The Executive & Personal Assistants Association (EPAA) recently surveyed the PA community to dig deeper into the gender divide of the role for its #NotJustAGirlsJob campaign and revealed some interesting statistics. Molly Dyson examines the results
It has long been reported that there is a huge divide between men and women in the PA role. According to the EPAA’s #NotJustAGirlsJob survey, the current gender split is 97% female to 3% male. That’s a pretty big gap when you consider the attention being given to the disparity among the UK’s boards. When you dig deeper, the data shows that 54% of male PAs work in the corporate sector, compared to 10% in the third sector, 15% in the public sector, 4% who work for SMEs and 2% who are self-employed.
Rather worryingly, 42% of those who participated in the survey say they’ve experienced negative comments from colleagues that are based on outdated gender stereotypes and inaccurate ideas of the PA role. The majority of remarks ranged from co-workers questioning a male PA’s ability to work to a satisfactory standard to people making assumptions about their sexuality due to their career choice, which is seen as ‘feminine’ by the public. One participant says he had been refused opportunities on the basis of his gender, while another was asked in an interview why he wanted to have a ‘female’s role’.
Could it be these outdated stereotypes are keeping men from applying for administrative roles? PA Affonso Bennet, who participated in the research, doesn’t think they should. “Being a PA isn’t about being male or female; a good PA must be efficient with high levels of attention to detail,” he says. “Skills like these aren’t based on your gender.”
Deputy Chair for the EPAA Sean Steel agrees, saying: “The role of the PA/EA has changed significantly; however, it’s clear we still have a way to go. The focus should be on one’s ability to do the job, not whether the individual happens to be male or female.”
As a sign of positive change in the industry, 51% of survey participants ignored gender stereotypes to actively pursue a PA or EA role. Proving that men see their job as a long-term choice and not just a stop-gap or stepping stone to other roles, a third say they’ve decided to make a career out of being a PA and have been in the industry for 12 years or more.
Shirwyn Weber, an EA from South Africa comments: “If you feel you want to get into this career, do it. It is the most challenging and fulfilling position ever. People will stereotype every position out there.”
One participant says the stereotype of the PA role as a feminine one could stem from the outdated idea that PAs are simply secretaries who answer the phone, type letters and organise diaries. “The assistant role has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, where they are more and more having to understand the business and the environment in which he/she works. Changing that perception is likely to attract more men into the profession.”
Going back to a topic we explored at the 2016 office* show, another respondent believes job titles may also have something to do with the lack of diversity, but also feels professionals should be able to look past these labels to get to the heart of the issue – which is providing a service to executives.
Victoria Darragh, CEO of the EPAA believes that breaking the common stereotype that the PA role is a feminine one is key to attracting more male talent, which in turn creates a more diverse and enriched profession. She has set an aim for the organisation to decrease the gender split by raising awareness and educating the world about the value of greater equality in the administrative industry. The #NotJustAGirlsJob survey is just the start of an ongoing campaign that will focus on raising the profile of men in the profession, driving more male candidates to apply for PA/EA roles and providing role models and mentoring programmes.
If you’re a male PA who wants to overcome stereotypes, we encourage you to get involved with the EPAA’s campaign at epaa.org.uk/not-just-girls-job or on Twitter @EPAA_UK using the hashtag #NotJustAGirlsJob.