Use This Anger.
We have a President who feels it's okay to grab you by the p***y.
We have a Senate who feels it's okay to shush a fellow Senator (a Black, female, ex-Attorney General) from asking probing questions in an effort to get to the truth.
We have a Head of HR during a rah-rah moment at an all-hands meeting asking employees to stand up and give one another a hug at a company embroiled in a highly publicized, sexual harassment firestorm.
We have Board members joking that adding another female to the Board would only result in more talking.
I continue to witness entitled (usually older) men use misogynist, condescending language and actions toward "support staff" simply because they CAN because of the C-level title they hold.
And I'm mad as hell.
In my 25+ years as a Black, gay, C-suite Executive Assistant I've pretty much seen and experienced it all. I've worked in the firestorm years of Investment Banking. I've lived through 2 financial crises. I've been called every name in the book. Been sabotaged relentlessly. I've sat in meetings and heard language that should never even be conceived, let alone escape the lips of people who run the company. I've often had to sit there and "take it" because a trip to HR to file a very valid complaint would, no doubt, land me squarely in the crosshairs as a whistleblower and lead to my termination. (That actually happened. Lesson learned re: HR double agency) My anger is justified. Trust.
However, as I continue to travel the globe bringing 14 top Assistants at a time to a table, in a city, on a Saturday, I'm beginning to see something pretty amazing occur. Assembly. Assimilation. Sharing. Validation. Action.
The role of Executive and Personal Assistant appears to be one that is incredibly social. We traverse all ranks within the organization and interact with more people in aggregate, both inside and outside the company than any other employee. On the surface, it appears to be a very social, highly interactive role. However, you'd be wrong. It's often the loneliest of all the roles within the organization and one that constantly receives the most abject abuse. We get things done rapidly, but never rapidly enough. We're judged primarily on the mistakes we make vs. the triumphs, company savings, and multiple full time jobs we've inherited on one salary. We handle so much of the minutiae with such aplomb but seldom get recognized for the wins those efforts helped create. We're subject to abuses daily, often by the people we support, but often suffer in silence as HR and our Execs are thick as thieves. We have to be double agents ourselves, traversing the line between co-worker and friend with other groups in the organization who are suspicious of (and avoid) us simply because we're representatives of the C-suite. And, most importantly, we rarely have an opportunity to come together with others in the same situation, doing the same job, experiencing the same issues, because the vast number of responsibilities heaped onto us day-to-day makes it virtually impossible to be out of the office for any extended period of time.
We're mad as hell. I can feel it.
If you want a frighteningly accurate read on the culture of any company on the planet, find their C-suite Executive Assistants and start asking questions. No other role in the organization has that level of exposure, endures more internal abuse, or is held to impossible standards more than a C-suite EA. If you find that they are generally happy, feel supported and empowered, work as a team with other EAs, and are hands-on establishing or maintaining the culture of the company, then you have a healthy company. Period. Sadly, that's not the norm. It's the exception.
So how do we as Assistants "use" this anger?
Simple. We come together and we talk about it. In my case, I bring people together in small, focused sessions around the world to do just that. From the second we start introducing ourselves I can feel a tremendous energy shift. All of the angst from the day-to-day, always on, administrative grind leads to the most fantastic, often audible EXHALE to ever fill a room. In short, we get it out in a room full of our peers who instantly understand, empathize and actually hear us. And then we get to work.
My calling, it appears, is to start changing the perception of the role of "Assistant" in the eyes of everyone at the company, especially the people we support. The top-down, hierarchical, task dissemination to secretaries is finally giving way to collaborating with empowered, respected, business partners who are key contributors alongside the Executive Leadership Team. And this has only come about fairly recently thanks mostly to C-suites filled with younger, more forward-thinking Execs who are understanding the value of hiring smart, experienced, nuanced Assistants and empowering them to contribute to running the company.
So when I teach MEGA Assistant University I implore of each of my students to get angry. Sure! But use that anger not as a vehicle to bitch, moan and complain about the injustices they deal with day-to-day. Instead, convert it to action by actually "removing" themselves from the company as an Assistant and replacing themselves in position as the CEO of their own company with the people they support as "clients." Mind trickery? Mmmkay. But it's effective as f*ck.
Think about it. If you've been treated, essentially, like sh*t day after day, year after year, you're definitely not feeling empowered. If you feel afraid to block the door of your Exec's office to demand answers to questions that can keep groups informed, projects moving forward, save the company money, or help you structure your day, you're not feeling empowered. However, if you walk into your client's office every day as a business owner and request a meeting with a fellow CEO that will help you service said client, you're less apt to allow that meeting to be pushed or rescheduled. If, over time, you feel that your client doesn't respect your efforts or the "rules of the contract" you feel more empowered to take it to the table and renegotiate the contract or simply fire the client. Because guess what? There are other clients in the wild more than happy to sign a mutually agreeable contract with you and pay your rate for the incredible customer service you provide. Still mind trickery? You tell me.
I'll never be able to solve misogyny in my lifetime. It's essentially taught and perpetuated in every home, grade school and college across the world. YES, I SAID IT. My success in my career has come from acknowledging that these injustices exist and building strategies to circumnavigate around obstacles that stop most people cold. I'm sorry, but life is too damned short. And in all honesty, I don't have time to remedy stupidity. The number of lawsuits I could have filed over my career could easily have landed me in the $10 million club. But the thought of shaking a company down over my disappointment and living off dirty money is more disgusting to me than simply flashing double bananas and continuing on my path to professional and personal fulfillment. Court cases and payouts might motivate some people. I'm just not that guy. I would much rather learn the lesson, create the strategy, and WIN. And then bring a bunch of my peers together and teach them how to do the same thing.
So get angry. PLEASE. But don't wallow in it without taking some sort of action. And let that anger lead you to a table of your own with people just like you going through the same issues. Movements start at a table of your peers. Anger evolves into action. And action changes the world. YOUR world, specifically.