13 September 2016

The AEA: Assertive Executive Assistant

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The beep of your alarm wakes you at 6am- seemingly 5 minutes after you shut your eyes. You thumb through your emails on your phone as you down some muesli and coffee which will see you through to lunch (which you will eat at your desk). The day is a flurry of emails, memos, meetings and phone calls.

The requests come in tidal waves; “Can we reschedule our meeting even though it’s meant to be in 5 minutes?”, “Could you just rustle up an overview of this 30 page document? I don’t have time”, “Another EA is away for today, you’ll have to cover for her.”

The questions are never ‘where would you like to go with your career?’ or ‘in which areas do you feel you would like some training and development?’

Executive Assistants are predominantly female and, as a gender, we are generally less confrontational and demanding than our male counterparts. We are less likely to negotiate our wages, ask for the promotion or express ourselves when we feel we are given the short end of the stick. We are, however, more inclined to focus on the needs of others – a notion ingrained from a young age as we’re primed to be mothers and carers.

We dream of being handed that glamorous, high-paying job which is accompanied with a company car. The reality is that our boss is not going to smile kindly at us and hand us the keys to a Mercedes. EAs and PAs have to be assertive in expressing what they want and why they deserve it.

Being aware of your own personal rights is the first step to becoming assertive. You may feel you aren’t taken seriously in your role because you are ‘just’ an EA. By seeing yourself as more than ‘just’ an EA but as an executive member of staff upon whom much of the organisation’s success depends on, you will be able to acknowledge your own rights and the value you bring.

Assertive does not mean aggressive. You will walk a fine line between aggressive and passive. You may have someone pushing to get in front of your executive and you’re at the end of your tether. By respecting the needs and wants of those around you (including yourself) and being open and honest, reasonable people will have little ammunition to use against you.

Choose your extra responsibilities wisely. As the reliable backbone of your organisation, you are likely often approached with requests to take on extra projects. Consider which tasks will benefit you or your executive. If it’s a high end project which will enhance your skillset and set you apart from your colleagues, it might be worth the extra workload.

While Executive and Personal Assistants work behind the scenes, this doesn’t mean you have to be submissive. You are the gatekeeper to your executive. You are their protector, their advisor and their partner. Own your title and what it entails. Take your career into your own hands.

Claire Dowler is a Conference Producer with Akolade. She recently graduated with a double degree: a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Media and Communications Studies majoring in International Communication. Claire minored in sarcasm and puns.

A ballroom-dancer who collects salt and pepper shakers and volunteers for animal rescue, you might say Claire has eclectic interests.

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