ve also had a boss who used to let use me his excess frequent flier miles. I’ve done things as dumb as mediate a fight between my boss and his wife over the phone. And I’ve also done things as important as proofreading a presentation just before my boss was about to give it, and found some errors that could have been devastating. I have been an assistant in some form or another, supporting a wide range of executives for 35 years, and have seen first hand, in what has been expected of me, how this position has evolved. This is significant, because no matter what field you ultimately choose to work in, chances are you will need to interact with or maybe even act as an assistant in some form. We are all here to learn for one reason or another. Ultimately, we’d like to use our education in the career we choose, and while we won’t all choose the same career, we all want to see the field we choose evolve and change with the times. We don’t want to be stuck in some dead end job with no future. We want to feel like what we do has meaning, is important. As a result of evolving technology and a changing workforce, the job I do, the role of assistant has evolved not only in practical application and duties, but also in public opinion/perception, from a subservient, purely clerical, menial position into something more akin to a corporate partnership.
In explaining this evolution, there are two points I’d like you to understand: First, where this evolving position started Second, where this position is today
In the past, as a rule, men worked and women stayed at home. Women who did work were mainly in domestic or service roles. The idea of an assistant originally began in the military, as far back as George Washington, but was obviously only something a male could do.
In the post WWII era, as the typewriter and telephone came into common use, women joined the corporate, business workforce and the job of secretary came into being. This was still mainly a service or clerical role. Fetching coffee, taking dictation, etc. In the 1960s and 70s as gender equality started to become more prevalent, the clerical secretary position began to evolve into more of an assistant role, requiring more training, and different skills.
Before I move on to my second point of what an assistant does today, let’s answer one question, what exactly is an assistant? Who can come up with some synonyms? Helper, Aide, Attendant, Deputy. These words certainly fit the dictionary’s definition: a person who ranks below another person, or who helps with specific work. Basically someone with less power than the person they support. BORING!
Those words and that definition may have fit with yesterday’s assistant, but I would argue that there are some more descriptive words that fit the assistant of today: Where would Hook be without his Smee, Where would the Godfather be without his Tom, Batman would be nothing without Robin, Grue could never have done what he did without his minions.
Before I did the research on what this position is today, I hadn’t really thought about what an important role an assistant plays. What used to be a secretary, coffee fetcher, note taker has evolved. It’s evolved into kind of a superhero status. Just like the Smee’s and Minions, we have a profound effect on the daily lives of the executives we support. I do everything from booking business trips, ordering anniversary gifts and arranging pet care to attending high-level meetings and deciding who can and can't meet with my bosses. As Rachel Fenzeg of the Wall Street journal says, Today an assistant wields subtle influence at a company's highest levels--and no small amount of power.
Today, we don’t wait for orders, we are more like business partners than clerks. For example: Anikka Fragodt is considered somewhat of a rock star in the world of assistants. Until last March she was Mark Zuckerberg’s right-hand woman. She planned everything from a toga party for 350 people with 48 hours notice, to Mr. Zuckerberg’s secret wedding in 2012.
Depending on the executive you support, the sky’s the limit for what you’d like to be involved in, and what you’d like to become. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s current COO, and author of the bestseller Lean In, hesitated when considering whether or not to accept a position at Google in 2001. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO in 2001 gave her some very wise career advice: “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.” And as we know now, Google turned out to be the fastest moving rocket ship in corporate history.
Not all assistants get staplers thrown at them, and to be fair, not all assistants are offered a ride on a rocketship. But the difference between those two experiences are about as different as the secretary from the 1950s job, and that of someone like Anikka. So to review… We’ve seen how something that started as a military aid position, evolved into a stereotypical secretary position with the advent of the typewriter and telephone, which, in turn evolved into more of a business partner with almost unlimited career advancement potential. I’ve been in this profession for a long time, and through the research I did for this presentation I was very pleased to be able to not only see the evolution of the position, but to be able to look at the job I do with a whole new perspective. The one thing I hope you’re able to take away from what I’ve shared is that behind every successful executive/Godfather/Pirate/Superhero, chances are you’ll find an assistant of some kind making sure they look good. Not that they weren’t there before, it’s just that today, you’re more likely to see them.