Life's Work: Take a letter mr brown

Women want him as a status symbol; male bosses are more wary. Perhaps that's why the male secretary remains little more than a myth, says Bill Saunders

veryone wants him to exist. Trend spotters have long predicted his arrival. Common sense dictates he must exist. But the longing expressed for him is so passionate that one suspects that it stems from something irrational. The male secretary remains barely more than a rumour, yet the hunt for him reveals much of what men and women really think about each other in the workplace.

The writing on the wall is plain enough. More young men are unemployed than young women. Eighty per cent of new jobs go to women. So surely men should be anxious to break into what is considered women's work. But they are not. According to Reed Employment less than one per cent of secretarial staff are male. But even Reed's statisticians are eager to point out that this figure does allow some growth. Five years ago it was less than four- fifths of one per cent. Even so one could make out a more substantial case for the existence of the tooth fairy. Yet many still yearn for him. Like all employment agencies Maine Tucker, a Jermyn Street consultancy that specialises in supplying personal assistants to top executives and even foreign royal families, cannot and will not discriminate on grounds of gender. But its managing director, Amanda Maine Tucker, admits that many of her clients express interest in having a male PA. "They never stop asking," she says, "but they are not available." These clients tend to be high-powered women executives. The reason they give for their preference is that men are "less emotional". They argue that the work of an executive PA is a high pressure job and men stand up to it better. (True, it is a demanding job, but surely these women didn't achieve their own eminence by weeping in the loo because they were having a bad hair day.) According to Amanda Maine Tucker there is also an element of having a status symbol. Such prejudices are common. A survey of personnel professionals conducted by Reed Employment turned up similar attitudes. Men are more logical, it is alleged, more dedicated, less likely to go sick, and of course "less catty". A chap lends tone, too. "More like an executive secretary," according to one respondent, "than a girlie PA". Men do not have it all their own way, though. Women are believed to be more flexible, and capable of doing more than one thing at a time. Some of these compliments are backhanded. Women are thought to better suited to mundane tasks. Men, you see, might get bored. Oh dear.

Many respondents, however, simply said that since they had never seen a male secretary they had no idea what they might be like. Amanda Maine Tucker can only recall interviewing two, among the many thousands of women she has seen in the course of her career. Her firm did employ a man in that other traditional female role of switchboard operator for a year and a half. As an artist, he wanted a job with fixed hours and he proved very good at it. Among other things, he provided a touch of balance in an all-female office. In general, those men who take up secretarial work do so on a temporary basis. A spokeswoman for Reed confirms that most male temps tend to be creative people who work simply to pay the bills. As casual jobs go it is not a bad way to make a living: with the right skills, work is plentiful, and in London relatively well paid at between pounds 9 and pounds 10 per hour. Even so, few men bother to acquire basic secretarial skills. There are only two men currently enrolled at Queen's Business and Secretarial College and generally men make up about one per cent of students. When they do enrol it is usually on the shorter courses with the aim of picking up typing and shorthand in order to follow another profession such as journalism.

It is interesting to compare this with the rise of the graduate secretary in the Nineties. Once it was received wisdom that any ambitious woman who learned to type was booking herself an express ticket to Dogsbodyville. Attitudes to secretarial work have changed and now about half the places on Queen's shorter courses are taken by women graduates. Not only do secretarial skills ensure steady work in what is still a fairly difficult job market they can also provide an entree into an otherwise exclusive career. This is especially true for such desirable media jobs as public relations. It is becoming more common for secretaries to find themselves working for someone who used to be a secretary herself.

Meanwhile the main obstacle for male secretaries is the attitude of their own sex. According to the Reed survey "men don't like employing male secretaries". They are "embarrassed" when asking a male secretary to do menial jobs such as tea-making. And some are more embarrassed if the secretary complies, since they "consider men to be effeminate if they are performing this role". According to one respondent, male secretaries "work well in the armed forces and city firms, but would my boss prefer a male to an efficient, pretty face?"

'My ideas about women have been blasted away'

James Clarke became a temporary secretary through, he says, "not really knowing what to do with my life". He has no regrets, however. Temping has taken him to "some pretty interesting places" and has finally led him to decide to train as a solicitor after a inspiring spell in a law firm. He is an electronic engineering graduate and took to temping after a spell working in design. He acquired his keyboard skills at school, where an anti-sexist policy insisted on introducing boys to typing, needlework and cookery. "A far-sighted idea," as he sees it now. Eyebrows have been raised as he has turned up at assignments over the past two-and-a-half years, but he says he has experienced no prejudice. Many of his preconceptions about women "have been blasted away" through working in female environments. He agrees that men are missing out by not acquiring secretarial skills. Temping is a way of making contacts that can lead to greater things.

'I served in the Gulf war. Now I serve coffee'

By his own admission, Peter Moore looks like he should be on a nightclub door. So when he turns up as a temporary secretary the first reaction is disbelief. Once he has established his credentials, he settles in well. He was a soldier for seven years and served in the Gulf war; then he taught mountain survival at an outdoor centre. After moving to London to be near his girlfriend he took up office work and immediately saw the advantages of secretarial skills. Initially he taught himself on his home computer before broadening his skills with training provided by his agency. He enjoys working with women. While he misses the chance to talk about football he says he usually finds things to chat about. He finds the frankness with which women discuss their personal lives can be overwhelming: "There are times when I feel I should duck away and make a coffee." Ultimately he plans to move on to office management or to set up a secretarial service from home.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

    Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition