Hippie that I am, I was prepared to learn that Administrative Professionals Week, as I believed about Valentine's Day, was created by greeting card companies and flower peddlers. I was prepared to come in this morning to write a scathing denunciation of the greedy capitalist pigs that perpetuate blah blah blah. The fact is, that while all of the commercials you hear this week will be created by those who can profit by them, most administrative professionals, most employers and the group responsible for getting the ball rolling are really on the same page.

Some History

It was during a conference to address a national shortage of skilled office workers that Mary Barrett, president of the National Secretaries Association, and C. King Woodbridge, president of the Dictaphone Corporation, first conceived of a national holiday to recognize administrative professionals. With the assistance of Harry Klemfuss, of Young & Rubicam, they successfully petitioned the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Charles Sawyer, to proclaim the first National Secretaries Week, June 1st through 7th, 1952, with June 4th serving as National Secretaries Day.

Their original objective was two-fold. The first was to recognize the important, essential, contribution of the secretary to business and government offices. The second objective was to raise awareness, especially in students, of the potential inherent in a secretarial career. In effect, to make secretaries as proud of their skill base as accountants or teachers for instance, and to consequently make others aware of how essential and respectable this field was and is. In less flowery language - we are short on office staff, people don't respect this job as much as they might, let's get some good PR out there.

In 1955 the observance date was moved to the last full week in April, where we find it today. Wednesday of that week has always served as the highlight, the 'Day' of the 'Week'. However, as the node title notes, we've changed titles since National Secretaries Week and Day. First, in 1981, National was changed to Professional. In 2000, to better represent the current workforce, titles found in the field, it was again changed, to what we know it as today - Administrative Professionals Week and Administrative Professionals Day.

APW Today

As the holiday was expanded from secretaries to include all administrative professionals, so to have the objectives for APW. As stated by its sole sponsor the IAAP (formerly the National Secretaries Association), the objectives for APW are to:

  • Educate the public about administrative professionals’ expanding roles and value in the business world.
  • Enhance the profession’s image.
  • Encourage people to consider administrative careers.
  • Promote lifelong learning, certification, and professional development.

There are two things I think it is important to note here. The first is that the IAAP is and always has been the sole sponsor of this holiday. While it has been commercialized extensively and appears to many to be primarily about flowers or a free lunch, the goal was never about obligating employers to spend money. This relates directly to the second item of note, that fourth bullet above. The IAAP, backed by the wishes of its members (confirmed by countless polls), is more dedicated to professional advancement and training than anything else, especially gifts.

So, while the steak may occasionally be eclipsed by the sizzle, I'll have to save my anti-capitalist demonizing for another node.

Some personal observations, suggestions for employers and a conclusion.

Prior to, and concurrent with, my career as a graphic artist, I have spent many years as an 'administrative professional'. A significant number of these years were in my early 20s. This holiday was sometimes slightly uncomfortable, as the only male in the secretarial pool I sometimes left my bosses at a loss. Flowers and candy just didn't seem appropriate. Other years, in more enlightened environments, this was a great week to be at work. The female executives took perverse delight in presenting me with lavish bouquets, this was humor I appreciated. The male executives could use Wednesday as an excuse to take me to a fine steak house and let me have a beer or two on the clock. Let's hear it for gender roles, eh?

The best gifts, however, weren't always presented in April. As I noted above, that fourth bullet - professional development - was always very important to me. I know it was important to others I worked with. Some of my employers had tuition matching programs, others paid outright for advanced software training and the like. While flowers are pretty for a few days, new skills are useful for years or a lifetime. And, while it makes good business sense on its own, professional development is very much aided by, or even driven by, the IAAP. Again, from the IAAP, under "what is the best way to celebrate?":

Employers can facilitate professional development for admins by supporting:
  • Tuition reimbursement to attend college classes and work toward a degree.
  • Membership and participation in professional organizations.
  • Reimbursement for online training programs in technology, administrative, and management skills.
  • Registration for appropriate conferences, seminars, and continuing education workshops.
  • Attainment of professional certification. IAAP’s Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) or Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) programs are widely recognized standards of excellence.

I mentioned gender roles once, tongue in cheek, and I mentioned as one of the initial goals of this holiday the encouragement of pride and expanded awareness of just what it means to be a secretary, or administrative professional. I was not around when this holiday was created, I can't know what it was like to be a secretary 'back in the day'. I do know, though, what it meant and means to me today. I did take pride in my work and my abilities, I am thankful for the things I've learned and can do as a result of my experience in business. Administrative assistants and secretaries are more than essential, in many cases they are irreplaceable. I've known of secretaries who are quietly earning more than the new young executive they are serving. They are often required to know more, in general and specifically, about their business than their narrowly focused superior. Keep these things in mind as you are bombarded by advertisements for candy bouquets and lunch specials this week.

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