A sign of the times

Opinion piece from PALife, for the IAM campaign “what people are saying about administrators”.

The role of the PA has come a long way since its early stages, where assistants were ‘chained to their desks’ so to speak and left to the shorthand.

Now the PA is a powerful figurehead who is often in charge of some of the most crucial business matters in a company, whether that is allocating enough budget for different departments or finding the ideal location for the company’s next away day, it all falls on the head of the PA.

Recently, PA Life published an opinion piece by Jess Gardiner, founder and editor-in-chief of The Assistant Room, where she highlighted just how the role of the PA has evolved. She said: “What does it mean to be a PA? We’re no longer just the right hand to the people at the top. We’re powerful business partners, company ambassadors and the people who have the ability to instigate change within the companies we dedicate ourselves to.”

This really struck a chord with me, showing just how far the role of a PA has changed and truly how powerful they are. Without them, a company wouldn’t be able to conduct business or deliver messages, and who knows what the boss’ diary would look like without them.

50 years ago, a job advert for a personal assistant may have looked heavily admin-related, with shorthand, diary management and ad hoc projects taking up a lot of their time, but now an assistant tends to be the voice of the company.

And this also seems to ring true with many readers of PA Life. We launched a survey online to find out just how much power the PA has, and it turns out an assistant leads the way when it comes to booking travel, corporate hospitality and looking after the annual budget. For example, we discovered that 84 per cent of our readers, a mixture of PAs, EAs, VAs, secretaries and office managers, have purchasing power within their company. And of those who do not have purchasing power, 59 per cent revealed that they have some influence over senior buyers in the business, proving a PA is an integral part to any business. Meanwhile, 86 per cent of our respondents stated that they book corporate hospitality and 69 per cent said that they have purchasing power over their company’s business travel. They really are in control of it all.

Proven to be trustworthy business partners, the role of an assistant is exciting, diverse, invigorating and most of all fulfilling.

You even get the odd job advert looking for an assistant who is trained in self-defence or martial arts – it’s clear that the 21st century PA isn’t one to sit at their desks all day every day.

It’s not just the role that is adapting either; the industry has seen a shift in who is choosing to be an assistant. For example, the role of a PA has traditionally, and stereotypically, been popular with women but this has started to change. More men are opting for a career as an assistant now that they understand more about the role.

Admittedly the take-up is slow, but as we start to see more men join the industry, it’s only a matter of time before we start to see the gender divide even up.

It’s a thrilling time to be a part of the industry as we start to witness this development and progression. And I for one can’t wait to see what the future will hold. 

PAs have their say:

“The common misconception that a PA is a secretary, or vice versa, is not only short-sighted, it undermines the huge talent that each role demands. The recruitment process and industry need to recognise this. Both roles very valid, but when they’re combined, you muddy the waters irrevocably”.

Will Graham, executive assistant and active member of the Association of Celebrity Assistants

“The word of the times is: professionalise. The industry has undergone huge changes in recent years, with a focus on professionalisation. This has been both voluntary, the uptick in professional associations driving up standards, as well as a desired sense of purpose and self-belief of those doing the job and mandatory. This side caused by organisations expecting a lot more from their assistants, partly resulting from a drive to control costs, more work is being shifted to support functions. All of these changes, are great for us in the industry, it displays a shift toward higher standards, better prospects and increased development”.

Senior Financial Services EA.

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