The Members Journal: Declan Halton-Woodward, EA to Group Managing Director (Global)
How we get where we are going
There has been a lot of talk in the industry about where the EA role is going and the future of the assistant. The articles and posts usually, and correctly, predict that the EA role is evolving into more of a business manager role: we are expected to act as a Chief of Staff, manage budgets, HR matters, understand – and more importantly develop and implement – strategic objectives. But, and it’s a big but, I haven’t heard much talk about how we get there. We must ask ourselves what we need to do or change, both with ourselves and in the wider industry, in order to achieve this evolution. Below is a short list of my frank thoughts on this. Some of you may disagree, some of you may be offended, but my hope is that this will spark a conversation in our industry and thus kickstart the change we want to see.
- Cut the crap – let’s face it, there are lots of bad assistants out there; ones that give our industry a bad name. They do the bare minimum and use the position purely to boost their own ego. They don’t care about the industry, and in some cases only become an assistant to get close to the exec in the hope of fast-tracking to a management position. These people need to go, or at least be shown the correct way to behave! We can do this by encouraging our Execs to allow us to become more involved in the recruitment process: after all, we are best positioned to pick the finest assistants, probably more so than experienced HR recruiters. We should also place a higher value on mentoring. Put more time into speaking with other assistants, offering guidance and advice.
- Clearly define the difference between PA and EA once and for all – Between people, companies and industries, we all have a different idea of what each role entails: if we don’t have clarity, how can we expect outsiders to understand the role and therefore respect us. We haven’t got our act together as an industry so we look unprofessional. In my mind, a PA is a role that involves more advanced admin support and computer knowledge and are the foundation of any great team, whereas an EA does higher-level thinking, strategy, HR, marketing etc. and is more of a partner. Then you have a Private PA who helps to manage someone’s personal affairs. There is a place for all these roles in the industry, but we need to define which is which. This will then help to create a clear progression path from PA all the way up to strategic EA.
- Training – this is a hot topic at the moment because EPAA are conducting a survey for their next national campaign to increase training in the industry (big support for this!). We need to constantly learn more, go on more courses both online and in person, and try and get bigger budgets for training from HR. However, an important point here is that we should be training ourselves less on the traditional PA/EA/secretarial courses, and more on business management courses (including marketing, PR relations, international business to name a few) as this will give our Execs confidence to give us much greater responsibilities.
- Demand and deliver more – we need to actively get more involved in the business. We often go the extra mile, but are we going the extra mile when it comes to changing our roles? Our Execs won’t hand management responsibilities to us on a platter. I have a philosophy of “see a need, fill a need”. If you see something wrong or that could be improved in your organisation, ask if you can fix it, come up with a plan or project manage it. When your boss is talking about opening a new office, expanding a department or implementing a new strategy, say you’d love to get involved. Be happy to take on extra work. It’s going to take a few late nights in the office but I think it’ll be worth it.
- Men – call them what you will, but unfortunately, we live in a world where men command more respect and higher salaries than their female counterparts (that’s a whole other blog!) so if we get more men in the industry, things will change. Outsiders will see it as a more valid profession, responsibilities will increase, and so will salaries. I took part in the amazing ‘Not Just a Girl’s Job’ campaign run by EPAA which aims to achieve this, but we need to build on that and keep it going.
These are just a few of things I think our industry can do to better itself, and it starts with each of us. We have to each individually make changes to our roles so we collectively all benefit. I know so many of us are passionate about the industry, let’s harness that to affect real transformation of the role.
Journal entry by Declan Halton-Woodward EA to Group Managing Director (Global)
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