The Shifting Role of the Secretary

Do you know what the origin of the word secretary is? You may not because the term “secretary” has become akin to that of calling someone an unskilled laborer. Generally, administrative assistants avoid the term secretary because they feel that it is associated with menial tasks. But the true meaning of the term secretary is actually something to be proud of.

The word secretary comes from the Latin word secemere, which mean “to distinguish” or “to set apart”. There are connotation of being related to confidentiality or privacy as well, so really the term applies to a person who is able to supervise and watch over matters of serious confidentiality. Up until around the end of the 19th century, only men were secretaries and they worked one on one with those in positions of power to help them monitor their daily activities and their correspondence. It was a very prestigious role. Is that something we should be embarrassed about? Personally, I’m proud to be called a secretary!

It wasn’t until the 1880’s and the advent of the typewriter that women started to be associated with being secretaries. The term became more generalized and was associated with tasks like typing and taking phone calls. The connotations shifted from a role of prestige to that of menial tasks and minimal pay

Things today are shifting yet again. While we often don’t hold the title of secretaries, administrative assistants are multi-skilled staff that play an important role in businesses. They often have advanced computer skills that enable them to not only manipulate documents and spreadsheets but also to do trouble-shooting on computers and even design and manage web pages. They often have specialty training in areas like public speaking, finance, and sales. Their responsibilities vary and are increasing.

So, are you ashamed of being called a secretary? I say embrace the term because it is something to be proud of!