In this 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
Debbie Hall, PA to marketing technology director and interim PA to director of complex portfolios, Barclays
Shy, 19-year-old Debbie joined the Barclays typing pool in 1989 because, despite her outstanding secretarial qualifications, she lacked the confidence to go straight into being one. Covering secretaries’ holidays led to her first secretarial role, though, and in 2005, she secured her first EA role.
“I wanted to become an EA as it empowers you to become more involved in your MD’s role, supporting them as much as you can and smoothing the way to free up their time to perform their role. You’re your own boss in a way!
“I have fond memories of one-to-one time with my executive dictating to me as I used my shorthand or me typing up from his audio recordings. Messengers came to collect our letters and memos, while we got urgent items at the fax machine. And there were endless hours spent filing and at the photocopier!
“In the past my focus would have been, out of necessity, to maintain and enhance my traditional office skills, such as shorthand, typing speed. However, today – out of want – my skills are keeping up with evolving technology and, at Barclays specifically, the sites we use to perform our HR, IT and travel tasks. After all, in today’s world EAs wear many hats. I also make time to attend meetings to keep abreast of what is happening in my executive’s area of the bank. It helps me understand the terminology and urgency of requests.
“Technology has been a big driver of the evolution of our roles. But it’s also changed because of an evolving mindset regarding what the traditional role entailed and what it could entail to fully use our expertise. Now, the challenges comes when bosses don’t understand or value an EA’s diverse skills. When the partnership works, the outcome can be amazing.
“I think EAs who came to the end of their working life 30 years ago would look at EAs now and be amazed at the use of technology in the role. But, perhaps more importantly, they’d be appreciative and thankful of the recognition. We’re now essential in every exec’s workplace – and we’re not limited to mundane administrative tasks.