Bosses and Secretaries: Profiles of Discrimination
Wendt, Ann C., Slonaker, William M., Review of Business
The roles of boss and secretary are two of the most common working relationships portrayed by the media. Who can forget the banker Mr. Drysdale and his secretary Miss Hathaway in the "Beverly Hillbillies," or Mr. Tudball and Mrs. Wiggins in the "Carol Burnett Show"? Perhaps the longest running TV boss-secretary relationship is that of attorney Perry Mason and his secretary Della Street. The relationships have been variously cast, and secretaries have not always been favorably portrayed. For example, Miss Hathaway and Mrs. Wiggins were frequently belittled, assigned inappropriate tasks, and dominated by their bosses. Conversely, Della Street was valued for her knowledge, assumed important responsibilities, and was an integral part of the legal team. The latter appears to be more consistent with the present boss-secretary relationship.
Qualified secretaries are scarce, and they are seeking recognition for their work, equal treatment, and participation on the management team (Eisman, 1990). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 550,000 secretaries will be needed annually throughout the 1990's, but that only 200,000 qualified applicants will be available (1987). While there is a dearth of statistical projections of the number of bosses, their roles are certain to change. "Nearly a million U.S. managers with salaries of more than $40,000 each lost their jobs last year" (Overman, 1991). For those managers who remain, "permanent white water" is the metaphor that Peter Vaill uses to describe the future environment for leaders and managers (1989). Caught in such turbulence, Vaill summons managers to remain in touch with the ideas and energies of those around them. As the separate roles of boss and secretary evolve into members of the management team, employers should be concerned about practices that adversely impact on that team's performance. Unfortunately, employment discrimination continues to be one of those adverse impacts. In a 1990 survey, 29 percent of the responding employers admitted that employment discrimination is a problem in their organizations (Towers Perrin). Another 1990 survey found that one-fourth of American workers reported experiencing some form of employment discrimination (Samborn, 1990, 1). Only 10 percent of those workers took action by filing a formal claim, under oath, with a regulatory agency. These formal claims are the best sources of information about discrimination in the work place. In response to such alarming findings, the authors began their Ohio Employment Discrimination Studies. This report from those studies focuses on the employment discrimination experiences of bosses and secretaries.
The Ohio Employment Discrimination Studies include 2,500 cases randomly drawn from the files of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission during the years 1985-90. More than 96 percent of these cases were employment discrimination claims filed under federal (85%) or state (15%) laws. Men filed 48 percent of the claims (about 6% fewer than their representation in the work force), and women filed 52 percent of the claims (about 6% more than their representation in the work force.) The Ohio work force participation rates mirror those of the United States. Ohio ranks seventh in employment and the claimants held jobs in over 300 of the standard occupational classifications (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1980). They filed claims against all types of public and private sector employers and their sizes ranged from micro-businesses to Fortune 500 firms. The results of this study are generalizable to the work force populations of Ohio and the United States.
Claims filed by Bosses and by Secretaries were extracted from the full database. Fifty-seven Secretaries were readily identified by their occupational classification. Bosses were not so easily extracted. However, by carefully analyzing all claims filed by top and upper middle managers, the authors identified those claimants whose job responsibilities generally include the direct supervision of a secretary. …