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Goodbye Secretaries Day

It's the year 2002. We don't have secretaries anymore.

Nathan VanderKilppe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 24/02) - Let's get one thing straight. Secretaries Day doesn't exist.

As a matter of fact, you'd have a hard time finding many secretaries anywhere these days. This is an age of administrative and executive assistants. Today you're much more likely to find an office administration program than a secretary program.

It's all par for the course in a day and age where "secretary" has gone the way of "stewardess" and "waitress."

"It's a dirty term now," said Isabelle Wilcox, who teaches office administration for Aurora College. "This term 'Secretaries Day' seems to want to hang around. But I haven't seen an ad for a 'secretary' in a long time."

It all started back in 1981, when the National Secretaries Association changed its name to Professional Secretaries International. The name changed was reflected in Secretaries Day, which was then called Professional Secretaries Week.

Same thing in 1998: the organization changed to the International Association of Administrative Professionals, and the name went along.

The official title for April 24: Administrative Professionals Day.

The name change isn't entirely for reasons of political correctness. It's also reflective of changes in the actual job description of what used to be called a secretary.

Two decades ago, secretaries learned shorthand, machine transcription, filing and dictaphone use.

Today, computer - and keyboard-literate bosses usually bang out their own letters and reports. Direct-dial phone systems have removed the need for most receptionist services. E-mail has mostly eliminated opening, sorting, stamping, sealing and mailing letters, Wilcox said.

An office management course is more likely to teach ergonomics -- and warn about carpal tunnel syndrome -- than lecture on switchboard operations.

In the workplace, that means more scheduling, less letter-writing; more organizing, less filing.

"We're doing way more things now," said Beatrice Jeannotte, an executive secretary with the City of Yellowknife. "After so many years of being with somebody, you know the boss and you know what their needs are."

The city is behind on changing job titles -- assistants there are still "secretaries" and "administrative assistants." Even so, Jeannotte said the job has changed: "Whatever is given to us, we do. We're jacks of all trades."

All semantic arguments aside, though, there's still the ever-important question: what do you get the person at the front desk? There's always flowers, of course, and even gift certificates to the spa or a massage parlour.

But what office managers, administrative assistants, whatever they're called, are looking for this year is a little different.

"Respect," said Shawna Tohm, administrative assistant for Up Here magazine.

"A day off. A promise from everyone to say thank you for everything. A small diamond from Ekati -- two carats would do," said Heather Andrews, administrative assistant for Outcrop Communications. And this is always a good reminder to rein in annoying habits.

"Stealing things from my desk is a very big one," said Andrews. "At least return them when you do."