While it isn't a far reach to say most people automatically think of secretaries as women, Joe Carpenter's gender helped him score his first administrative job in 1971 as secretary at a factory where women weren't allowed inside.
"I love being an admin, and I've been lucky for [many] years to work in a field I love," he says.
Indeed, they may be a statistical rarity, but men in the administrative field hold some of the profession's most challenging, exciting jobs and say they can't imagine doing anything else.
By the Numbers
Men make up only 1 percent of members in the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), the trade organization, and no more than 5 percent of the total US population of secretaries/administrative assistants, says Rick Stroud, IAAP's communications manager.
"The main reason the profession is female-dominated is that secretaries have traditionally been female, at least for the last 70 years or so, beginning when women entered the office workforce in large numbers," he says. "Before that, secretaries were almost always men."
When Greg Causey, CPS, entered the field in 1993, he was the only male admin employed by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. Since then, he's provided administrative support for CBS, ABC and MTV. He currently is an executive coordinator for Atlanta-based cable TV giant Comcast, supporting two high-level executives and seven vice presidents, most of whom are male.
"I've worked for a number of female executives," says Causey. "The only thing I had to stand back and take notice of is that it seemed to threaten a lot of males to have a guy organizing and running their lives."
More Male Admins
Despite the scarcity of men in these positions, women should expect to see more of them competing for administrative jobs. The nature of the profession is changing as responsibilities increase, technology advances, teamwork becomes more important and admins take on more managerial duties, says Ronald Hyman CPS, president of IAAP's Florida Division.
"Men find the technological side to the profession more likable than typewriters or mimeographs," says Hyman.
One downside to being a man in a female-dominated profession, however, is reverse discrimination, says Gary Brackett, assistant business manager in the division of toxicology on the Indianapolis campus of Indiana University.
"One manager I was interviewing with said, ‘It's always been the girls here. I don't know if you're going to enjoy working here,'" he says. "I said, ‘If that's your attitude, I probably don't want to work here anyway.'"
Most employers who would be prejudiced against hiring men will not even go through the motion of interviewing male candidates, Brackett says.
Job-Finding Tips Just for Men
These male admins offered the following advice to other men seeking work in this profession:
- If you love being an admin, as a man and particularly in this job market, be flexible when it comes to your next employer, says Carpenter, a CPS who was downsized from a major global corporation in 1997. Now he works for Wilmington, North Carolina-based W.K. Hobbs, a small, family-owned fuel distributor.
- Consider working in an academic environment where people tend to be more accepting of people in different roles than in the corporate world, suggests Brackett.
- When researching a potential employer, contact as many insiders as possible to find out what it's like to work for that company. Ask questions about whether the company is open to hiring male admins and, if you're older than 50, especially older male admins, says Hyman.
- "Overachieve," advises Causey. "You have to constantly do things a little better and more efficiently." By strengthening your resume with more accomplishments and class credits, you make the case for an employer to take a chance on you.
Learn more about administrative careers.