Weekend Poll Results: Stereotypes of the Admin. Profession

With thanks to all who participate, here are the results of my latest weekend poll. Our focus: stereotypes of the admin. profession

96.71% of respondents have encountered stereotypes

 Those most frequently noted relate to a perceived lack of education and credentials, and to a sense that this is a job for women. You also identified stereotypes specific to female and male assistants. I suggest that you note and acknowledge misperceptions, but not waste energy being demoralised by them.

Instead, think strategically. Focus on sorting out how, both individually and collectively, we can dismantle dated or simply erroneous perceptions.

Never underestimate an assistant’s influence

That’s one of the misconceptions readers would most like to dispel. This one really resonated with me, and I’m sure it would with many executives, as well. Readers would also like to clear the air with respect to the skill level required for success as an admin. professional, and with respect to an EA, MA or PA’s capacity to contribute to an organisation’s success.


There’s hope; here’s what you as an individual can do

If you want to be perceived as a professional, present yourself as one. Speak about your career as a profession, and take ownership of the role and your own development. Maintain boundaries, build your networks and update your job descriptions to reflect what you actually do. These are just some of the recommendations you’ll find in the data below. 


Educate people about the positive aspects of the career

… and there are many. As you’ll see from readers’ responses below, there’s exposure to dynamic people and ideas. There’s access to power and, as we well know, EAs, MAs, PAs and more often wield significant influence themselves. We simply exercise ours quietly, in many instances.

A number of respondents highlighted travel opportunities afforded them through their careers. That’s certainly the case for me, and I place great value on the knowledge accrued and networks developed through my business travels. Our travels and networking also benefit our employers, of course, or they wouldn’t be supported.

Compensation packages can also be more substantial than outsiders might anticipate. Readers noted attractive salaries and benefits, including (in one instance) free college education for one’s children. There are also opportunities for advancement and growth.


Your professional networks and associations can help 

I know from previous Weekend Polls that the majority of readers belong to at least one professional association or network. These bodies are led by inspiring and talented peers who deserve a great deal of credit for stepping up to the plate. I believe that concerted campaigns by networks around the globe can help shift pendulums of opinion.

I know that a number of networks are already paying attention to strategic representation of the career. Just imagine what can be accomplished if network or divisional meeting agendas across borders were to include discussion of some of the suggestions you’ll find in the data below.


About the results: With each question, I found that similar responses  or variations on a theme, were offered by more than one reader.  I’ve clustered such responses together and also minimised duplication of responses that were quite similar.

I asked you to identify stereotypes of the admin. profession that still exist. 

  • 3.29% of you reported that you’ve not encountered stereotypes
  • 96.71% did identify stereotypes, as follows.
    • We are uneducated / the job doesn’t require much education
    • It’s for women / a role for females
    • Admin. professionals are less talented or capable than those they support / incapable of contributing to the success of our organisation /  We aren’t that bright, or we would have landed a “better” job.
    • That we’re the office “mum” or caretaker as opposed to a professional / Coffe maker and message taker /Here in Italy, the assistant is first of all she who prepares the coffee
    • It’s easy / Assistants are a common resource / Assistants don’t do very much
    • Tthis is a low paying career without opportunities for advancement
    • (People have) no idea what administration roles are / people are ignorant and naive about what we do
    • Just a PA. We file and answer the phone. / That we “only” do calendar and “lower class” tasks / It’s only typing and filing / Bit of typing, bit of filing, making drinks
    • Admin. is an overhead or “dead weight”
    • All admins are like those portrayed in the media – flighty
    • We’re lacking in professional development
    • We can fix all printers
    • Lazy
    • Favouritism

What stereotypes, if any, do you encounter with respect to female admin. professionals?

  • Submissive / the assumption that we are walkovers/pushovers
  • That we have little or no aspirations for advancement
  • That we don’t need/have any qualifications / that we are uneducated and uninformed
  • Low self esteem
  • They will clean up office mess; be the “mum” in the office
  • Only women have these jobs because men have “real” jobs
  • That you’re there to do the basics, but not to make strategic decisions
  • That they are not interested in attending professional conferences
  • There are comments about being close to your male boss
  • “Just an admin.” / Female assistants are just good enough to be a “secretary” / Typical secretarial
  • Short skirt; no brains

What stereotypes, if any, do you encounter with respect to male admin. professionals?

  • Mostly gay if in this profession
  • That they will be effeminate
  • That the role is a stepping stone toward advancement / males are promoted much quicker
  • They’re treated as one of the management team – given more respect and listened to
  • That they can’t get a better job / it’s a female’s role / demoralising

I asked readers to list any misperceptions about the career that you’d like to dispel. Here’s what you said.

  • That we do not have any power / That we don’t have the power to influence decisions / That a PA has no influence in a company
  • People underestimate and under value the skills required for success in the role / That there is no skill involved
  • We can do so much more and truly be an asset to the executive and team
  • That we’re stupid or uninformed about the company we work for
  • I was once asked if I intended to be a PA forever. Like it was a bad thing! But this is normal. Admins are seen as “lesser than”, even though we are often lynchpins of organisations, have knowledge of so many varied things, and are endlessly flexible!
  • It’s bloody hard work and more than a 9:00 – 5:00 job / That it’s not a career
  • That we’re there to look good
  • That we just type and file
  • That we are an overhead/expense rather than an asset

What can individual administrative professionals do to correct misperceptions and dismantle inappropriate or dated stereotypes?

  • Behave professionally, in how we act and how we speak about our profession / Be professional
  • Organise
  • Take ownership of the role and development
  • Lead by example
  • Push to take on higher level work
  • Tackle your job description; bring it up to date using relevant business language
  • Be organised
  • Don’t gossip
  • Always follow up and get tasks done
  • Maintain boundaries
  • Network
  • Act in a professional manner
  • Promote the real work done
  • Present yourself as an equal
  • Check and consider the language you use in presenting ideas; don’t be apologetic
  • For women, refrain from referring to yourself as “X’s” “girl” – use your job title
  • Demand a fairer pay
  • Be bold and confident to challenge the misconception
  • Fight for what they believe in!
  • If you have a candy dish at your desk, get rid of it.


What actions can our professional associations/networks undertake to correct misperceptions and dismantle inappropriate or dated stereotypes?

  • Target the youth to better educate them about this career
  • Raise the profile of the profession with organsations, social media and press
  • Promote professional status standards
  • Assess images, colours and language for the messaging they convey / use colours and images to convey a professional tone
  • Promote the profession / Educate people. Use professional language and images to promote it.
  • Lobby for better pay for different roles
  • Give senior assistants the tools to help newer assistants
  • Offer better support by training PAs to be proud of their profession
  • Ditch super hero imagery. Fast.
  • Help us turn admins into a professional career, rather than a step to somewhere


What positive aspects of the administrative role do you think are largely under-recognised by people not involved in such a career?

  • The best part of being an EA is getting to see such a wide view of my executive’s team. I get to see what everyone on the team is working on and also get to work with them on several projects. It’s a completely different view than the rest of the team has and I really enjoy it.
  • The power of a PA
  • Working at a senior level, you are exposed to dynamic people and ideas / Exposure to powerful people in your organisation
  • There are opportunities for advancement
  • Graduate candidates, wider skill set such as leadership and coaching
  • Variety
  • Knowledge
  • Relationships
  • Hard working professionals who can turn their hand to anything
  • Confidentiality
  • Juggling acts to meet impossible deadlines
  • There are opportunities for travel
  • Compensation packages can be attractive; I earn more than $80k annually
  • Our knowledge & business acumen – we know more than people give us credit for


What opportunities or benefits have you accrued that might surprise people not involved in such a career? 

  • Biggest opportunity I’ve ever had was in building out new office space for our regional office. Everything from the carpet to the ceiling tiles of a 13,665 square ft office was my decision. Absolutely the most difficult project I’ve done but also the one I am most proud of as well.
  • Overseas secondment / Overseas travel / International travel / travel / lots of travel
  • Free college education for my children
  • Retirement benefits / Good pension plan
  • You have higher chances of becoming (?) on Manager/Director level
  • Contact with CEOs and other influential people / A network of contacts / Met many celebrities through my role
  • Management incentives
  • PA Networking groups

2 Comments on “Weekend Poll Results: Stereotypes of the Admin. Profession

  1. Terrific collection of data and information! Appreciate all the work that went into collecting this information.

    Stereotypes will probably always exist – some we have control over and others maybe we do not. The important thing is that we demonstrate integrity, confidence and professionalism at all times so we can never be guilty of manifesting or demonstrating those stereotypes that do remain. It’s a work in progress and each and every assistant should take ownership and responsibility for his or her own workplace attitudes and behaviors. We define the role everyday and send messages to others about how we feel about the role of the assistant. We are ambassadors.

    Lisa Olsen

    • Thank you, Lisa, and well said! Agreed; some stereotypes will continue to persist. We need to understand and counter such misconceptions rather than dwelling on them or sending signals that manifest them.

      Instead, as you’ve articulated so well, our own behaviours speak volumes and can counter and diminish those that are outdated or simply erroneous.

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