Breaking the stigma: why the executive assistant role isn’t a “woman’s job”.
Despite much progress over the years, a stigma is still attached to specific roles in the business world, particularly those seen as “women’s jobs.”
This is the case with the role of the executive assistant. Too often, businesses view the role of EA as a traditional secretary-type role, where a female employee assists a male business leader, making him look good while taking none of the credit for herself.
According to this view, the EA job is seen as less important than other company roles — sometimes even as a stepping stone to a “better,” less gendered role.
In 2022, however, this isn’t the case. Successful executive assistants are vital strategic partners in the success of a growing business. As such, the role can be incredibly demanding and challenging. But also very rewarding.
So why do so many people still see this position as a “woman’s job”? And what can be done to break down these gender stereotypes?
Why we should change the narrative around the Executive Assistant role
According to Zippia Career Experts, over 353,903 executive assistants are currently employed in the United States. Additionally, 86.9% of all executive assistants are women, while 13.1% are men.
In the UK, the split is even more dramatic, with 94% of people in business support roles identifying as female and only 6% as male.
While many talented women are working as EAs, it’s clear that much of society still thinks of this work as a “woman’s job” — and that’s not great. Sometimes these gender stereotypes are even written into job descriptions or ads for EA positions, i.e., advertising a position as “Assistant to the Chairman” and showing a picture of a young woman assisting an older man at the office.
But it’s essential to change the narrative around who can be an EA. Because the truth is, anyone can and should do the job – regardless of their gender.
In a world where the demand for virtual executive assistants is increasing rapidly (41% from 2019-2020 alone), breaking down gender stereotypes in the industry will allow businesses to attract more candidates and provide companies with a wider range of perspectives and experiences, leading to better decision-making.
Also, acknowledging that men can excel in this role could lead more business leaders to respect the vital contributions all executive assistants (including women) make to the success of their organizations.
This could lead to more career opportunities for executive assistants of any gender than are traditionally available.
If the EA position is elevated to the height it deserves, everyone will benefit from higher pay and respect, with proper recognition for their capabilities and contributions.
The benefits of less gender stereotyping in our industry are clear: a wider talent pool, increased diverse perspectives, and more recognition for the EA role.
What it’s like to be a male executive assistant
Are you a man considering entering the executive assistance profession but worried about gender bias? If so, it might help to hear from two male EAs who work at Headroom.
When asked what it was like to work in a female-dominated industry with strong gender stereotypes, former EA Mike (now a Business Development Manager) said:
“…I was quite nervous about the opinion of especially members (executives) regarding having a male EA. The funny thing is, up until that point, I never expected the EA industry to be so female-dominant. I absolutely stayed away from using the word secretary and really saw the role as being a sparring partner of an entrepreneur. It turned out not even one of my members even thought about the fact that I was a male EA.”
That doesn’t mean he didn’t always face scrutiny, though.
“When colleagues or friends used the word secretary, I was really disappointed and always explained that what I do is much more than old-fashioned secretary work.”
Mike says his work as an EA has helped him excel in his new role as a Business Development Manager.
“Onboarding new members is so much easier when you know exactly what service you are offering. Especially because Headroom is a Service to Business market and is not as tangible…It is not always easy to explain the EA services to someone who has never used it…therefore, the better I explain to them what to expect, the better the match and collaboration.”
David, a remote EA for Headroom, says, “Being an executive assistant is a women’s job? I have the freedom to work remotely, manage my own day and help other people. And besides that, I am learning something new every day.”
His tips for any aspiring male EAs are: “Go for it! You will find out for yourself that it is a very nice and interesting job, where you can learn and develop yourself a lot. You’ll learn from several professionals and have a closer look at many different kinds of businesses.”
How Headroom addresses gender bias in the EA profession
At Headroom, we are aware of the gender bias in the EA profession and have implemented several initiatives to fight against it, such as :
- Using gender-neutral language in our company communications and job postings
- Prioritizing inclusion and diversity in the recruitment process
- Equalizing parental and partner leave for both our US and EU
- Providing training and development opportunities for all our EAs, regardless of gender
- Celebrating the successes of all of our EAs, regardless of gender
Samora, Headroom Talent Acquisition Specialist, says:
” I’ve been matching personal assistants for the past decade and I’ve noticed a big change in gender when it comes to being one. Yes, women are known to multitask and be great at project management. But men have proven to have the same skills!
At Headroom Assistance we’ve just onboarded a few new male colleagues and oh! How we love to see a change in percentage to keep it more balanced between both genders.’’
Conclusion: Executive Assistance isn’t a “woman’s job”
There is still a lot of work to be done to break the stigma surrounding the EA role being seen as a “woman’s job.” However, at Headroom, we are committed to equality and inclusion for all of our EAs, regardless of gender. We believe that by taking these steps, we can help pave the way for a more inclusive and diverse EA industry.