What’s in a name? Part one

Natalie Kennefick "Ultimately, what I’d like to see is the title of EA being phased out altogether. The role has evolved from traditional secretary to a business/strategic partner"

PA, EA, advanced EA, legal assistant, project manager, management secretary, chief of staff…? Continuing to mark 30 years of Executive PA Media, in this 3 part series editor Claire Muir asks our readers what they are referred to in their high-level assistant role, and what it means to them.

Natalie Kennefick

EA to the CEO, Arriba Group

“I think there are pros and cons to the variety of titles. A major pro is that it allows for development within the role, as well as recognition that it’s more than it was in the past. A major con, though, is that it allows for confusion about what EAs do – and provides an opportunity for some employers to ‘hold down/back,’ or put us into a very outdated box.

This then impacts the views people have of us, the value we can add to a business and our monetary worth. Admins are traditionally paid lower as we’re perceived negatively due to the lack of understanding around our roles.

Something that I have seen in the market is employers wanting an EA but marketing the role as something else – an admin manager or office manager, for example. This can be used to cap the pay and have us do the ‘less desirable’ tasks that would have traditionally been looked after by someone in a secretary role. I believe very few executives and hiring managers understand the true strategic benefits of an EA, and this is often reflected in our salary.

On looking at recent job adverts, the number I saw looking for an EA with the headline ‘Are you my Donna Paulson?’ (referring to the character from Mad Men, a show based in an advertising agency back in the days when women were expected to ‘know their place’ at work) was mind boggling. The fact that this strapline is consistently used as a recruitment tool in 2022 is staggering and, to be honest, a little alarming!

Also, although many of these job adverts state that they need a ‘high calibre EA’ to run meetings, diary and be the exec’s right hand, they also say you’ll be responsible for keeping the kitchen and meeting rooms clean and tidy. This shows that most businesses still see us as less than others in the office and it’s sad to see that this is just accepted. I’ve never seen a senior leader’s job description stating that they need to clean a kitchen…

Ultimately, what I’d like to see is the title of EA being phased out altogether. The role has evolved from traditional secretary to a business/strategic partner and if you’re lucky enough to have an executive that sees your worth in these areas, you’re much more than a traditional EA. But as long as the title has the word ‘assistant’ in it, there will always be a preconceived idea of what the role involves – and it will always have a lower value added to it.

The titles should move in a direction that truly reflects what we do and the impact we make on a business. How about business partner? Strategic partner? Operations partner? We hold a partnership role with our executives and the job title should reflect that, instead of screaming ‘I’m here to serve and assist you.’”