Monday, August 15, 2016

Feminine Differential - Work Environment

Today's Secretary November 1959
I had the wonderful and enlightening experience of working as Rhonda for over 7 years.  I worked as an administrative assistant for 2 years,  3 years as a museum donation coordinator and 2 years as an office manager.   I would still be at the last job had the office not closed.  I was having that much fun.

This certainly was not any marked achievement.  Our transitioning, sisters do this every day and this is the conventional environment for the female working population. 

According to an Ann York CNN survey, "in 2011, 96% of all secretaries and administrative assistants are women. For a variety of reasons, clerical work came to be dominated by women. Once an occupation becomes 'feminized', trends show that men prefer not to enter it." 

I relished the challenge and adored the job. Stepping into a female-dominated occupation, I had nothing to lose and much to learn.  As a former/retired entrepreneur and executive, it was as if I became an undercover or clandescent spy. What I learned and experienced was amazing.    

I understand that to learn a new language, immersion training works best. Immersion was what I did in the land of femininity.  And there was much to learn prior - body language, hand gestures, eye contact, fashion styles, voice delivery tone/volume and social interactions.  All of the above was expected, planned, and practiced. Here are some of the situations that I did not anticipate:  

What I learned working in the land of femininity.

  • Women are underpaid.  No big revelation here.  The glass ceiling is very real but there is a subtle, even more, insidious element that keeps it in place.  The positions that women in the business workplace hold are seen as essential but the person is seen as disposable. “Readily available is your replacement” is the message. Turnover is even expected/encouraged at that level.  Therefore, instead of giving raises employers expect the incumbent to move on thus perpetuating the entry-level salary.  This was a shock, where male employees are encouraged to move up, female employees are expected to move on. Moving on many times means restarting the career back at the entry level.
  • Female employees are less likely to help each other in the workplace and at times will roadblock ambition. Much of their work is focused and provides little time to build work relationships. Women network better outside of work and in an entrepreneurial environment, however at work their focus tends to isolate them. They are so busy and preoccupied; comradery comes second.  
  • Assignments are distributed unfairly.  Female employees are seen as the “get it done” group (worker bees) and males are seen as the traditional decision makers.  I cannot tell you how many times I saw a meeting taking place, typically males, making critical work decisions unencumbered by input and then after the meeting, having a “special project” assigned.  My input was not solicited and the message, “not required”.
  • Female managers, one would think, would be empathetic and supportive to other females in the workplace.  I found it not to be the case.  Once they have risen above the female work pool, to be supportive of the underlings is seen as weakness.  To be part of the “good old boy” fraternity is viewed as the goal, although acceptance is seldom granted.  In my limited experience, I found male manages to be more understanding and open to mentoring thus encouraging achievement. Certainly more appreciative. 
Please don’t construe what I am saying as bitter or regret for my time working as Rhonda.  I would do it again in a heartbeat for the challenge and sheer delight.  All dressed up and somewhere to go - "Every Day".  All jobs have negative times and what I have describes are only my basic observations. These may have been isolated occurrences and your mileage will vary. 

I welcome your comments. 

Vintage Photo from Today's Secretary 1962


  1. My current job of close to two years is administrative assistant for a state agency. I'm the only male person employed in the location at this time.
    I can attest to the fact that an administrative assistant is underpaid. I chose to leave a commissioned sales job for a national RV chain because I moved to a less expensive town, mortgage, tax rate and much shorter commute (sixty miles shorter and one hour ten minutes less each way).
    The funniest story I can share: During one of our frequent pot luck lunches, a co-worker asked if my wife made the food I'd brought. I quickly admonished her by letting her know that it was my office's pot luck and I was prepared the food I had brought. I have had many positive comments on my contributions but have to admit that my wife did more of the preparation for the most popular dish I have brought which was this week's antipasto salad.

  2. Heather - Thanks for the comment - Please comment again.