In this new series of articles Executive PA Media editor Claire Muir explores the evolution of the high-level assistant with the help of some talented and insightful Executive PA Magazine readers.
Catherine Middleton, owner and executive director at OFFICE Dynamics Adelaide
With a career spanning more years than this magazine has been in print, Catherine Middleton has gone from ‘Girl Friday’ to secretary to PA to EA… And now she’s a business owner. Would the EAs of 30+ years ago have had the confidence to go it alone?
“The field of administration has changed tenfold from those early days of subservience. Taking shorthand, typing, making tea and generally being the ‘Girl Friday’ meant you did as you were told and that was that. We’re talking fifty years ago when I first commenced my working life, by the way.
“Thinking back thirty years, I’d just started the role that would change my life – secretary to the general manager of an insurance company. I could now start to design the career I’d always aspired to but didn’t know was possible. Secretaries were, of course, the precursor of a PA. Then came the title of EA, if you did in fact support the CEO.
“The role started to grow from that time onwards as better tech allowed the assistant to be involved in a greater scope of operational administrative matters pertaining to their boss. They were no longer stereotyped as ‘just a secretary’.
“As our expertise grew, so did our confidence – and our profiles. We were the go-to person for internal and external stakeholders. Those working in the administrative field realised being an assistant was something to aspire to. Meanwhile, executives and managers revaluated how they saw the role and how it could be better managed to add more value to the organisation.
“This growth continued steadily over the last thirty years to where it sits today. Now the role is sometimes referred to as a ‘strategic partner’ and EAs are generally regarded as being indispensable. Today’s EA is a specialist and a professional, confident in who they are and what they do.
“The role’s profile within the corporate environment has rocketed and the assistant is now seen as an integral part of the C-Suite team. Years ago, soft skills weren’t part of the language used to describe the prerequisites for a position within the executive suite but today they’re highly sought after. The ability to communicate effectively and collaborate to ensure positive outcomes is par for the course, as is being able to represent the executive in a highly professional manner.
“I was in the workforce for more than 40 years, of which about 20 were spent as an EA/office manager. When it was time to move on, I decided to use my skills by starting up a small business. Perhaps other EAs in the future will too, confidently redirect their career in some shape or form. Wherever they decide to invest their energies and whatever they decide their future will look like, I know for sure that today’s diligent and determined EAs will have the transferrable skills, expertise and courage to take up any challenge.”