A lot has happened in the last couple of decades in corporate human resources. For one thing Secretaries have become Administrative Assistants. Women don't like to be called secretaries anymore. But unfortunately this has left a big gap between the role and skills of a secretary versus the role and skills of the higher level - or what used to be a higher level - position of administrative assistant.

This has particularly been a major shift for the male corporate business executive, in the human resources understanding.

I remember an amusing instance around this time of change when I was in Toronto. I picked up my mail at my shared office. While I was pulling out the items from my folders, a man who also used the same business service center as I, came to pick up his mail.

As he approached the cabinet where both our company mail was inserted for pick up, he said to me "Are we still doing the mail?", assuming I was one of the office secretaries placing the mail into the clients folders -- and I was then some fifty years old! If I had been a man, this comment would have never entered his mind, he would have spoken to him as a colleague instead.

However, there is nothing wrong with a secretarial position, or being a secretary. It takes special skills and training and interest to be a secretary, and not all women have that capability by any means. May be most (an 80/20 formula), but not all. The role and skills of secretaries are still needed, no doubt about that, and those that like it should do it. Ironically though, now administrative assistants are doing the secretarial work anyway.

One area where secretaries are especially needed is in the administration division. This is where the paperwork is done, the clerical, the filing; this is where the office operations, routines, etc. are established, the reception function is coordinated and managed, the customer service is handled, etc. A lot of secretarial work is processed here.

In the corporate reshuffling of the technological era, many companies have eliminated secretaries completely. Now, a lot of the secretarial work that needs to be done isn't done. Some companies who had the insight that secretaries were still needed, kept at least one such position opened per department, whose service all managers within the department can use.

If you were not given that luxury, as a manager, here's what you should at least do, for administration and organization's sake:

You should set up a desk in your department as if a secretary was available to you. This will allow you and your department colleagues to place such clerical things as mail going out, labels to be glued, envelopes to be typed, filing to be done, etc., in specified trays. Then all of you can take turns to getting back to these necessary tasks at the end of the day, or first thing in the morning, to sit down and complete.

This will get these secretarial items out of the way of prime time issues that have direct critical impact on bottom lines. When things pile up too much, a temporary secretary can be brought in for a couple of days. This creative thinking eliminates the accumulation of clerical papers on managers' desks that interfere with real-time issue-oriented activities.

There is a ratio of clerical to management activities that affect the cost of salary grades. In other words, clerical and secretarial salaries are below supervisors and managers salary levels. Therefore if you hire a manager, and fifty percent of his or her time is spent doing clerical work, the critical productivity and bottom line figures are greatly affected. A close analysis might even uncover this to the extent of being false economy./dmh