Sex and the female manager

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The Independent Online
Jan Hildebrand, managing director of a design company, knows exactly what she likes in a secretary - complete flexibility - and she thinks she is more likely to find that in a woman. "Last week I left my passport at home and I was scheduled to go to Paris but I was able to send my secretary round with the keys to get it. She did that and juggled everything else as well."

She admits to never having the chance to employ a male secretary but notes: "I've worked with lots of junior male designers and I do think they are a little less flexible with the lower-level work."

The flip side of that can benefit a boss too, though. "I had a male secretary and found him really willing to take risks", says one City executive. "I'd give him a few sentences and he would craft a letter out of that. I've never had a female secretary that confident."

Most managers agree with Nicola Foulston, chief executive of Brands Hatch, that a good working relationship is far more important than gender. But Frances Cook, managing director of Sanders and Sidney, an out-placement firm, says sometimes gender may be a part of that: "It is nice to have someone who speaks the same shorthand and understands the importance of trying to squeeze in children's school commitments and makes me go to the gym occasionally."

Susan Young, managing director of the European division of fire safety firm BRK Brands, employed a male secretary only briefly before he was on his way to bigger and better things. A key quality for her is loyalty. "My current secretary really wants me to do well and gives that extra dimension to the job, she says. "I think you're more likely to find that in a woman."

Are men less committed? Fiona Driscoll, who worked for Saatchi before setting up Driscoll Communications, says the one male secretary she employed had brilliant technical skills but left every day on the dot. That is a problem if, like Ms Driscoll, you value someone who brings a real keenness to their work. But there is, still, a surprise factor to hearing a male voice at the other end of the line. Frances Cook remembers well the "upset" of callers when they found themselves talking to her secretary named Ben. "They were somewhat disconcerted," she says. But that, of course, is their problem