The secretarial profession is rapidly changing. Due to the emergence of new technologies and social developments, modern secretaries are now highly specialised professionals. They are the heart of every organisation. How did their role develop over the years?
Christopher L. Sholes invents the typewriter, which creates new opportunities for women, who are considered to have better writing skills.
Industrialisation creates the need for paperwork and filing. By now, more people live in cities than in farms. By 1930, women make up 95% of the clerical work force because they have higher literacy rates, brilliant typing skills and a willingness to work for lower pay.
The role is traditional, consisting of simple tasks. Talking on the phone, taking notes, working independently are the core aspects of the secretary profession.
In 1942, The National Secretary Association is formed by a group of secretaries who understand that continuing education is vital for professional success.
World War II diversified the female workforce. Women are now becoming engineers, aircraft workers and bank tellers. There is also increased need for secretaries during the war.
The NSA creates the first Certified Professional Secretaries Examination, establishing a standard of excellent in the profession.
The war is over. TIME magazine claims that secretaries are either “too pretty or too old”, creating competition for secretaries despite the shortage of available secretaries.
A record number of women enter the workplace as copywriters, engineers, librarians or air stewards as the pay can be double that of a secretary. Therefore fewer women become secretaries during this period.
Secretary Bette Nesmith Graham invents white water-based paint to cover up typos. She sells 100 bottles a month.
María Barret, the president of the NSA, the business man Harry Klemfuss and president of Dictaphone Corporation, C. King Woodbridge, create Secretary Day.
The Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination against workers on the basis of sex, religion, ethnicity, race or religion.
The Swinging Sixties means liberation for many. Birth control and greater opportunities means women are delaying childbirth and focusing on their careers.
Discontent grows at the perception of the secretary as a sexual object. A 1972 article titled “Rebel Secretaries” explains that businesses should show more diplomacy towards women and to encourage independent secretarial decision making.
Advertising still objectifies women and the National Organization of Women picket companies whose ads are sexist.
Discrimination still prevails yet in 1977 a federal court in the US rules in favour of a women who was fired for refusing her boss’s sexual advances. Bette Nesmith Graham sells her company Liquid Paper to Gillette for 47.5 million dollars.
Power dressing and smoking in the office encapsulate the 80s.
The skill set of the secretary begins to expand slowly. The technological revolution trickles down, creating greater scope and more responsibilities for secretaries.
Fax machines, word processors, spreadsheets, databases and desktop publishing add to the secretary’s roster of abilities.
The Internet slowly turns into a commercial entity, email and web browsing change the nature of how businesses, and secretaries, operate.
The advent Windows 95 incorporates computer networking and administrative services and is used by the majority of office professionals around the world.
The secretaries of the 1990s are the pioneers of adopting computer skills and help to diversify the role of the modern day secretary.
The NSA changes its name to the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) to “avoid embarrassment to those who believe that ‘secretary’ refers only to women or to unskilled workers”.
By this point, the idea of the original secretary is vintage and nostalgic.
The Millennium brings a name change to Secretary’s Day and National Secretary’s Week. Administrative Professional’s Day and Administrative Professional’s Week are introduced to show the range of skills within the profession.
Social media takes off in 2003 meaning that administrative professionals have the opportunity to be involved within aspects of online marketing and creative processes.
Many secretaries play an integral role in the business, liaising with different departments. The proliferation of new technologies forces the modern administrative professional to be tech savvy, sometimes multilingual.
96% of administrative professionals are female with 4% male.
Whatever the future of the secretary will look like, their role will continue to be essential to all companies and organisations.