Real Careers: Dawn Becker

Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to 23 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the USA and Wales. Today, we’re back to Canada – and I’m delighted to interview fellow Canadian and British Columbian Dawn Becker.

Dawn Becker, CAP,OM. has a career in Executive and Board Administration. Here’s a look at her world.

An early start, and appreciation of baristas

4:45 a.m. is the official phone alarm; anytime after 4:00 a.m. is the “cat” alarm. My pre-work routine is quick – up and out the door in less than one hour; I have my mandatory stop at Starbucks! then five minutes up the road to work and in the office before 6:30 am. Tell us about your commute.  It’s 25-35 minutes via car – it varies depending on the line at Starbucks … and no, I won’t use the Starbucks mobile app. I like the interaction with the baristas.

Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? In the morning it is traffic updates and news; after work it is traffic updates and then Sirius Classic Vinyl, Deep Tracks and anything by Bob Seger!


At the Office

Morning Routines: Once I have scanned emails for anything urgent, I will spend time with the CIO. She arrives before me and we will take time in the early morning for catch-up discussions. When the CEO arrives later, I park in his doorway as we have a catch-up.

Primary Responsibilities: I am responsible for the administration for three Boards. This includes Board calendars, meeting agenda preparation, compiling all meeting material from the different sources, creation of electronic meeting “binders”, all minutes and Board liaison. We have approximately 24 Board and Board Committee meetings annually.

How long is your work day? I am “on” 24/7. If the CEO, CIO or a Board member emails or texts me, I will respond as soon as I can. I will make calls during my commute. I do not have a typical time frame for the day. I am usually in the office before 6:30 a.m. and leave anytime between 2:30 and 4:00 p.m. – usually around 3:30. This allows me time for my other full time job, IAAP Board Chair.

What might be a typical lunch?  Salad, soup at my desk reading newspapers

What do you most enjoy about your career? The variety of the role; as I became more experienced, there was an accompanying high level of accountability and responsibility as well as a certain level of freedom. If you get your job done, and done well, you do not always have to adhere to the “rules”.

If you get your job done, and done well, you do not always have to adhere to the “rules”

On Saying “No”

I can and do say no. If what is being requested of me does not support my primary responsibilities to the Boards, the CIO and CEO, I will quite often say no.


Dawn’s World

Map of worldI was born in a small town in northern BC, Canada and now live in a suburb of Vancouver, BC.  At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? City Mouse

How long have you been an admin. professional?  Since I fell into the role in the early 1980s  What was your first such role? Working for an interior design company  What might we find in your desk drawer? Confidential files/information, sunglasses, tea, dental hygiene kit, throat lozenges …

How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role?  I have used a corporate recruiter for a number of positions. Social media has become much more prominent with regards to recruitment since I started my current role 16 years ago. I would use a variety of tools should I choose to look for a new role.

How do you like to spend your time away from the office? IAAP! And I like to walk. When I have more time, activities are reading (I love magazines!), gardening and golf.

A dream holiday or travel adventure? Sun, sand, palm trees, and no schedule


Ongoing Development

Peer and Professional Associations: IAAP, the International Association of Administrative Professionals

How has IAAP helped you? It’s been invaluable: the education, connections, professional development, leadership training – all these and more.  Have you earned any certifications earned through the association? Yes; CAP,OM.

Describe positive impact your leadership roles in IAAP have had on you and your career. My employer recognises the roles I have held in IAAP and what those roles have brought to me, and to the employer. I truly believe I would not have the support I have if I had not had those experiences, or had not brought back what I learned to my employer.

Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? Soft skills: my experience has developed and honed these skills. The value of soft skills such as communication, leadership ability, comprehension and attitude is a key component of my success as an EA and as Board Chair for IAAP.

On IAAP: To be part of a team and association that is focused entirely on the administrative profession is exciting and rewarding

Inspirational reads? There are so many. Role models or mentors? My mother, who worked her way from lifeguard to President of the Better Business Bureau. My father, who gave his all to his job each and every day of his working life. And many others whose words I hear in my mind every day.

Have you received any awards or recognition as an admin. professional? This is where I have mixed thoughts. I have a low need for formal recognition. I do understand others have a higher need. If I hear a “thanks”, I’m happy. And at times, I have applauded myself for a job well done and then treated myself to a Starbucks (or potato chips!).

I can and do say no

Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. A number of years ago I created a user manual for an in-house computer program; I had been in the role for only two years when I developed that for the end users. IAAP Board Chair is significant. To be part of a team and association that is focused entirely on the administrative profession is exciting and rewarding.

What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? When it feels too easy – it probably is, so step to the side and then step forward and away from your little box.

What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? Work on a new level of courage. Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? Yes; this will take that courage.

Listen. Observe. Ask questions. Listen and watch some more.


Digital Disruption: AI, the IOT and Evolution of the Role

imageWhat are your preferred forms of social media? LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter  Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes. What impacts does that 24:7 availability via technology have on your quality of life? I am available 24/7 for work and IAAP related matters. I do have the ability to monitor and control access. I preview messages and determine whether or not an immediate response is required.

Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital, or paper-based? No more paper, other than printing the agenda for the Chair’s convenience. All material is electronic and Board members sync it to their iPad Pros.

Does your organisation make use of an intranet or portal for any of its bodies/committees? We transitioned from paper to electronic board meeting materials in 2012. We had a few Board members who took a bit longer to accept the new process; all have now come around fully and love the ease and convenience.

Going on a job interview? Study the company, study the position, practice your part of the interview

Let’s talk about the pace of change in the admin. world in general. Planned and logical is our process. And with lots of accompanying communication.

It’s not unusual to read that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will increasingly impact employment prospects across a range of occupations. What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? Continuous learning and development; research how AI could help you in your role both currently and in the future. Be on the front of AI – not behind it.

 Be on the front of AI – not behind it

How do you see your workplace evolving with respect to digital assistants / AI resources? As a pension plan, we hold a great deal of confidential information on a large number of people. Security is paramount for us. Our IT team has in place a number of security measures and staff are trained in various ways to reduce or eliminate risk. These measures are constantly being tested, evaluated and measured for improvement.

What positive impact(s) do you think AI (artificial intelligence), Digital Assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the admin. professional of 2020? By moving some routine aspects of the role to technology, those in this profession will have the opportunity to specialize in areas and demonstrate the value this profession brings to business. We will suggest the routine duties that would be best suited for technology; we will take the lead on AI for our roles; and we will elevate our roles from that of assistant to business partner.


Travel Planning

Travel or travel planning recommendations? Always use a travel agent. Develop a good relationship with them – they will be invaluable in times of flight cancellations, changes or emergencies.

What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and for tracking expenses? We use, and prefer, a simple clear pocket folder for gathering expenses.

Lessons Learned

What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? This is what I can do for you. Let’s discuss what the executive’s primary role is and then discuss how you can support that role.

Soft skills: key components of Dawn’s success as an EA and as IAAP Board Chair

What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer that new assistant on the block, in terms of how to build effective business relationships within the office? Listen. Observe. Ask questions. Listen and watch some more.

For those interested in promotion: Ask. You have value. Demonstrate it and tell others. Ask.


… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Dawn mentioned may be interested in checking the following link.

To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.

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