This revolutionary proposal emerges from a survey, Typecast, which finds that secretaries are a vastly under-utilised resource, comprising many of the highest-skilled but lowest-paid staff. Creating a new career development structure could challenge the age-old perception of women as secretaries and men as managers.
The Industrial Society, which promotes good management practice in business, is using the survey as part of its Administrative Development Campaign, to be launched on 2 February by Ann Chant, chief executive of the Contributions Agency, who is acting as the campaign's patron.
The survey found that 64 per cent of secretaries wanted to get out of their jobs, many hoping for promotion to higher-status work, something few achieve. Secretaries were found to be well qualified - 21 per cent have A-levels, and 14 per cent degrees - yet almost half are paid less than the Council of Europe's basic decency threshold of pounds 10,770 a year.
Flatter hierarchies are re-establishing the old link of one secretary for one manager, reflecting the fact that new structures are forcing more work on to managers while giving them fewer subordinates to delegate to, the Industrial Society suggests. If recognised, this could lead to clearer career development routes for secretaries.
Sexism in job allocation has altered little, it seems, for all the talk of equal opportunities. Seventy five per cent of secretaries, administrators and clerks are women, while 78 per cent of bosses were men.
The report's author, Debra Allcock, head of administrative development at the society, believes that employers should recognise the worth of a good secretary, training them and paying them properly.
'Pay should reflect the job being done and not the age of the person doing it or the prejudices of the manager,' Ms Allcock says. 'Neither should secretaries be on separate pay scales. Once organisations have addressed the pay issue, it is more likely that men will enter the profession, creating a virtuous circle of increasing status and pay.'
Ms Allcock says that companies need to think about how they can best use secretaries' skills. 'The key thing about secretaries is that they know better than anyone about management. The assumption is that secretaries don't want a career. It is clear from this study that they do - they are so frustrated. A lot of them are better qualified than their managers.'
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