If you were asked to picture the average working woman in the 1950s or early 1960s, chances are you would picture a secretary -- think Mad Men's Joan or Miss Moneypenny from the Bond films. Asked to picture the average working woman today -- the day Hillary Clinton steps down as Secretary of State and a month before Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's memoir hits bookshelves -- and you would probably come up with something a little different.
According to the U.S. Census, however, the most common job for women today remains the same as 60 years ago. Between 2006 and 2010, about 4 million people in the United States worked as "secretaries and administrative assistants" -- and 96 percent of them were women.
This skewed gender ratio made sense in the 1950s when fewer career options were open to women and when under 10 percent of women didn't have college degrees. But today, with women earning more graduate degrees than men, why don't the demographic of secretary positions reflect this increased gender parity?
Dana Greenberg, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Babson College, told Yahoo! Shine that "young women, women reentering the workforce, and women in career transitions [are] still getting the advice that the best entry into a field is through an administrative position." She added that, "We would never tell a 21-year-old male college grad that the way into a job is to start in an administrative position. But we're still, unfortunately, in this country, still stereotyping it as a fashionable place for women to start."
The position of secretary may have stayed steady as the most popular job for women, but the way we discuss and value the work secretaries to has changed for the better. In the early 1970s, impacted by the feminist movement, workplaces began changing the title of "secretary" to "administrative assistant," thereby giving the job a greater sense of professional gravitas. "Increasingly women in the 1970s were demanding the opportunity to be treated as equals. All of a sudden you have fewer secretaries and more executive assistants," Ray Weikal, spokesman for the International Association of Administrative Professionals, told CNN.
The trend shows no sign of abating with the labor department predicting a 12 percent growth in the number of administrative assistants between 2010 and 2020.
Does this news surprise you or is it predictable? Let us know in the comments.
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