Saturday, March 08, 2008

Where Have All The Secretaries Gone?

I never thought I would feel sentimental for good ol' Secretaries Day!

It's bad enough that secretary was deemed too limiting a word and replaced with the obfuscatory yet tolerable administrative assistant. But while I wasn't paying attention, it changed again -- this time to administrative professional. Apparently, the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) is to blame:

IAAP defines administrative professionals as "individuals who are responsible for administrative tasks and coordination of information in support of an office related environment and who are dedicated to furthering their personal and professional growth in their chosen profession."
That's bull. You can't just make a term mean whatever you want it to mean. The critical "support" element is not inherent in the term administrative professional. By any normal definition (i.e., not the one promulgated by the IAAP), the term administrative professional is so vague that it would include administrators as well. Isn't a professional who administers something an administrative professional? Of course, National Secretaries Day was established to honor assistants, not bosses. By renaming it Administrative Professionals Day/Week®*, the IAAP just confuses everyone.

The more I read on the IAAP's site, the more I dislike the organization. For example, the IAAP belittles secretaries of the past with this self-serving description of how duties have "evolved," which supposedly justifies the renamed "holiday." I have a hard time believing that secretaries never fulfilled any of the duties in the "Now" column, just as I doubt that many of today's "administrative professionals" do everything described in that column. This "evolution" is just a function of downsizing anyway -- everyone in the workplace wears more hats than before.

The IAAP provides a FAQs page about Administrative Professionals Week. Oddly enough, the questions are not all answered, so I'll provide my own answers in italics:

  • Who qualifies as an administrative professional? Anyone we say; it's our definition.

  • Why was the event’s name changed from "Secretaries Week"? Because we changed the name of our organization in 1998.

  • Should my secretary feel slighted by the change? No, but he/she might not like our "evolution" press release, and not just if he/she is a creationist.

  • What is an appropriate gift of appreciation for busy assistants? We recommend giving them memberships in the IAAP.
Before the hate mail comes in, I want to make clear that I like secretaries or whatever you want to call them, and I have no problem with giving them recognition. My criticism is directed only toward the goofiness of the IAAP.

* I also have a problem with this being a registered trademark of the IAAP (scroll to bottom of this page). Any "holiday" that is trademarked doesn't belong in the greeting card aisle (notice that the store chose not to display the "®" in blatant violation of the IAAP's trademark claim, and if you look closely, apparently administrative professionals has not yet been translated into Spanish).

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