A recent survey by BT Business Paging, and the Secretarial Development Network (SDN), released last week, found that 73 per cent of secretaries and personal assistants feel under used.
"If companies are going to remain competitive then they need to make the most of their secretaries," says Freda Gardiner, the chairman of SDN.
The not-for-profit company was founded in 1991 to help secretaries achieve their potential. To do that it runs a range of workshops, seminars and discussion groups on subjects ranging from Finance for Non-financial Roles to Motivation Through Empowerment. It has hundreds of members, divided evenly between individual members, organisations and associates. Membership benefits in- clude involvement in and access to research, in- house consultancy and training, access to a full programme of training and development events and free sub- scriptions to magazines which focus on the secretarial sector.
"The term `secretary' is a misnomer," says Judy Fisher, director of a London recruitment consultancy specialising in secretarial and support staff for the media. "The image of a secretary as Miss Moneypenny, seated across the desk with shorthand pad and pencil, is over. Secretaries are now doing far more, and, in the media particularly, graduates use the role as a stepping stone towards becoming, say, a senior editor."
Stella Fox is secretary to the general manager of Castle Cement in Ketton, Rutland and finds that while she fulfils a traditional role for most of her working day she also plays a vital role as liaison to the general public. "I take calls and queries all the time, often to do with controversial issues. Sometimes I feel more like a diplomat."
Other firms are also changing. Janet Graham was one of several secretaries at Pfizer, the drugs giant, who joined SDNin 1995. Using the resources and advice provided, she formed an in-house secretarial network, which proposed a promotion system for secretaries.
"Before, secretaries were graded according to whom they worked for," Janet explains. "This limited promotion pros-pects. We spent a year working on our proposal, which was accepted by senior management, and now have two promotion reviews a year."
Last week, SDN facilitated a discussion group for secretaries and associates on challenges in secretarial development. Low self-esteem raised its head as one of the greatest challenges faced by secretaries, possibly because this is a career often chosen by women returning to work, at a time when confidence is running low. It also became evident that managers need to be trained to work with secretaries more effectively. Secretaries would welcome more feedback from their managers as well as opportunities for teamwork.
But SDN is not just about looking after the high-flyers. Ms Gardiner believes that it is the only organisation of its kind open to all levels of secretary.
"Junior secretaries who have perhaps just completed their NVQ level 2 need of support," she says. "We are unique in that we will even accept members with no formal qualification, providing they can get a reference and examples of their work."
For more information contact Freda Gardiner, SDN, 30 Nottingham Road, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire LE65 1DQ; tel: 01530 563000; email SDNLtd@aol.com.