The New Secretary: Longer Title, More Responsibility, Same Salary

Secretaries pick up much of management slack left by departing middle managers, as companies continue to trim down staff

AS companies continue to phase out the layer of middle managers, who gets much of their work?

The secretaries, says Amelia Barclay, the international president of Professional Secretaries International (PSI). PSI, based in Kansas City, Mo., is the world's largest association of executive secretaries, with 27,000 members in the United States and Canada.

``Ten years ago, the secretary was looked at as the person who knew how to use the computer because that was a relatively new technology,'' says Kathy Mennen, director of the Administrative Development Institute, a Holland, Mich.-based company that provides training for office professionals.

``But now they have gone beyond ... being the `software wiz' to taking on management duties, especially in light of corporate restructuring,'' Ms. Mennen says.

Secretaries constitute the largest segment of those who work in an office; currently, more than 4.2 million secretaries are employed in the US, according to US Department of Labor estimates. Secretaries today typically handle more administrative and technical duties, says Ms. Barclay, a Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) who has been in the secretarial profession for 30 years.

Expanded duties

Since 1990, 71 percent of the secretaries in the US have taken on management duties, including hiring, training, and supervising personnel, according to a recent survey of PSI members by the Administrative Development Institute.

Secretaries also have increased their use of personal computers and a wide range of software applications: 95.4 percent of secretaries use word processing software versus 71 percent in 1987, a PSI survey finds.

Why are secretaries making the cut over middle managers? Money is the biggest factor, Mennen says. Since secretaries are paid less than middle managers, it is less expensive for a company to keep a secretary.

Secretaries ``are able to perform the type of work that a middle manager does, and ... at the same time do the specialized duties,'' says Kate Gjaja, academic dean at the Katherine Gibbs School in Boston, one of the top training schools in the country for executive assistants.

While some secretaries are being promoted, few are recognized and rewarded for their management work, Mennen says. Of the secretaries who have management duties, only 36 percent were promoted, and only 28 percent were made part of the management team, the Administrative Development Institute finds.

Low pay is another discrepancy, Mennen says. While the average salary of PSI members in 1992 was $27,147 compared with $20,640 in 1987 - a 6.3 annual increase over five years - secretaries say they are not adequately compensated for their increased responsibilities.

Forty-two percent of those surveyed say changes in duties have not resulted in higher pay. Many attribute the low pay to the fact that so few men enter the profession, Barclay says. Only about 100 of PSI's 27,000 members are men.

Little monetary reward

New responsibilities have brought new job titles, as offices slowly phase out the word ``secretary.'' These workers are now classified as assistants, administrative coordinators, or office managers. Barclay says she sees the new job descriptions as ``part of the reward for this change in responsibilities.''

Others say that the new titles are part of an effort to attract more people to the profession.

``If you're an administrative secretary or you're an administrative assistant, you're going to do exactly the same thing,'' says Diane Murphy (CPS), president of the Boston chapter of PSI.

Between 1992 and 2005, 386,000 secretarial jobs will be added to the work force, according to the Labor Department. Yet the number of secretaries entering the profession has been steadily declining, Mennen says.

Shortage of well-qualified

``I don't think that there is a shortage of people who will work in these positions,'' she says. ``But there is a shortage of well-qualified people who have all of the skills necessary to handle the duties that are involved in the changing role of the secretary.''

* April 24-30 marks Professional Secretaries Week.

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