In 2019 we had the pleasure of speaking with Alison Allende, winner of the Outstanding Contribution award at the 2018 Executive PA awards. Alison is a remarkable EA in New York City who has not only extensive experience and success in the traditional EA role, but also an inspiring dedication to the progression and development of EAs in the United States. Alison is passionate about women’s development in the workplace and her efforts to support her fellow EAs has built a legacy for her within the EA profession.
Alison studied communications and art at college in New York City and always expected to forge a career in one of those areas. But when she graduated it was during the recession in the United States and job opportunities were slim. Alison decided to move back to Pennsylvania where her parents lived and find a local job near them. This led Alison to her first role at a small insurance office as an executive assistant and office manager.
“I came into this a bit randomly but it was meant to be because I really just ended up liking it and I found out that a lot of things you need to be a great executive assistant I feel like it came naturally to me and it was stuff I really enjoyed doing. I just ended up sticking with it ever since.”
After moving back to Pennsylvania for a year and a half, Alison decided to move back to New York City. The move led her to her next role as an executive assistant at Audax Group for five and half years.
“Working in finance is very fast-paced and you have to be on top of every little detail. And really it pushed me to be my best every day and to make the role even bigger than what it was. And after doing that for five and half years I still loved it, I thought I really want to take the next big step and take on a new challenge within this kind of role.”
This go-getter attitude then brought Alison to Eze Software, where she was hired to be the executive assistant to the CEO for about three years. Alison now works as the EA to Chief Revenue Officer at Datadog.
Alison wasn’t the type to sit back and let the EA role define her. She was hungry to make it her own and prove to management that she could offer extreme value to the company. She wanted to see where she could grow and help the company, which led her to taking on some responsibilities of a department manager as well as executive assistant.
“I started working on our presentations more, and that led to being our presentation manager. I just constantly tried to see everything that was expected of me and I wanted to do a really great job at that and then I wanted to see how I could do things better or push myself even more. I think it’s really benefitted me because it’s constant growth that I’m pushing for.”
During her time at Eze Software, Alison was also the Chief of Staff and Vice President of Eze’s Women’s Network. The women’s network was founded by a senior sales executive at the company who noticed an influx of women joining Eze. She wanted to create something that would advocate for everybody’s careers within our company and create a resource of professional workshops and guest speakers.
“She approached me and asked if I’d be interested in getting involved as a Chief of Staff and I said, ‘Absolutely, I’d love to. I’m 100% supportive of this and I’ll help in any way I can.’ It was also a great opportunity to start on the ground floor with that and from there we went and opened branches in all of our different offices. So, we have a branch in London, we have another in Hyderabad in India, so kind of all over. I was very fortunate to get in right when they were starting it and I’ve been contributing to it ever since.”
Alison was also a branch director of International Association of Administrative Professionals from 2017–2019. IAAP is based in Kansas City and has been active for a little over 70 years. Alison has been a member for years and attended many of their workshops, as well as becoming Certified Administrative Professional through a IAAP certification course.
“After being involved for a few years I saw they had an opening for a branch director in New York and New Jersey, but I wasn’t 100% sure of whether I could do it or what it would be like. But I decided to just take a leap of faith and apply for it and see if I could do it. They wound up picking me!”
Her role as branch director included overseeing different workshops, professional development resources and networking events in New York and New Jersey. Alison is very passionate about seeing in the EA profession grow and succeed and although the role has come a long way, she hopes the future holds even brighter things for EAs.
“I’ve been doing this for a little over ten years and even over the past ten years I think the perception has changed a lot. It used to be quite secretarial, maybe not quite as many responsibilities and a lot of people might still have that perception unfortunately…I think it differs from company to company, because maybe a company hasn’t had hard working and driven assistants in the past…then that’s their perception of how all assistants are. But I think it’s changing and definitely changing for the better. Like in New York City there’s a lot more opportunities and a lot more high-level opportunities like in Silicon Valley.”
With all of her extra-curricular work, Alison is a busy lady and finding the balance between her EA responsibilities and external support work is a hard task.
“I’m a firm believer in always having a checklist and always planning things that are up and coming. If you have a calendar, I always have at least 20 different things a day that are my to-do list to tackle. I’m constantly trying to think ahead and of what needs to be done. If I think of that I’ll write it down and be like, ‘Okay, I need to do this on that day.’”
Being organised is essential as an EA, otherwise you’ll become overwhelmed and forget things. Alison believes it’s imperative to be forward-thinking and organised and checking in with your managers and executives to make sure everything is going okay on their end, too.
But while Alison has had a successful career as an EA and adapted to the role quickly, there have been challenges she’s faced along the way.
“One of the biggest challenges is that sometimes you get things dropped on you last minute. The nature of the role is to be a strategic planner but also to be there for your executives, or to some extent your whole office. If things pop up, you’re the one they can rely on. So, I think just having the fires that pop up can be a little bit challenging when you have other things going on.”
But for Alison, it’s been helpful to have a sense of balance with what you’re doing and almost expect for there to be problems that crop up. That way if something comes up last minute mentally prepare by saying, ‘Alright this might happen or there’s a chance I may have to stay late to do this’.
“I think that was one of the biggest challenges I’ve had in my career. And I think another one is that sometimes it takes a while, especially with executives, to gain that trust. You could work really well with them and have a great relationship but having that sense of trust between each other is really important. And sometimes it just takes a bit of time with somebody to gain that.”
Alison is a firm believer that the role of associations or networks as part of the EA experience will continue to grow, especially on an international level.
“What I loved about the Executive PA Media Awards is that you had so many international awards, specifically for each region and they were open to global entries. I think it’s so important to connect with people across the world and see what’s going on. I think we can learn so much from each other. It’s definitely been a huge part of my career just having people to talk to who have similar roles and people you can go to in almost a mentor sense has been really great.”
But despite all of her success and growth as an EA, Alison was delighted to have received the Outstanding Contribution award at the 2018 Executive PA Awards.
“I was so excited. I really didn’t think that I would win! I was so excited to have contributed to the profession and involvement with IAAP and other organisations. It’s huge for me and so exciting and people that I work with are excited too and keep asking about it. I think it’s amazing what you guys do with the awards and locations and a strong advocate for all the organisations that support our profession, so it’s really been amazing.”
Alison closed out our interview with some inspirational words for those in the EA profession.
“It’s come so far in the past ten, twenty years and I’m just excited to see it keep growing and I think it’s important for everyone in the profession to give back and keep pushing forward. Because that’ll take it away for people coming after us.”