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Interview: Birmingham PA Awards winner: Hannah Cowell, JW Hinks

2018 saw the introduction of the first Birmingham PA Awards, and what an evening it was, where five exceptional assistants were recognised for their efforts and achievements in the industry. After taking home the Aspiration Award Hannah Cowell, secretary to partners at JW Hinks, chats to Jade Burke about the ever-changing role of an assistant and why now she has more confidence than ever.

Congratulations on winning your award! How did it feel to be nominated and then to go on and win?
It was an honour first of all to be nominated by my company JW Hinks, who have been a great support. I didn’t think I was going to win at all, it was a complete shock and a surprise and I’ve just been on cloud nine since they announced it. Everyone could see on the night of the Birmingham PA Awards how emotional I was about it because I just wasn’t expecting it.

The whole process has helped me build my confidence, because I think I was lacking in confidence but the Birmingham PA Forum is all about empowering one another and it’s just been great to draw on some of the experiences of other PAs. The whole process has been a fantastic experience.

Can you tell me a bit about your role and responsibilities?
I joined JW Hinks about 18 months ago from a manufacturing background, predominantly from the male industry, where my role was admin-based and also saw me testing equipment. I joined JW Hinks wanting to get a job in the city centre because there’s so much going on in Birmingham at the moment it’s a great place to work and be.

In my current role I support two partners; one of them is a tax partner and one of them is a pensions and charity partner so the work is varied. I support them as well as students developing their database where we can monitor student progression and apprentices. There’s so much going on and my role is very diverse, and I just support all my colleagues in whichever way I can.

Having won the aspiration award, what have you always aspired to?
Whatever role throughout my whole working career has always been a supportive role, and I think that that’s an attribute of a PA, to be able to support and go beyond your role and make somebody else’s life easier. I suppose with the two partners; my aim is to relieve them of their day-to-day pressures and just be that one step ahead. To be able to help them throughout their day and give some time back to them for them to focus on more important things. I’ve just got to be able to support them the best way I can.

“I’m very blessed that my company does support me and has given me that chance with the nomination and given me that recognition. It’s fantastic.”

Why do you think it is important to have awards such as these to recognise the role of a PA?
I think it is really important. I found that when I changed to this profession, my previous colleagues from other employment thought it would just be a secretary typing letters, pretty meaningless tasks really, but what I’ve been trying to tell them now is it’s not.

I’m there to be able to put it out on social media that I won this award. It’s just a fantastic thing and I’m so proud of that and it’s great to be able to show these people that we’re more than just shuffling paper and we do so many things. As I’ve said before, the role of the PA has changed so much over the years. It’s lovely that these awards appreciate that and give that recognition to these wonderful, inspirational women. I lacked confidence over the past years, but by joining the Forum my confidence is just amazing, so I really do appreciate the events and everything else that it brings.

How do you think the role of a PA has evolved over the years?
I am a newcomer to this role so I can only really say from my experience, but I just think it’s gone from initially diary management and typing letters – that’s totally changed now and I think the opportunities are there to progress. Management and partners are recognising that and there is a chance for PAs and secretaries to be recognised. It’s important that we try to self-promote ourselves and not be frightened of doing that so yes I think it’s definitely changed.

It’s often said that a PA or an EA is an unsung hero within an organisation – do you believe this to be true? What more could be done?
I think that statement is true in some cases. I’m very blessed that my company does support me and has given me that chance with the nomination and given me that recognition. It’s fantastic.

But I do understand that some companies don’t and I think it is important. This PA Forum and the awards is just a great way of promoting what we do as a role and gives us that recognition, which is so deserved really because we do work hard and it’s nice to be recognised for that. Anybody wants to have positive feedback and it’s just lovely that you’ve got a group empowering one another. It can only get better.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I just think Daniel Skermer, founder of the Birmingham PA Forum, is fantastic as well. He’s a really amazing guy. Also, the finalists are all great women and it’s lovely to be one of them.

hannah C

Photo credit: Edwin Ladd – Mr Ladd Media