Male Secretaries: A Minority but No Longer a Novelty
While in high school in the 1950s, Finley A. Lanier Jr. started planning for his dream career by taking business classes and typing courses. After graduation, and following a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, he enrolled in a business college and considered himself lucky when, in 1968, he landed a position in the word processing department at the Shermin-Williams Company in Cleveland.
Today, B years later, Lanier is a valued professional secretary for the international paint company, holding the position of lead coordinator in the wholesale marketing department. He takes pride in his work, in his job, in his profession. And he is not at all uncomfortable with the fact that he is a man working in wh. was for many years a traditionally female job.
He says that when people call Ms boss' office for the first time," They are surprised at first that a male is in this position." But, Lanier adds, "They quickly become adjusted to the situation and continue with their business.
Marvin C. Crawford Jr. is administrative secretary in the office of management information systems at Howard University Hospital, where he has been employed for 11 years. the has been with the university for 18 years.) Honored as the hospitals April "Employee of the Month," the North Carolina native is responsible for coordinating various departmental activities and providing administrative support.
Aba Nsia Opare, interim director of the hospitals management information systems departrnent, says Crawford is a professional who truly strives to "paint his picture with excellence." She adds: "He's an extremely proficient, committed, dedicated person who pays a lot of attention to details." Opare says Crawford is the first male secretary with whom she has worked, and if she were ever in a position to search for another secretary, she would make sure there were some male candidates. "I've been spoiled," she says.
In New York City, Brian St. John is a secretary, or assistant, at Elektra Entertainment Group. He says that during and after an internship with Atlantic Records, Elektra's sister label, he put "long hours and worked extra hard to show how capable, competent and diligent a worker" he is. His effort paid off when he was offered his current job as assistant to Richard Nash, senior Nice president, urban promotions, at Elektra Entertainment Group.
"Music always has been a passion of mine," says St. John, who wanted an entry-level position into the music industy. It was because of my hard work and dedication to my job that I was awarded the position I have today."
Lanier, Crawford and St. John are among the Black men who earn a living doing what was often considered a woman's job: being a secretary. According to 1995 U.S. Labor Department figures, there are 3,361,000 secretaries in the United States, and 1.5 percent of them are men. Officials of Professional Secretaries International (PSI), the "association for office professionals," say that of the organizations 27,000 members in more than 700 chapters in the U.S. and Canada, less than I percent are men. (PSI has 40,000 members and affiliates, worldwide.)
Elnor Hickman, executive secretary for the director of the Legal Assistance Foundation in Chicago and the first Black president of PSI (1994-95), says the number of male secretaries is small, but it is holding pretty constant.
"More men are coming into the profession in computer-related positions," says Hickman. She adds that responsibilities and titles of secretaries have changed. Shorthand is almost a lost art, taking phone messages is often no longer necessary and some managers do their own typing. Now those in the profession face the challenges of technology and more varied duties."
Rick Stroud, communications director for PSI, agrees. He says that in todays offices, computer-literate support staff do a lot more than type mem os and take dictation. "Research shows that today's secretaries operate more like 'information managers' rather than coffee-fetching gofers," he says. "Successful secretaries have adapted to the Information Age by expanding their job skills. They realized long ago that knowledge is power." He also says that the average annual salary. Of PSI members is about $27,000, though some secretaries on the East West coasts make as much as $50,000 a year.
Stroud also points out that women were not the first secretaries. Men were. In ancient times on through the Middle Ages, men were the ones who developed shorthand, took notes, handied correspondence and administrative duties, and otherwise assisted the leaders as confidants and trusted agents. From the 1960s to the late 1980s, male secretaries often were promoted to prestigious positions. The terms private," and "personal" added prestige. It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution and the development of the typewriter during the 1860s and 1870s that women began to make inroads into stenographic positions. By the 1930s, the number of men in secretarial positions began to diminish.
Throughout most of this century up until today, women have been predominant in secretarial and clerical positions. However, there are a few men, like Lanier and Crawford, who have been in the profession for a long time and wouldn't dream of doing anything else. Lanier says he started preparing for the secretarial profession in high school, and even served as a secretary while in the Marines. The profession was intriguing since very few males sought entrance, and I wanted to secure a future with skills that would be helpful in landing a job," he says.
"I have found it to be rather challenging and stressed at times. Serving others and being on top of things and networking with counterparts are only a few of the rewards achieved from this career. When one can take pride in the accomplishments in a days work and know that as a result you have added a dimension to the situation, this really is gratifying."
Lanier says his career allows him quality time for his family and church activities. His wife, a sergeant with the Cleveland Police Department, is very supportive of my decision to be in this line of work," he says. Lanier, who has a daughter in college and two adult stepdaughters, is minister of music at his church.
Lanier also finds time to be active in Professional Secretaries International. For two terms he has served as president of the Downtown Cleveland Chapter and now is corresponding secretary for the Ohio Division Board of Directors of PSI. He travels extensively promoting the secretarial profession and attends numerous seminars and conferences.
Marvin Crawford, president of the Howard University Chapter of PSI, says his job is very rewarding. "I have learned a lot about administrative policy and have been treated with the utmost respect," he says. I always get positive comments from people whom I come into contact with, and they aren't really surprised that I'm going this tm of work,,, he says. They usually say to me, You are the one running the office.'"
Edmond R. Valpoort, an executive associate (secretary) in the strategic planning department at American Express in New York City, says he is often told, You have the right personality for tws job." He says he interviewed rigorously" to land the job at American Express three years ago, and he feels it is a great stepping-stone to his dream job of being an events planner. I always wanted a job with diverse functions," Valpoort says. "Starting off as secretary certainly gave me the chance to show my organizational skills."
Like other male secretaries and assistants interviewed, Valpoort says he has not experienced jealousy or envy from his female colleagues. He adds. "If i got anything remotely close to preferential treatment, its the result of a job well done." In fact, Valpoort recently was promoted to the position of coordinator within Ids department at American Express.
Byron Ward, an assistant in the publicity department at Atlantic Records in Los Angeles, says he has noticed no particular preferential treatment based on gender in Ids office. I believe that you get treated according to how you present yourself and interact with others," he says. If you're the type of person who's always on the ball and has everything in order, people will know that you are intelligent and can handle anything that's thrown your way. I believe that this builds respect among your peers and your superiors."
Ward, who decided before earning a degree from Baylor University that he wanted to pursue a career in the music industry, realized, as did Brian St. John, that one of the quickest ways to gain entree into the competitive business is through a job as an assistant or secretary. He and others say that male assistants in the music industry are not rare. There are so many people who want to get in the business that you get in where you can," says Ward. "It just so happens that being an assistant is where most people start their music careers."
He also adds that he gets along well with the female secretaries and assistants with whom he works. Its almost like they're my sisters in the fact that I would try my best to help them, and I know they'd do the same for me," Ward says. There's no jealousy between us at all."
When asked if he has experienced jealousy or envy from female peers, Finley Lanier says: "I feel that communication is the key to anything. If one can talk it out and not assume, what was assumed can be corrected and a situation will not mushroom. I try to be kind to my counterparts, and being basically the only male member of the Professional Secretaries Internationals Downtown Cleveland Chapter, I get a chance to network with other femalel secretaries on many issues." Lanier adds that on his job, he does not feel that he is treated differently because he is a man. I don't feel that I get any preferential treatment," says Lanier, because he who has completed his tasks-and on time-gets the approval of the supervisor."
While most of the male secretaries interviewed say they notice no difference in how they are treated, one in particular says that at his job he feels there are certain things he is not asked to do because he is a male rather than a female secretary. As a male secretary, its afl about selling yourself and your abilities," he says. People look at you and think that you can make administrative decisions but question your ability to perform the simplest of tasks.... As a man working for another man, I think its going to take some time for him to fully adjust and feel confident that men can perform their duties in this particular position as well as a woman would."
And some male secretaries feel that the media in general have overlooked them. Even during Secretaries Week, they advertise gifts that one would give to a female," says Crawford. I am aware that a lot of men have a problem or hang-up with having a male secretary because of their, macho, image."
Regardless, these men are dedicated to their jobs. I strive to be a perfectionist, though I know that nobody is perfect," says Crawford.
Lanier adds that to be successful, a secretary must stay out of office politics, avoid arguments and remember that you are there to serve a purpose and to get the job done. That is the only thing that matters," he says.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Male Secretaries: A Minority but No Longer a Novelty. Contributors: Not available. Magazine title: Ebony. Volume: 51. Issue: 10 Publication date: August 1996. Page number: 90+. © 1999 Johnson Publishing Co. COPYRIGHT 1996 Gale Group.
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