When did ‘secretary’ become a dirty word?

Today is Administrative Professionals Day. (Did I just hear a few “Oh crap!” gasps out there and a mad rush to the local florist’s?)


Until 2000, this day was known as Secretary’s Day, but according to the International Association of Administrative Professionals, which sponsors the day (I always thought it was Hallmark), the name was changed “to keep pace with changing job titles and expanding responsibilities of today’s administrative workforce.”

That makes sense. But it makes me wonder if there are certain connotations associated with the word secretary that tarnishes the image of that occupational title.

What do you think of when you hear the term secretary? Does it conjure up images of the typing pool on Mad Men (shown above)? Or the “girl Friday” of old black-and-white movies who would fetch coffee for her male boss? Or the sexually harassed-turned-vengeful women of 9 to 5? And should titles like “secretary of state” or “secretary general” be changed to reflect their expanding responsibilities? Should Robert Gates’ title be administrative professional of defense?

Does “secretary” need a public relations makeover, or is it too late?

Whatever the case, be sure to let your administrative professionals — whatever their title — know that they are appreciated. Not just today, but always.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

3 thoughts on “When did ‘secretary’ become a dirty word?”

  1. My aunt (a former nurse, or whatever title you want to give her now) used to say that whenever women entered a male-dominated profession, it drove pay downward, or conversely, if men entered a female-dominated profession, it drove pay upward, because women were willing to work for less for whatever reasons.

    Don’t know how much of what she said is true, but I don’t think titles change fundamental issues like work-life balance, salary-transparency, or understanding the gender/cultural differences in how people negotiate or self-promote.


  2. Nikki – I suspect you’re right. The title changes are more cosmetic than anything, and the underlying issues persist. Thanks for sharing those links, too.

  3. As for Secretaries of the president’s cabinet, I suppose it could be worse. We could, like many of the commonwealth realm do, “ministers” instead. I’m sure that would go over well in the good ol’ US of A.

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