Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Except the Admin

Throughout my career, I've lived under the caveat, "except the admin."

What I mean by this is, I go to meetings about employee engagement or corporate structure, or participate in training and so on geared to the widest possible swath of a given employee population - and, almost always, the target as envisioned by committee can be defined as "everyone who works here from execs to analysts - except the admins."  Administrative support is always just to one side of whatever is being discussed, always just outside given parameters of training, discussion, expectation, what have you.  I don't think I've ever even SEEN a performance evaluation which relevantly expresses the nature of my job nor provides for development.

It doesn't particularly bug me, but I have brought it up before at meetings throughout the years - "you are interested in diversity but there's always this 'except the admin' configuration" - "this training is not relevant to my job, but there are things that are which are not addressed and should be" - "there is no on-boarding process for admins" - and on and on.

April marks Administrative Professionals Month, and we just completed Women's History Month and right before that was Black History Month.  During each of these months every year, there are voices saying "I'm more than the month (or even the day) you've assigned me for relevance" but these are always ignored.  The fact that Women and Admins fall right next to each other isn't lost on me either - it's no accident that every year when I attend Administrative Professionals events, if there's a man involved at all, he's probably a speaker and not anyone employed in "assisting" anyone for a living and by title.

So it is perhaps odd - and it is certainly maddening - that throughout my entire life, whenever I have heard a story about equal pay for women (happy April Fool's everyone: this is a relevant topic after all) *I* have mentally pronounced the marginalizer:  "Except the admin."

Women don't get paid as much as men in comparable positions.

Admins don't get paid as much as ANYBODY, period.  Ever.

Again, I signed up for it, and I am not starving.  But it's a galling and absolute fact that my chosen profession is seen as less "professional" than others, across the board.  I didn't get an MBA, I didn't go to Wharton, I don't travel for meetings (indeed, if  I can help it, I don't participate in meetings at all except to implement them for those poor souls who must).  I bring, in short, less "value" to an employer.  I worked at one place once, where it was all but explicit that admins were nothing but "OVERHEAD" and were a painful necessity.  This was very heavily part of the office culture.

I don't make $.80 on any man's dollar.  I make $.60 to ANYONE else's dollar.

One of the aspects of being an admin is that, in many jobs, we're the ones who know what everyone's pay is.  And I've never known anyone in any group ever who made even within a 20% margin of as little as I did.  Indeed, it's often as much as a 50% jump between my solitary salary and the next-lowest-paid member of a team.  There is nothing whatever unusual in that.

All this is not to complain, oddly enough, that I don't get paid what I should.  If I have a complaint, it is that people imagine what I do is "menial."

I actually ran across that word just this past week, on LinkedIn.  Some frothy article or other about job seekers - and a commenter who listed herself as an EVP, telling the supposedly heart-touching story of her youthful executive aspirations, subsequent wife-dom and widowhood, and how when she came back into the workforce she had only "menial" CSR and admin work for options - oh, but (let the music swell now) she told the world to stuff that MENIAL work and now she's an EVP.

People like this, who believe my work is "menial", perpetuate a classist and heirarchical culture in the workplace which is entirely inappropriate to the actual efficient running of ANY organization.  Without us "menials", our friend the EVP - and any company as a whole - would not survive for one day.  There isn't an industry, service, nor office which can be run without administration.

One of the difficulties I had in leaving my last job was the degree to which my team understood and valued what I provided for them, objectively and subjectively as well.  Several of them were in the habit of calling me "Goddess" - which might be a patronizing joke in some quarters, but which was a clear marker of their deference to my armament in service of their goals.  One of my executives happily called me Madam Secretary when he realized my relationship to the term, and it was a mutually agreed-upon title of respect.  He even looked for a long time one April, trying to find a card for Admin's Day or Week or whatever, that had the word on it.  "Do you know how hard it is to find a card with 'secretary' on it instead of admin?"

I still have the card.  I still use the gifts he gave me, too.  They were as much appreciated as I was.

I've had jobs where I wasn't given recognition and appreciation.  One, in fact, I lost on March 31 some years back.  I always remember it as the lousiest April Fool's joke ever - "they even got the DATE wrong."  But in fact I was glad to be out of there; I'd been looking for months before they fired me.

And even there, one of my bosses paid me a personal visit one day, to express his outrage that I'd been laid off.  Many of us had, but to my knowledge I was the only one he reached out to like that.

What I do is important.  What I do:  I really love.  You can have your paychecks and your meetings and your TRAVEL, all you non-"menial" types who don't get what I do at all (and who think there's something wrong with me for doing it).  People like that I am immensely grateful I don't have to work with.

The people I *do* work with are still learning just what I have to give.  I'm learning my way around what I can provide and even improve.  In the end, it's a nice time to celebrate my little "month" (or week or day, or whatever anyone gives and/or calls it).  The weather's just getting warmed up ... and so am I ...


Mojourner said...

Re. relative pay: Nice of you to not whine about making too little. I often wonder if the problem is too many "above"-the-admin types making too much. Maybe we need a maximum wage.

Oh, and Happy Secretary's Month!

DLM said...

Agreed, but only for execs. Teachers, gubmint workers, admins: the sky's the limit? Deal?

Okay, so GET ON IT willya? :)

(Thank you. Hee.)