Male Secretaries: A Minority but No Longer a Novelty

Ebony, August 1996 | Go to article overview

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. …

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