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 Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the USA and Wales, and now make our way back to London, England to visit with Paula Moio.
Paula Moio is PA to the Controller, Languages, BBC World Service Group. Here’s a look at her world.
Coffee and music for the morning walk to the BBC
I normally wake up at 6:30 a.m. to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, which I set up the night before. So if the alarm doesn’t wake me up, the smell of coffee will definitely make me jump. I die and my day ends if I don’t have this ritual – it sets my day!
It takes me roughly 20 minutes and I walk to and from work … quite a treat, and I remember reading a fantastic article about the beauty of walking to work. It brought to life my every-day journey: mornings are refreshing and crisp, colours are delicate pastels, people are light like ballet dancers … and Oxford street is exceptionally empty! Evenings have a mysterious sparkle all around. They are quiet and have somewhat an inviting warmth that is so soothing after a day’s work. Every single day, each journey is a privilege.
What two or three musicians are on your commuting playlist? Music is one of my favourite topics! My device is full of all kinds of music, but I’ll settle for jazzy-soul-morna-fado-bossanova. Let me explain: my pick has to be Angolans Andre Mingas, Aline Frazao and Paulo Flores. I also have Capeverdians Mayra Andrade and Cesaria Evora. Have to have Antonio Zambujo and Mariza from Portugal. From Martinique, I must have Kassav. Brasilians Chico Buarque, Maria Bethania, Caetano Veloso and Djavan, Ah, and of course Miles, Nina, Aretha and Melody Gardot. But I cannot go without Piaff, Aznavour and Jacques Brell – sorry, got carried away, but you see, I need to energize the walking journey and music is my perfect companion, so I walk with them all!
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: My main priority is to provide executive level admin. support to the Controller and her eleven direct reports, as she oversees a quite a sizeable (approximately 1,400) department, with 28 language services producing content for different platforms – TV, Radio, Online and Mobile – in the UK and abroad. With me lies the responsibility of making sure days are run as seamlessly and as smoothly as possible. I integrate and support a core team of 12 executive editors and a wider management team. The extended team is comprised by the executive team, 28 service editors and five central roles. With the last two groups, my main responsibility is to make sure there is an effective flow of information and I am the liaison for managerial meetings and comms in general.
My daily tasks include complex diary management and organising meetings. I gather information and prepare agendas. I help with the production of our weekly newsletter sent to all the department with the highlights of the week, and my tasks include travel arrangement and liaising with other departments and work on ad hoc projects. I am currently coordinating the logistics and working with consultants as they interview/deliver/implement a management restructure and strategy. I plan and organise events such as away days or staff events, book venues and meeting rooms, oversee stationery stocks, equipment, furniture, catering and more. I administer the executive team’s annual leave and process expenses and payments.
Work hard, as if it really matters
The complexity and multi-faceted characteristics of this job require my absolute focus. I am the backdrop of a very fast paced office, so attention to detail is crucial. A typical day starts with the first editorial meeting at 8:30, then another at 8:40 … leading to a pan departmental editorial meeting at 9:00 a.m. By the time my boss returns from the round of editorial meetings, I’ve already skimmed through emails and checked for any diary changes.
On a good day, her diary may change two, three times. On a frantic day, it changes as the day goes. But on a Breaking News day, depending on the nature of the event – be it a disaster/ war/ high profile death/sports, and reliant on the impact it may have globally – her diary can simply be wiped off. I have to be prepared to drop anyone or anything I may be dealing with at that precise moment, cancel meetings and move as fast as I can. I also gather items and prepare agendas for all her editorial and/or management team meetings. It is crucial that I attend some managerial meetings to be fully aware of actions to follow up and ensure the flow of information within the core and the extended teams.
How long is your work day? I work very long hours. I arrive just before 9:00 a.m. and on most days don’t leave before 8:00 p.m. I love staying in the evenings to do a follow-up on everything that has happened during the day, and also to prepare for the next day. Those last few hours, by virtue of being in a far more silent office, often end up being the most productive time of the day.
What might be a typical lunch? As terrible as it may seem, I am as bad as most colleagues – I have a light healthy lunch, yet normally eat at my desk … it comes with the job, I guess.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Because I work long hours, I made a vow not to have a work phone and not to work at home on weekdays unless it’s absolutely necessary. On the weekends, I log in briefly to check for urgent messages or to finish a piece of work that might be needed first thing on Monday.
Dealing with challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? First: Juggling the high volume of workload whilst keeping the quality of service I provide – when delivering on such a wide scale, the challenge is to maintain focus, plan effectively, be mindful of time management and distinguish what is urgent/important from not urgent/not important.
Secondly: For such a complex and large team, I look for ways to develop/enhance strong people skills and master my emotions. Building on social awareness and constructive work relationships is not always an easy ask. The aim is to be able to synergise with the team and colleagues, using emotional intelligence skills to achieve a thriving and motivating work environment and build solid partnerships. In a hectic office, that’s a challenge.
Build on social awareness and enhance strong people skills
What do you most enjoy about your career? Seeing closely the production of such creative and diverse work is a daily inspiration. From TV and radio programmes to online pieces, video, documentaries, powerful stories, budget consultations, the make/implementation of strategies, and audience engagement – you name it. Working among the most innovative, talented and passionate professionals makes me want to be at my very best every single day.
I have the privilege of working in a truly diverse and multicultural environment. We have 28 language services – it is literally like having the world at your fingertips. It cannot get culturally richer (or more complex) than this, I assure you. Oh … and the adrenaline of being everywhere, moving in every direction, and if I manage to fulfill most of the team’s needs, I feel accomplished. That is so very satisfying.
Equally rewarding is developing an engaging and dynamic relationship with my editors, from whom I learn a great deal every day. On the other hand, I hope they acknowledge how pivotal my role is and trust my ability to prioritise, work independently and deliver.
On saying “No”
It is important that we all understand that saying no is absolutely not being rude or unpleasant. The key is how you phrase it. People like to be comforted, so when I have to say no – and in my position that happens quite regularly – I will, where possible, either redirect the person or negotiate a due date and time.
It is important to manage our mutual expectations realistically and honestly
I am committed to being supportive of my manager and her team with professional maturity. To have the perception to identify how, what, where and when they need my support is a skill I seek to refine. In a large team like mine, it is quite unlikely that I would be able to support everyone at once. But it is also important that I am clear about how to negotiate that same support and manage our mutual expectations realistically and honestly.
With that established, we set the grounds for an ethical workplace atmosphere and a healthy dependability. The pressure is high and I have to be deadline-driven. That can only be achieved if I have effective self-management – which is not always possible, because the broadcasting industry is an environment where plans change by the hour. But eventually we reach some kind of harmony.
I am from Luanda, Angola. I grew up in Portugal and now live in London. I always say that, as a backdrop of my life, I have 3 Ls: Luanda, Lisbon and London, three buzzing cosmopolitan cities, full of character and colour. I love them all!
I love hosting and cooking, so my family and friends are always welcome for a feast and long chats through the night with yet more food.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? On Saturdays, a late morning seated in the quietness of my balcony with coffee, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit and a book or my tablet – it’s priceless!
A dream holiday or travel adventure? Being a person who longs for quietness and stillness, the thought of Fiji Islands is always a mirage on the horizon! The second best thing would be Cape Verde islands or Zanzibar.
Education and Professional Development
Education: Education has been my backbone. I am an avid learner and believe one never stops learning. I am also confident that training and professional development have been absolutely crucial to my career progression, and vital to enhancing my skills set. There is a lot being done in terms of raising the profile of our profession through training and professional development – from universities, associations and former PAs/EAs literally crossing the world to train, empower, inspire and encourage their equals to invest in themselves – and it feels like a revolution.
I am currently taking a Certificate in Higher Education, a management course for PAs at Birkbeck University of London. This is a modular course created in partnership with the GPAA – Global PA Association, led by Rosemary Parr and Birkbeck. Its impact on me personally and professionally goes beyond my expectations. I am more independent in my judgment and decision making; my understanding of business is more ample, and it has facilitated the fact that I am more visible and have more confidence. I feel empowered and I believe that I have a voice and that my views are as influential as everyone else’s.
I cannot tell you how thrilled I am for finally be taking part in the next London BTUA – Be the Ultimate Assistant workshop. Bonnie Low-Kramen and Vickie Sokol Evans have put together a first class programme de maître which I know will be a game changer in my career. I am ready and grateful for the fantastic work they are doing in empowering and motivating assistants around the world – it’s admirable.
I am sure that Lucy Brazier’s Secretary Live will soon be part of my list of training/networking …what a vibrant gala of talent that is! I am also truly looking forward to Victoria Darragh’s EPAA (Executive & Personal Assistants Association) launch in 2016.
We can choose to be resilient to negativity
Peer and Professional Associations: I think they are our anchor. I sometimes ask myself how would we have found the strength and support to successfully manage our careers without these wonderful associations, network groups, blogs, webinars, magazines, etc. They play a fundamental role in our professional growth. They are platforms that give us voice to speak up, and empower and encourage us to “lean in”.
Professional associations inspire us to be our best. They raise the profile of our profession so it gets the recognition it deserves. More than ever, we are united and I can’t stop saying: our moment is now. I am a fellow at the Global PA Association, and have a membership with the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry PA Club. I also subscribe to Hays PA & Secretarial and attend most of their PA network events. And, extremely pleased to say that I am about to become part of the Be the Ultimate Assistant Alumni. To all of them, my heartfelt THANK YOU.
Preferred form(s) of social media? LinkedIn is a great pool of resources for personal and professional development. It’s unlimited, free access to learning on the go – simply an amazing source of inspiration! Many posts on Twitter are combined posts from LinkedIn. Otherwise, Twitter is a quick and short dip in for news – and again another great source of global trending news and information. I use Facebook mainly for personal sharing with family and close friends, so I find the filters quite useful to keep private matters private.
Awards and recognition
In 2013 I won an award for Outstanding Contribution to BBC News in the Professional Services category. I cannot tell you how proud and grateful I was for being among the most talented professionals being praised and recognised. I thought about the journey … and I was moved and elated.
Administrative professionals are as deserving of incentives and recognition as any other employee. In fact, this should be a universal stimulus for anyone in any given organisation. Our input is crucial, and we play a key role to the core running of the business. As we manage every aspect of the office, we can help shape these businesses and make them a better place to work.
Style and substance
Heels or flats? I go with flats for both my commute and the office. They’re practical and comfortable. Favourite brands of shoes? Fly London – so daring. Love them!
Preferred scent: Lacoste Classic, always!
What might we find in your desk drawer? Bits and bobs of stationery, elastic bands, all-size Post-Its, and and iPhone “morphy” batteries!
Inspirational reads? The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama, Beloved by Tony Morrison, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and Pebbles of Perception by Laurence Endersen
Role models or mentors? Over 30 years, I have had three male and eight strong women as line managers. The ladies have all been amazing role models – each one of them unique and extraordinary in their own way. I admire, respect and have been inspired by them in so many ways. Who I am today has without a doubt their imprint – and for that I am so very grateful to all of them. My colleagues, trainers and mentors have a crucial influence on my learning journey and on the making of the professional I am today.
My boss is an incredible, motivating individual. She is an inspiring leader and a very demanding one, too. She takes us all on this impressive stimulating journey that is her vision, and I have learnt a great deal from her professionally and personally. In adversity, she is able to “sail” us steadily and firmly toward a future of promise. I’ve also learnt from her kindness, her sense of fairness, equality and selflessness. We have a fifteen year partnership based on mutual trust, respect, professionalism and friendship.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I am proud of how I managed to get right back on track after leaving my job and my country. This represented a six-year journey and a cross-continent move; what I endured as an emigrant had a profound impact on my career. I decided to leave the comfort zone of my country in 1994. My twin girls were only nine months old, and I was a young single parent embodying an old Portuguese saying: “with bravery in my face and courage in my hands”. We set off to what was to become the most enlightening and extraordinary journey of our lives.
With bravery in my face and courage in my hands
From working unsocial hours to ruthless jobs, in 2000 I finally had my first job interview as an admin professional. Despite being told by a friend, who no doubt had my best interest at the heart, that I would probably not get the job because I had four factors against me – “being a foreigner, a mother, a woman and black” – I was determined not to let that define me, and decided to go through the recruitment process anyway. I got my first job at the BBC. The lesson I take and pass on to my beautiful daughters, now at university, is that in times of adversity you need to be humble, have an open mind and adapt. Work hard and be your best no matter what you do. Follow your instincts. Listen to your heart and trust your ability and judgment.
It was a journey of resilience, soul-searching and self-reconciliation. There were many tough moments. Difficult decisions had to be made. But I never lost sight of hope – my goal was to conquer a better life for my young family. I remained positive, persevered and ultimately achieved my goal.
Want to achieve your goals? Remain positive and persevere
I was equally proud that, after 25 years of working in the admin. profession, I was offered the opportunity to help my boss set up the logistics of this new department – she had then just been appointed Controller of Languages at the World Service. My boss had the mammoth job of amalgamating all the existing language services into one new department, followed by service closures and a restructuring. I was thrilled to be able to work alongside her throughout such a difficult time that was, nonetheless, one of the greatest learning curves in my career.
Immediately after, I singlehandedly coordinated my team’s move into the new astonishing Central London building. Although excited for the new beginning, we all expected a few hiccups along the process, but had the smoothest transfer. It was challenging, highly demanding and isolated, but an incredibly stimulating period in my career. In the end, all the hard work and sacrifice paid off.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? Setting up a PA network with stakeholders, and bespoke admin. professional training with workshops and keynote speakers has always been on the radar. Being a mentor is something that keeps coming up on the horizon, and I also wish to begin a movement of persuasive negotiation with management and seek to implement a more structured and regular training platform for assisting professionals. Together, we can create a more cohesive community to make work a better place.
There is a colossal activity of administrative professional networks
I am also very proactive and engaged with the administrative community outside work, and I get inspiration from professionals I profoundly admire and from whom I learn immensely. There is a colossal activity of professional networks out there, stronger than ever and seizing the opportunity to thrive.There’s been a shift in the market, and the profile of our profession is rising.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? I would have welcomed advice on how to draw a line and say no in a diplomatic and productive way. I always felt compelled to take on everything I was asked, and would stay out of hours typing out endless contracts. I was exhausted and unhappy, but felt voiceless. Have managed to “flip it” through years of experience and the leadership of good managers, I no longer feel guilty for saying no, and I know I am more effective for doing so.
Only you know what you can or can’t do
Your most effective time management strategy? Plan and prepare. By doing this, I have a clear mind and feel in control of the multitude of tasks I have. I use the reminders on my e-calendar and an A4 hard copy diary, one page a day where I list all follow-ups from my meetings and requests from my boss. I also recently discovered a fantastic tool, the 1-3-5 method. It’s quite simple, effective and realistic, with online, app and paper versions.
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? I would advise for a part-time return if possible. Time with your family is so precious and it goes by so fast. So make sure you enjoy and, without rush, appreciate each moment fully.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Trust, empower, stimulate and reward your assistant. Fulfilled, s/he will be your most reliable business partner and can be one of your best assets to ensure the success of the team.
Have clear boundaries, but be adaptable and open minded
For those interested in promotion: Stephen Covey writes, “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you are going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction”. There’s not much to add to that, but I would say … work hard as if it really matters. Find your purpose and ignite your passion because you care. Be prepared to make compromises and sacrifice what’s not relevant. Have clear boundaries, but be adaptable and open minded. Listen and empathise.
Be a dedicated, reliable and committed team player. Your executive is your main priority and you should ensure s/he is supported to do what s/he does best. Endeavour to attend to each and every individual in your team with professionalism, discretion, loyalty and kindness. Go above and beyond in everything you do and don’t limit yourself to a job description. Your professional growth and value are a reflection of your performance and the barriers you break within yourself.
Don’t limit yourself to a job description
Be an ambassador. I feel that, wherever I go, whatever I say needs to be representative of my values and principles, but also those of my corporation. We walk hand in hand and the way I portray myself has to embody that responsibility. But above all, be yourself and never let anyone make you feel that you can’t do it. You have that power – only you know what you can or can’t do. Maintaining a positive attitude is a vehicle to accomplishing our goals. Whilst we may not be able to change others, we can choose to be resilient to negativity and choose to respond gracefully to prejudice. This is a skill that one has to master over years of experience, and is directly linked with our core values. If our foundations are strong enough and we know ourselves, nothing is beyond reach.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Paula referenced may be interested in checking the following links. 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.
- Be the Ultimate Assistant – Bonnie Low Kramen
- Executive Secretary Magazine – Lucy Brazier
- Global PA Association
- Hays PA & Secretarial
- London Chamber of Commerce and Industry PA Club
- PA Power With Victoria Darragh
- Red Cape Company – Vickie Sokol Evans
- Speak Up
- 15 Things You’ll Know Only if You Walk to Work