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Promotional Opportunities In The Secretarial Field

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About half of today's working women are college educated. Those in secretarial positions aren't satisfied remaining at lower-level jobs. They seek advancement into supervisory and managerial positions. Four factors over the next few decades that portend better opportunities for women are:

  1. Approximately one-half of the work-force will be comprised of women.
  2. The number of qualified males in the work force is shrinking.
  3. Management style in forward-looking corporations is changing from a hierarchal mode to one with employee involvement.

Women are more comfortable working in a participatory management environment than are their male counterparts.

Secretaries who perceive themselves as professionals are career-oriented individuals who have set specific goals for themselves. They do not perceive their position as a dead-end job, Rather, in their pursuit of achieving designated targets, they direct all activities, both in and out of the office, toward this effort. They continually strive to strengthen their personal and professional qualifications. These individuals differ from secretaries who are content to remain in their own little niche, performing the tasks typically assigned to them, no more and no less. Career-oriented individuals are intellectually active, innovative, and willing to do more than is required. They frequently strive for accreditation to improve in their profession and constantly seek ways to better them-selves.

Advancement happens when persons plan strategies that include the following: maximizing all work experiences, enrollment in continuing education courses, participation in workshops and seminars, extensive reading of professional literature, member ships in professional and community organizations, leadership roles in associations, awareness of societal needs, and knowledge of economic trends.

Generally, supervisory and managerial personnel advanced to their promotion in one or more steps. Becoming a supervisor of secretaries and/or other office personnel is the first step in the career ladder that involves planning, organizing, leading, and control. It is a position of responsibility and authority, one that places emphasis on managing human resources. The special skills a supervisor needs to manage others include personal attributes, creativity, an understanding of the factors that affect trends in the labor force, a knowledge and familiarity with changing technology, and the ability to influence workers and to gain their full support in carrying out the goals of the organization.

In this chapter, you will become familiar with the personal qualities and competencies needed for secretarial advancement as well as the paths you can follow to achieve your goals.

Personal Qualities

Secretaries work in varied environments, probably no two exactly alike. They perform a multitude of tasks, some requiring much decision making.

Office automation has reduced the static nature of some secretarial jobs and has converted them into dynamic careers with unlimited promotional opportunities for forward-looking, ambitious, qualified individuals. In these environments, higher-level personal qualities are required for success and advancement, Within the context of the definitions of a secretary, as developed by the Professional Secretaries International and as used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, specific personal traits are desirable; namely, the exercise of initiative and judgment; the ability to interpret requests; the implementation of action-decisions; the ability to interact with executives, managers, staff, clients, and suppliers; and the capability of working independency. These characteristics indicate that a secretary is a highly qualified person who possesses not only a mastery of office skills but also personality requisites of the highest order. A further look at the help-wanted ads supports this concept of higher-order traits.

Some frequently used adjectives and phrases to describe the kind of secretary needed are: articulate, personable, self-confident, dynamic, bright, hard-working, unflappable in deadline-paced office, and flexible team worker. The secretary who possesses the qualities just enumerated usually gets ahead and eventually occupies a position of influence and status.

A study of 120 women in the Dallas-Fort Worth area was conducted to identify elements that might determine the movement of women from secretarial to managerial positions. Each of the women in the group had started their careers as secretaries. The study, published in the January 1989 The Secretary, identified the following critical factors for upward mobility:
  • supervisory support

  • assertiveness

  • initiative

  • negotiating skills

  • formal education

  • managerial training

  • secretarial experience

  • peer support

  • mentoring patterns

  • job relocation
Mary Zimmerer in "Women in Management" {Business Education Forum, March 1991) states that if women are to be successful managers, they must 'strengthen their abilities to lead, coach, motivate, and to gain workers' commitment to the company mission." They must also develop decision-making, risk-taking, networking, and cooperative teamwork skills.

The variety and level of tasks performed by the secretary as well as the office environment directly influence job satisfaction, a human need that motivates individuals to achieve to the maximum of their ability. Job satisfaction usually means happiness with the job and a more pleasing personality.

A national survey of office environments in the United States and in Canada by Steelcase reported that U.S. office workers (69 percent) emphasize the importance of a good physical environment to be productive; yet, a greater number of their counterparts in Canada (78 percent) deem it very important. More Canadians (36 percent) share work space than U.S. workers (28 percent), Only 29 percent of Canadian office workers report the prevalence of private offices compared to 38 percent in the United States, However, 52 percent of Canadians would prefer private space compared to 61 percent for U,S. workers. This figure has de creased from 1988, however, for both groups. Air quality is also considered a workplace issue by 42 percent of the Canadian office workers as opposed to 27 percent of the U.S. workers. The question on safety practices for VDTs brought similar concern from both countries: 81 percent from Canadian office workers compared to 83 percent for U.S. workers. This is undoubtedly due to computer usage. In the United States, it is intensifying with 32 percent reporting usage of "five or more hours" each day, compared to 25 percent in 1988. In Canada, computer usage is not as widespread, and no increase in daily usage has been reported.

Seventy-two percent of Canadian office workers use a terminal, compared to 78 percent in the United States. These data indicate that to be productive, secretaries need to be comfort able in their work environments, and workplace issues need to be addressed.

One more aspect of the study that impacts job satisfaction concerns management issues. Honesty and ethics of management head the list of 10 items that were rated as very important more often than salary. These items are enumerated in descending ranked order.

These data reflect the need for individuals to feel productive, to have their abilities challenged, and to be employed by ethical management who cares about its employees.

Research tells us that one of the most important competencies for a secretary is the ability to maintain good human relations. Personnel who have pleasing personalities, are courteous, and are cooperative usually function more successfully in the open plan office designs where there is greater interaction among employees. These are also valuable qualities for harmonious working relationships in team projects. Frequently, when considering job mobility, many employers rank personal traits, congeniality, dependability, dedication, discretion, and self-assertiveness as important as skills and knowledge.


An important part of exploring secretarial careers is to investigate the functions of positions and the concomitant skills and knowledge needed to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of the job. Also, be certain to identify the higher-level skills of supervisors and managers. This information can then be used to deter mine how you will develop those skills in which you are deficient.

The individual who merely performs routine tasks that anyone with minimal skills can do is easily replaceable.

According to Patricia Fugua Alford in 'Metamorphosis of a Secretary" {The Secretary, May 1989), skills you must develop as a professional secretary are:
  • leadership ability

  • organizational skills

  • good proofreading skills

  • dependability

  • reliability

  • flexibility

  • ability to work with others

  • efficient use of office equipment

  • anticipation ability

  • leadership skills

  • a good working knowledge of the company's organizational structure
A survey of 1,102 personnel decision makers conducted by Adia Personnel Services and published in the November-December 1987 issue of The Secretary found that the following traits contribute most to success on the job:
  • good management skills

  • being results-oriented

  • ambition

  • diplomacy

  • optimism

  • seizing opportunity
Joan Burge in ''Star Performance: Do You Have What It Takes?" the Secretary, August-September 1989) sums it up nicely when she says, “The right combination of skills and attitudes is what distinguishes outstanding employees from the rest.” To develop these skills, she suggests that you continue your education, read, accept challenges, learn from coworkers, and get to know your strengths and improve on your weaknesses. Her suggestions for developing the right attitudes are to believe in yourself, to stay motivated by reading and attendance at seminars, to keep your goals in sight, to be in control of yourself, to maintain assistive outlook, and to be professional.

Finally, to get ahead in the secretarial profession, individuals who have broad skills and knowledge in information processing and who have the necessary administrative ability will be most likely to reach higher levels of responsibility in either supervisory or managerial positions.

Paths To Professional Growth

Professional growth is the key to career satisfaction. As you become involved in activities that lead to self-improvement, you become not only more valuable to your employer but a potential candidate for promotion. To realize your maximum level of abilities, you should avail yourself of every opportunity that will further develop you personally as well as your skills and knowledge. Below are some suggestions for growing professionally:
  1. Join professional organizations whose membership consists of supervisory and managerial personnel, or some other business-related group such as data processing. This will be a broadening experience because of the contacts you make in fields of business other than secretarial. During organizational meetings or seminars, you will have opportunities to share ideas with other interested members.

  2. Become involved in organizational projects that develop leadership skills.

  3. Volunteer your services in your area of expertise.

  4. Assume jobs that will give you a high visibility.

  5. Find a mentor, a high-level manager or executive who can advise and guide you. In reaching your goals, this person may also recommend you to the "right" contacts.

  6. Listen attentively to what others are saying.

  7. Become a specialist in a particular area, such as personnel evaluation.

  8. Visit equipment exhibitors and attend seminars.

  9. Read professional literature, such as Administrative Management, The Secretary, Today's Office, Sind Datamation.

  10. Seek accreditation in a profession other than secretarial, such as Certified Administrative Manager (CAM).

Professional Organizations

Through memberships in organizations, you make important contacts. Companies frequently pay membership dues for employees who join professional organizations and reimburse them for costs incurred when attending meetings and conferences. Both company and employee benefit-the worker in terms of personal and professional growth; the company, in terms of visibility and contribution to the educational process.

As an active member, you meet other individuals with similar or related interests. You also have opportunities to develop your communication and leadership skills by joining committees formed for specific tasks. From presenters at meetings who share some of their expertise with you, you broaden your horizons and learn a great deal.

You should join organizations other than secretarial for broadening experiences. You will not only add to your knowledge base but will also begin to gain visibility in the business community.

From participation in seminars and conventions, you will also gain many ideas which in turn will help you become more creative. Your association with other professionals will enhance your professional growth in terms of knowledge, understanding of trends in business, and managerial concepts.

In Chapter 4, you learned about the Professional Secretaries International and its certifying program, as well as about the specialized secretarial organizations, their activities and purposes. A few other professional associations that provide good opportunities for making contacts and growing professionally are as follows:
  • Association of Information Systems Professionals (AISP), an information management organization with local chapters throughout the United States. It sponsors an annual symposium and publishes valuable literature.

  • Administrative Management Society (AMS), with more than 140 chapters throughout the United States and Canada and dedicated to promoting the professional goals of persons in management. A valuable project it sponsors is the certification program for the manager, known as Certified Administrative Manager (CAM).

  • Data Processing Management Association (DPMA).

  • The Association of Records Managers and Administrators (ARMA).
All of these organizations have local chapters that you ought to investigate for membership.

Company Training Programs

Society will continue to experience greater changes during this decade than it has in the past. New job categories will emerge, job requirements will change, the way in which work is performed will vary, and where work is done will change. Companies are beginning to realize that people have become the major asset of a business enterprise; therefore, training is a critical element in a firm's operations.

As automated systems are updated, it is necessary to train employees to operate the sophisticated equipment and to learn the new procedures. Educational training programs are not new in corporate training departments. Through the years, trainers have been designing and scheduling courses offered either during company hours or after working hours. Generally, these programs are established to:
  • orient employees to company procedures

  • train employees on new equipment

  • provide opportunities for additional learning relevant to company activities

  • provide employees with job enrichment as well as new jobs and responsibilities

  • develop basic and advanced skills in areas such as English, typing, and writing

  • provide remediation for those who demonstrate a need

  • learn new skills and knowledge for upward mobility

  • prepare for career switching
Many companies offer structured training in the form of in service programs, which consist of three basic types:
  1. On-the-job training, in which beginning workers are trained at their workstations under the supervision of an experienced worker.

  2. Vestibule training (usually conducted by larger firms), in which training is given away from the work area but usually during working hours. Instruction is provided with generally the same equipment, materials, and procedures as pertain to the actual job in an on-site classroom. The objectives of this training are to raise levels of employees' skills, to orient them to company procedures, and to teach advanced skills for promotional opportunities.

  3. After-hours or off-premises training, which is taken voluntarily by employees for personal development.
It is not uncommon when budgets are tight to eliminate training programs. However, Transco Energy in Houston believes training is a necessity, not a luxury, because it contributes directly to bottom-line profits. To demonstrate that a company can earn twice the amount it spends on training, management supported a productivity improvement program in which Transco made an initial investment of $125,000. Situational leadership, group development, and One-Minute Management skills were scheduled units of instruction. Initially, a classroom setting was used, followed by application of concepts in the workplace? To be effective, however, the program must be ongoing. It must include a follow-up for reinforcement and sharing of experiences. Improvements must be monitored by focusing on specific measurable behavioral results. All employees who have the greatest effect on the operation must be involved, activity must represent long-term efforts, and the training effort must be supported by management.

Training is given in small as well as large companies. Clerical/secretarial skills training is administered in 67 percent of the companies that have 100 to 499 employees and the percentage rises as the firm increases in size.

In terms of type of industry, the public administration firms-84.1 percent-offer the most clerical/secretarial skills training, followed by health services-81.2 percent. The wholesale, retail, and trade industries offer the least amount of training-53.8 percent.

Of course, the amount of training given to each category of employee varies in each organization. Also, videotapes are being used for instruction to a greater degree than the lecture method.

A unique course for secretary-manager ''team-building" is offered by Digital Equipment Corporation. These topics are addressed: effective utilization of the secretary, job expansion, delegation of responsibilities, concerns and problems, and methods of helping one another. Groups meet, brainstorm, and share concerns, ideas, and potential problems. Together a six-week contract is drawn in which the group outlines goals the members expect to achieve.

The basic philosophy underlying such a program is the utilization of human resources more effectively and to build morale, which ultimately leads to a satisfied work force and greater productivity for the company. All of the courses fall within four basic areas: forms, procedures, office skills, and personal enrichment.

Training In Canada

A recent survey of Canadian business leaders and union leaders by Canada's Labor Market and Productivity Center (CLMPC) on productivity factors affecting competitiveness revealed that more than one-third of business respondents and nearly 40 percent of union respondents ranked education and training as more important than lower interest rates or increased spending for research and development.? Other findings indicated that labor leaders support the concept of a national training tax on corporations; that the poor reading, writing, and mathematical skills of workers are linked to low productivity; and that colleges and vocational schools do a fair job of preparing individuals for the working world while secondary schools were inadequate. A majority of business and labor leaders believe it is critical that they work together to improve training in the workplace.

Tuition-Reimbursement Programs

Many companies with training plans allow employees to enroll in college or university courses. For example, in tuition-refund plans, personnel enroll in undergraduate or graduate courses in local colleges or in continuing education classes, which have been one of the fastest growing educational areas. The adult segment of the population usually registers in continuing education courses to update skills, as a refresher, or for professional development.

Payment for education outside company programs falls under two general categories: partial or full reimbursement. Policies vary greatly from firm to firm, some requiring that the course be job-related and others that a grade of C or better be earned. Some companies reimburse employees based on actual grade received; others pay a stipulated amount for a course at a college and a lesser sum for a course at a non-accredited institution or professional school. Still other institutions share the tuition and registration expenses. Many companies, however, do reimburse employees for total course expenditures if completed successfully.

The bottom line of continuing education is professional growth with the potential for upward mobility. Company training programs are usually beneficial to both employee and employer in terms of productivity, loyalty, skills, and knowledge.


Traditionally, men automatically formed groups for the purpose of support and sharing information. Today, women are forming networks to combat isolation and to learn more about business tactics. Career women organize to get ahead in the business world by networking. They share ideas, exchange career information, and receive moral support in the pursuit of their careers. Women have formed special groups for the purpose of helping one another gain self-confidence, become assertive, acquire knowledge, earn more money, and develop clout. Members are linked as part of a communications network. In such a group, you gain the emotional support to pursue your goals. You also become more visible in the business community, sharing personal experiences with others.

You realize that you are not alone. In effect, the network is the vehicle through which you will be exposed to contacts and information that will help you grow.

When you network, you are developing contacts with individuals who might be helpful in your career. To benefit from such a group, you should abide by the following principles:
  • Keep organized records of contacts-name, address, and telephone number.

  • Be a good listener, ask questions, and show interest.

  • Give as well as receive information.

  • Build confidence by assessing your strengths.

  • Show respect to others.

  • Be aware of what is happening in your firm and in the field.
Networking, according to the literature, should help you believe in yourself, which is the first step towards success. This technique has been adopted by numerous women in many occupations all over the country.
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