Secretaries: the people that organize the world
It has been said by many people that secretaries run the world. For those in the know, it is true.
Secretaries are the gate keepers of business, government and schools. They take the messages, file the important papers, make up calendars, often crunch numbers and most important of all handle the customers that come through an establishment, some that are happy and some that are not.
But while all those are things secretaries have always done, the explosion of technology in the office setting has changed their job immensely, expanding not only their responsibility as more and more is expected, but as with other professions, giving them more to deal with.
"One of the hardest things I do is to keep up with the way the world is advancing," says Charlotte MacKnight, an administrative assistant at the Sampinos Insurance Agency in Price. "I need to keep on top of things, we all do, to keep businesses afloat."
Being a secretary is a much tougher job than the reputation accredits it with. And depending on the type of organization, the differences between secretarial positions is as wide as the world is large.
"In my job I have the clerical stuff to do, but so much of my responsibility has to do with dealing with the kids," says Joyce Branson, the secretary at Helper Junior High. "I enjoy the students; it's an added bonus to being a secretary in a school. But the down side to that is that kids have lots of problems. In a junior high they are at a tough age, caught in between things."
For Branson her customers are students, faculty, administrators and of course, parents. For Sandy Lehman, secretary to all three Carbon county commissioners, her customers are just about everyone in the area.
"I love working here because I get to deal with a lot of different things and many kinds of people," states Lehman. "My biggest frustration is that I can't help everyone with their problems. Some of the things people bring in here are problems we just don't or can't deal with."
Judy Bartholomew, is the administrative assistant to Ryan Thomas, the President of the College of Eastern Utah. He is often seen in public and in the press, but the unseen part of his support is Bartholomew who says her job is "to make his life easier."
"I just try to assist the president to keep the ship afloat," she states. "Everyday is different with new problems to handle or a new catastrophe to face."
Being a legal secretary is even a different calling. Genelle Howell works as a contractor for a number of different entities and people. She is the secretary for the Carbon Water Conservancy District, the Carbon Canal Company, Attorney George Harmond and Dr. Glenn Etzel.
"There is never a typical day for me," she says. "There are also no slow days. I find that people who have slow days in their jobs generally are not trying to do the extra to make what they do better."
Howell also says that she finds people sometimes get upset when they expect her to give them legal advice.
"At one time I thought I might like to be a lawyer, but not anymore," she explains. "After working with them for so many years I have found they have a very tough job. The best thing for me is that I'm fortunate because I can learn from my boss every day."
When asked what the most important part of their job is, they all had different answers, but in some ways the come backs were all similar as well.
"Calendering," states Howell. "I need to be sure everyone is going to the right place at the right time."
Lehman was in a similar position, with three part time commissioners to look out for.
"My main job is to be sure the commissioners are informed about what is coming through the office, what is going on, and what people need to see them," she states.
Bartholomew says that keeping things organized and going is important while MacKnight says she has to be extremely customer oriented.
"I need to take care of customers needs one on one," says the insurance office secretary. "I have to service their accounts and of course take a lot of phone calls. Customers are our livelihood so those are the most important things I do."
Besides dealing with kids problems, Branson perceives herself as the first line of what people outside the school see of the institution.
"I am the first person the public sees when they walk into the school. I am the first impression they have of Helper Junior High."
With some jobs, there is a great deal of sameness every day. Certainly every job has it's daily routines, but when asked about typical days, all of these women scoffed at the idea of there being any such thing.
"I'm not sure what that could be," says Branson. "I have been here eight years and it is different every single day. I feel like I am the guardian for 200 kids and I get involved with their excitement about things as well as their disappointments."
Bartholomew says there is no such thing at the college, and Lehman agrees with that when it comes to county business as well.
"Since none of the commissioners are full time there are no typical days here," she says. "The only typical thing is that I need to be here every day because they can't be."
In the business world of insurance, MacKnight says typical is unique.
"Typical days are extraordinary. Every day is different."
Secretarial positions in many organizations are often not valued as highly as they should be. In fact when a secretary has to act as a gate keeper, people can sometimes be heard muttering "She's only a secretary."
How does that sometimes make these women feel?
"I don't feel secondary at all," says Branson, who as a school secretary often has to face the wrath of irate parents and kids. "There is a lot of responsibility with this position and I am the one who chose to do it."
Bartholomew says that she feels "people just don't realize how much goes into" being a secretary, while Lehman says how she perceives it depends on who she has worked for.
"I have worked for people who considered me their partner, someone they couldn't get along without. Others just let their own attitude limit my value to them."
Howell says that people sometimes just think that secretaries should know things by osmosis, while MacKnight states that she thinks secretaries are underrated for what they do because "people don't realize what we handle."
As for dreams, have any of them every wished they were doing something else as a profession?
While Howell thought she might have liked to have been a lawyer, but now feels differently, Branson said she once had dreams of doing the same thing, but decided on working with the public in the way she now does. And she knows she took a good path after working for Job Service for seven years, then at Sally Mauro Elementary for eight years then to Helper Junior High for the last eight years as well.
Lehman said that she might have liked to have gone into some type of social services field, although if one spends time in her office and watches some of the characters that flow through it, one could say she does that on a daily basis anyway.
As for MacKnight?
"I once owned my own business and would like to do that again someday," she says fortified by the fact that she is an integral part of the business she is with today.
As for Bartholomew, she says she has just never had a view of her doing something different. She likes what she does and always has.
When asked about making coffee, a typical stereotype that often seems forced upon secretaries, all of them had unique answers.
Branson says that she doesn't now but "when I worked in the private sector I did."
Lehman said yes, but only for herself and Bartholomew said that she didn't ever make any. Howell says she makes "darn good coffee at home, but not here."
MacKnight, who works in an office full of women, says she quit doing it, because she drinks it at home.
"Besides," she said. "The coffee pot broke."