What's it like being a male Executive/Personal Assistant?
Let’s begin with a simple question, “when you think of an Executive/Personal Assistant, what’s their gender?” Is it a male or female? Let me guess, it’s probably a female. Right?
And you’d be well within your rights to guess as females make up 94% of all EA/PAs.
Let me ask you another question, “does this figure surprise you?”
Personally, I find it astounding that only 6% of EA/PAs are male. I mean, why and how is this the case? What is it like being in that minority?
I reached out to some incredible trailblazers within that 6% to get the inside track on what it is really like.
“Did/do you face any stigma being a male EA/PA?”
Scott Chapman, Personal Assistant at The Guardian
“In my career so far, I’ve been lucky enough not to face any stigma being a male PA. Having said that, because the PA/EA industry is predominantly female, I have had the odd remark about ‘oh isn’t that a girls job?’ or ‘oh do you just spend your day getting coffee and lunches?’ but that’s based on the incorrect and ancient stereotypes of a 1960s secretary, sitting behind a typewriter! In my experience, I’ve found that being a male in this industry has actually benefited me. Because male assistants are quite rare in various industries, I think being male already makes you stand out before people have even met you. It also means that there’s some balance bought into that particular company as the majority of their assistants would be female.”
Will Graham, Personal Assistant at Liz Lean PR
“Oh yes, sadly I did - and from some surprising culprits! I was once told, by a recruitment company, 'this is a girl's industry and we won't put your CV forward for this role'. The company in question even had the name 'girl' in their title, which is surely as close to gender discrimination as it comes!
So many people say that it's unusual to find a male PA, and this is true, but it is far from being a traditionally female role. The PA was always a male role, during times when being at work was a male predominance. After WWII, when so many men lost their lives, the roles that had been all (or mostly) male, suddenly took a big shift and became female. For some unknown reason, this has remained for the PA, and society fails to know the history of why it came about.”
Craig Bryson, Executive Assistant at Korn Ferry
“I had started to work in PwC’s c-suite in 2009. It was the first time that a male EA had worked for a partner. It was surprising how many people thought I was a manager at the company. When I answered the phone, they asked to speak with the EA to the partner I was working for. The emails would always refer to me as ‘she’ or ‘her’ when asking for my details. It was unusual to be invited to after-work drinks and none of the female EAs would be invited.”
Tom Oxley, Personal Assistant at DHU Health Care
“I cannot say I have. The one thing that does come to mind was when I worked at Chesterfield Royal Hospital - I was a Directorate/Medical Secretary. Whilst setting up a laptop for a meeting a consultant thought I was one of the IT technicians. When I told her that I was a Medical Secretary, she was shocked. I do find the odd person telling me they hardly ever come across a male EA.”
“What made you pursue a career as a PA/EA?”
“I actually fell into the industry! I was made redundant from a previous role, working in project management for a mobile app and website development business. When it came to looking for a new role, it was really challenging and I ended up finding, interviewing and accepting a personal assistant position to the director of a small company based in Essex. I really enjoyed the role as it gave me the opportunity to really get to know people at the top of the business, get my name out there and partake in a wide variety of tasks to do with the business. It also made me realise that I could do that job on a much larger scale and at a much larger company, which eventually led me to working at the BBC and then onto the Guardian where I am today!”
“I was a partner in a design company and wanted out. A friend was PA to a top journalist and astrologer in the UK, and he was moving on. He suggested I apply - it seemed like the sort of crazy route I love, so I did! I had the experience of running a company, being savvy and wearing 38 different 'hats' at work, so this seemed like the perfect move and mix for me. It paid off.... more, in part, to my birth chart than my skills, but I was there for 13 years! This role made it 100% clear to me that I love assisting a principal; getting their life in order and the thrill of the journey makes the result worthwhile - no matter how much hard work!”
“I started as a temp, supporting a team at PwC in 2007. I was then asked to PA for a manager and slowly moved up the ranks. It was not a career I was pursuing, it just happened naturally, and I have not looked back since.”
“Since childhood, I always wanted to work in an office...I don't know why. I always liked the smart looking businesspeople with briefcases etc. Whilst at school I chose to study 'Office Studies' which confirmed my career choice. From there I went onto college to study an LCCI Diploma in Business and Personal Secretary Administration. During the course, we had to complete a 6-month work experience programme. I chose a local hotel...1 week before the placement was due to commence my placement was cancelled. I was reassigned a placement at the local hospital within their Education Department. When my college course and placement were coming to an end the Education Centre Manager came to me and asked me if I'd be interested in applying for an admin job within their department. I applied, got the job...the rest is history. My secretarial/admin career within the healthcare setting commenced. From there I worked my way up through a variety of departments (both corporate and medical) and within different healthcare settings. My role as a Medical Secretary was on a temporary contract. During that time the hospital implemented a consultation of the administration team. As I was on a temporary contract, I wasn't eligible to apply until all permanent contracts were in post therefore, I decided to look for work elsewhere. I applied for a job at DHU as a Clinical Secretary - it was for a small organisation working for 3 senior nurses. I have now been with the organisation for nearly 12 years. During that time, I have worked my way up through the organisation with my manager. As she progressed to roles such as Head of Nursing, Director of Nursing, Director of Nursing and Quality etc. I was always promoted at her side as PA too. Over the years the organisation has supported me with training and development - I have completed my ILM and have attended several training courses. The company also pay my membership at the EPAA and the IAM of which I was awarded the level of Fellow.”
“What advice would you give any men out there looking to become an EA/PA?”
“Don’t write it off as a viable role/career and pay no attention to stereotypes. Think about what you can bring the role and what the role can offer you. As I’ve mentioned, you can get fantastic exposure to other areas of the business and it’s a great networking opportunity. In this world of gender equality, male assistants are becoming increasingly talked about so the more of us there are, the better!”
“Male or female, I would just say for them to go in with their head held high, be clear about what you want and why you want it. Gender is not the key in life, ability and connection are. If gender is keeping you from getting that role, then the problem is bigger than you realise - and it probably is from the other side. Never give up on yourself! Take a breath and choose your fights, you will find the right role, in the right place and be able to grow - but don't expect to fly before you can run or walk.”
“I would suggest reading Adam Fidler’s 2016 ‘The Executive Assistant Manifesto’, this puts it into a nutshell. There is no longer short-hand and arranging meetings. There is so much more to being an EA. I am always asked if I know any male EAs, as a few partners are now looking.”
“In 2019 I believe male EA's are becoming more accepted and not judged. I would just say be yourself - personal branding is essential.”
“What do you think could be done to redress the gender imbalance of EA/PAs?”
“This is a really interesting question and I think there’s a lot to discuss here! I think a big thing to do with it is the term ‘assistant’. For some reason, it has female connotations and I think this puts off a lot of male applicants. I’ve heard of a company which calls their EAs/PAs ‘Business Admin Managers’ or something along those lines, which highlights how varied the role can be and the level of responsibilities that assistants have. Apart from that, I think more networking events involving male assistants would be a great way to attract interest to the industry and for people to find out a bit more about what actually goes into being an assistant!”
“Recruitment companies need to stop allowing companies to push this unhealthy agenda for a female PA and support staff. Voices need to be heard and people need to speak up. I think that gender balance needs to be a bigger conversation across society, and we need to think about this as a balance - not as a redressing of X or Y. We, as a nation, need to think about the job, the role, not the preconceived idea of something. Failing that, an all-out strike could help... joking! (ish!)”
“My opinion would be to firstly, stop organisers arranging events with images of Wonder Women, pink and fluffy networking events, this should be gender neutral. Having a stand promoting this role at high schools, universities and colleges. This would help spread the word and change the perception of this job at an earlier stage. While I was at EPAA, we had put together an all-male group discussion, which was filmed. (a copy of this is on my LinkedIn profile, with articles from Financial Times and The Sun) This would help with more information. We were campaigning #Notjustagirlsjob – finding male EAs of high profiled executives to come and speak at gender neutral events.
Did you know that during the second world war, men were EAs and the women were typists/ secretaries? The men were then called up to the frontline, and the women automatically filled the EA roles. This has never changed since.”
I would like to again reiterate my gratitude to each of my contributors for sharing their stories and thoughts on what could be perceived as a sensitive topic.
And to my readers, I would love to hear your opinion. Do you think there is a stigma attached to being a male EA/PA? Do you have any suggestions around what can be done to redress the gender imbalance?