Read, learn, and share these articles that I have written and those of other experts who I respect and admire. We’ve got a very complicated workplace and only getting more so. This blog is my way of navigating these complications. Feedback welcome!
Recorded live at the Executive Secretary LIVE conference in San Jose, California on November 17, 2018. R/T 30:51
Our guest is Teri Wells who has worked as an Executive Assistant in Johannesburg, South Africa for 29 years. In 2015, she had coffee with fellow EA and speaker Anel Martin which is when “Isipho” was born. Isipho translates to “the gift” which in this case means the gift of education. It started as Teri’s and Anel’s way of paying it forward in a profession that has given them both so much.
They collaborated with Executive Secretary Magazine Founder Lucy Brazier and together, they set out to change lives and wow, did they ever. They raised money to send promising young adults to a vocational school that would train them to work as administrative professionals. The tuition for the ten month program is approximately $1,200 USD/per candidate. Teri and Anel also determined to provide mentors and ongoing support for these students who otherwise, would have no chance to attain this training.
Listen to Teri’s moving stories of Lerato and Iris, two girls who graduated from the program. Learn what you, your manager or your assistant network can do to make a difference one person at a time. Teri inspires us to understand to our core what is possible when we decide to make it happen.
“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
Note: At this writing, through the generosity of our attendees and their employers, four students were fully funded at the LIVE conference in San Jose.
One full scholarship was donated by an Assistant in the audience
A 2nd scholarship was donated by one of the speakers
A 3rd scholarship was sponsored by an assistant’s executive (by phone)
And the final scholarship was sponsored by the money raised during the conference from the attendees.
Bonnie Low-Kramen for Executive Secretary Magazine | September 2018
It’s time to shine a light on the invisible default button.
This article is about how women behave with one another. After all, the assistants of the world are 95-98% female. For the men reading this piece, I hope you find the following insights useful; knowing them can help us all collaborate better.
Imagine a workplace where women enthusiastically and happily support each other. A workplace without manipulation and victimization, without passive aggressive behaviors, where bullying is practically nonexistent. Sound good? If yes, then why is it so hard to make it happen?
I can imagine this new normal. What it will require is an awareness of the invisible default button that is deep inside all women. And it will depend on our commitment to shut it off.
I will explain.
What is the default and what does it look like?
The messages women get loud and clear when we are young girls are steady, and strong, and they stay. As in forever. The default can also be referred to as our autopilot behaviors and unconscious bias.
These are some of the messages young girls receive from families and society alike:
Know your place & don’t veer too far from it.
Don’t step on toes, don’t make waves, or trouble.
Be seen, not heard. And, sometimes, be invisible.
Be pretty, be quiet, and be perfect – at least in how you look. We are trained to compete with one another for the approval of men. These messages have exploded with conflict in light of the issues with sexual harassment and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
Don’t come across as too smart or a know-it-all. Don’t brag or toot your own horn – you might be viewed as conceited or full of yourself.
View other women as competition, especially for the approval of men
Smooth everything over – even if it means apologizing for things that are not your fault.
When receiving feedback from another woman, the default behavior is to be defensive and suspicious of motivation.
Be grateful for any job and don’t question the money you are being paid.
Other examples of the default: when we judge ourselves harshly for pretty much everything and feel we don’t deserve the raise or the attention or the promotion. Or when we feel badly about taking credit for something great that we totally did. We judge our female colleagues harshly when we see their success and we feel envious and say things like, “I did a better job last year and nobody noticed me.” Or when we allow our male executive’s bullying behavior slide and excuse it with statements like, “Well, that’s just the way George is.” If we’re honest, we would say that we would never allow “Georgette” to get away with a fraction of what we allow “George” to get away with.
Every assistant knows that she has a responsibility, an obligation, to speak up. Yet many stay silent. Fear wins. I am shocked by the volume of stories of “mean girl” junior high behaviors in billion-dollar workplaces. My first thought when I hear them is: the default is stronger and louder and winning. Women need awareness and we need leadership to show another way.
Our default button tells us to take things personally and to take offense. If that’s true for you, I urge you to resist and reject that first impulse, that automatic behavior to be suspicious of the motivations of other women.
Given the complexity of our global workplace, women need to become wide awake to exactly what is going on and to speak up about what we know. We can now understand how we get trapped in the default. Old habits are hard to break. What I see all over the world is that these behaviors are slowing us down and stopping some of us dead in our tracks from fulfilling our goals and dreams. And many are quitting their jobs over it or even landing in the hospital from stress.
Our children are watching and seeing everything. Unless we turn off the default, the cycle begins again.
The data shows that women apologize 10 times more than men and for things that are not anything to apologize for. However, women don’t forgive as easily, and we never forget a misstep, especially with other women. We forgive men much more easily. The hard truth is that when women don’t get what we want from men, we take it out on other women. It’s time to become aware and to stop. Time’s up for the default and time’s in for new choices!
Why do I care so much about the default? I care because I see too many women who are at the end of their ropes and living every day with stress levels of 6 (on a 1-10 scale). I know that workplace bullying is a global epidemic and too many are filled with fear to address it. Who gets trained to do that? We don’t. Women are the primary targets of bullying and sexual harassment and we are paying a very high price for the trauma. We tolerate bullying and sometimes don’t even know that’s what it is because it has become so normalized and part of our daily experience. That’s the default in full play.
I say that we need to shut off the default and create a new normal. At the same time, women will find their voices to confidently support leaders to design new policies that work and can be sustained.
So, what’s the long-term fix? First, we need to shine a light on this invisible default button buried deep inside. Second, women and men can have conversations about what the default looks like for each one of us because it’s not necessarily the same. Third, we can make new choices every day about cutting ourselves a break, being more understanding when women make mistakes and frankly, taking a fresh look at our relationships with men – whoever they are – to see how the default is in play.
The impact on the community is profound when women reject the default and choose to see other women as collaborators, allies, and partners. The movement to this awareness cannot be underestimated because of the pull of the socialization. We know, for example, that women make excellent leaders, but they are too few. When women feel sincerely supported by other women, they lose the fear to be ambitious and seek leadership positions. However, as Sheryl Sandberg points out in her groundbreaking book “Lean In”, many female leaders leave before they have to because of the loneliness at the top – or even part way to the top. And it is because of the default.
The critical idea that women globally can embrace is the absolute need to generously support other women to not only achieve leadership but to stay in their leadership positions. Even when they make mistakes and even when they fail. There is a serious double standard in the world about how women view one another and how women view men. Women hold one another to a higher standard and once we are onto it, the world will change for the better. When we stop tearing one another down and choose to build one another up, families will benefit, and companies will benefit.
What I know is that women can create a new normal for ourselves that is based on respect and the freedom to give feedback without fear of retaliation. We as women need to do a better job at setting expectations with one another. To set a standard that makes it safe to speak more directly and honestly with each other and to elevate one another. Men can help by being onto the default too.
I fight hard every day to shut off my default button and to make sure it stays off. We can’t underestimate the pull of the socialization but if we really can get onto it, we can break the vicious cycle. What I see is when we work together, the world will be one where workplace bullying ends as will sexual harassment and we will close the wage gap so that women finally make the money they deserve, not to mention our daughters and our granddaughters. That’s what will happen when we shut off our default buttons once and for all.
We didn’t get here in a minute so it’s going to take a while to get us out of the status quo. I know we are up to the challenge and when we turn off the default, the world will be a better place for all of us.
This article first appeared in Executive Secretary Magazine, a global training publication and must-read for any administrative professional. You can get a 30% discount on an individual subscription when you subscribe through us. Email email@example.com and tell them we sent you.
Link to original article http://executivesecretary.com/women-turning-off-the-default/
You don’t get if you don’t ask. This saying is true about many things but it is especially true when it comes down to asking for training dollars. In our complicated workplace, professional development is not an option or a “nice to do.” Training for assistants is an absolute necessity to keep staffers sharp and relevant and to support companies to keep their competitive edge.
But how to ask? In this 3rd of a 3-part series, Bonnie and Vickie answer this question in detail. Did you know that your company may actually have a training budget but it just may not be advertised? If you are looking for a new job, an important question to ask is: How much is the annual training budget for assistants?
Learn how to build your business case that will result in an enthusiastic “Yes.” You will be providing the ROI (return on investment) to justify the training to your leaders. There is simply too much at stake not to do this. But…if your leaders still say no, learn what absolutely free resources are out there. The most important thing is for you to get the training you know you need. You are worth the investment.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Gandhi
Bonnie Low-Kramen for Executive Secretary Magazine | July 2018
How would you make your workplace a better one?
To celebrate Administrative Professionals’ Week this year, I was inspired by our amazing global community. These women and men continue to impress me with their depth of knowledge, their resourcefulness, their creativity, their intelligence, and their IDEAS that make so much sense.
I decided to pose a question on social media and wow, did the answers pour in from all over the world. I made it a contest and the winner received a full scholarship to
the Be the Ultimate Assistant (BTUA) workshop of her/ his choice in 2018.
The question: If you were CEO for one day, what change would you make to make your workplace a better one?
What high-quality training is out in the world for assistants, no matter where you are based on the planet? The great news is that training is now plentiful and comes in all modes, platforms, and sizes. But how to choose? Bonnie Low-Kramen and Vickie Sokol Evans discuss all of them including; in-person events of all sizes, virtual online events, podcasts, blogs, webinars, books, and magazines. Be ready to take notes to gather the information that is just right for you, your colleagues, and the people you support.
R/T 60 min.
Please note: It would be impossible to list every conference and resource below so we have given some of the most major places which aggregate all the information. Give a shout if you have questions!
In this 3-part series, Bonnie Low-Kramen and Vickie Sokol Evans take a deep dive into the slippery subject of assistant training. Historically, the 10 million Executive Assistants, Personal Assistants, and general support staff in the United States have not been offered specific training relevant to their roles. For too long, training was not considered an important investment to be made because the need did not appear to be pressing. However, since the financial meltdown of 2008, the world and the workplace has changed in a seismic way. In our demanding 24/7, non-stop instant access global workplace of 2018, too many assistants are still fighting for training dollars and this education gap is hurting companies.
In Part 1, Bonnie and Vickie explore where we are with training and why and how we got here.
Spoiler Alert: Training is no longer an option and training budgets for assistants are now a global trend as leaders have begun to clearly see the ROI. Executives need to have highly skilled assistants and that only happens when assistants receive training specific to their role. It is definitely not one-size-fits-all.
By Bonnie Low-Kramen, President Ultimate Assistant Training & Consulting Inc.
“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” – John Keating
I admit that ever since I was a working person from around age 12 as a babysitter, I have had a problem with the term “boss.” Hearing it makes me cringe. It always struck me as a negative and demeaning word – and for good reason. Because it is. At least in the definitions that apply to the workplace and to the people who supervise others.
Did you know that the origin of the word comes from the Dutch word “baas” which translates to mean “master?” “Boss” was first used in the 1660’s in the Dutch settlements of colonized America. “Boss” started being used because of the American aversion to the word “master” which was commonly used in England. So it seems that the word morphed out of a need to avoid more humiliation. The word became the lesser of two evils.
It’s time to move on.
Let’s take a closer look at the word according to Merriam Webster and how it is still being used.
Boss (noun) – “I’m the Boss and what I say goes.”
Boss (verb) – “He bosses the team around.”
Boss (adjective) – “She is very bossy.”
Also of interest are Merriam Webster’s “words related to boss” which include: mistress, dictator, dominator, superior, slave driver, micromanager, oppress, and tyranny.
In every case related to the workplace, the connotation is negative. At conferences all through the U.S. and in 12 countries, I typically tell audiences early on in my presentations that I am not a fan of the word “boss” and I tell them why. I get to see the idea “land” in their body language and the recognition in their eyes. The idea resonates powerfully as they feel why they don’t like the word either. What I experience during Q&A is that my audiences easily and happily choose to find substitute words to describe the men and women who are their leaders. Change can happen in minutes if we intentionally choose it.
Can we really just decide to stop using the word “boss”? In a word, yes. Just like the words “ice box,” “dungarees,” and increasingly “secretary,” the time has come to retire the word “boss.” As in today. As in, “Boss, I’ve called you in to say that today is your last day. You’re being replaced.”
By what word, you may ask? By more relevant and respectful words like:
Executive or Exec
Editors and writers might be reading this right now and wondering what short 4-letter word to use for snappy headlines? What about “Exec”? Surely we can solve this if we believe it is important enough.
Humans often do things because we always have out of habit, right? Times have changed and I see that it is time for a new normal. I see a world without the word “boss.”
The working professionals of the world get it because they understand the history and the innate negativity of the word because it doesn’t stop at just words. What often comes along with those definitions are the actions of workplace bullying, sexual harassment, and demeaning behaviors.
The data is crystal clear that the way to inspire the best long-term work from staffers is to not boss them around. People quit people, not companies. In our 2018 workplace, the #MeToo, #TimesUp and #HandsOffPantsOn movements are real ‘things’ that are exposing the rampant harassment and bullying epidemics going on globally. The bright light is shining on company culture and the way humans relate to one another. Intimidation and bossing are not effective long-term management styles.
In a recent survey by Google, the results revealed the top 5 things that staffers want most in the workplace and none had to do with money. The number 5 result was Psychological Safety. Staff wants to feel respected, valued and that they belong which is the antithesis of management by intimidation. This survey result is consistent with what I am seeing and hearing all over the world, from S Africa to Dubai to Scotland to New York City.
Keith Passwater, SVP Corporate Finance & Chief Actuary, of Anthem has this to say on the subject. “I have disliked the word ‘boss’ due to the connotation of ‘bossy’ and agree that that the workplace would be better without it. I well remember some of my early leadership disasters – situations where I felt this intense accountability for and authority over someone else. As a result of my own fears and insecurities (and maybe a lust for power), I drove people into the ground with micromanagement and offered them little help in clearing obstacles. Although, at times, we achieved some remarkable results, my leadership sewed seeds of deep insecurity, low productivity and general misery into my teams, resulting in high turnover and a well-deserved reputation as a terrible boss. Now, my goal isn’t to control or boss my team members; it’s to inspire and equip them to do their best toward our assigned objectives.”
Doing what I am proposing would mean taking a fresh look at the written language on company websites, job descriptions, social media posts, and most of all, at the way we speak about and to one another.
In 2014, Sheryl Sandberg worked to ban the word “bossy” since it is a word only used to describe females. I am a huge fan of Sheryl, her book “Lean In,” and this Ban Bossy idea. I want to take it a step further. Will you participate?
For 25 years, I worked as the Personal Assistant to Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis and her husband actor Louis Zorich. From the beginning of my work with Olympia, I felt uncomfortable using the word “boss” and so did she. I would call Olympia my “executive” or “principal.” Olympia would introduce me and say, “Meet Bonnie Low-Kramen. She works with me.” The “with” rather than “for” was subtle but it sent a powerful message to the listener. It is these kinds of intentional and respectful decisions that kept me happy and productively doing my job for 25 years.
Olympia had no desire to “boss” me around because it did not make sense to either of us. Rather, she saw our work as a strategic business partnership and a collaboration. As such, I had a seat at the table at important meetings and the opportunity to speak when I had something to contribute. I belonged there.
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Yehuda Berg
The workplace of 2018 has never been more demanding and is crying out for this change. This could be a singularly historic landmark moment. The word “boss” no longer has a role in our modern workplace. It’s our choice. This change will make a difference for our daughters and sons and beyond. We are worth it, aren’t we?
If you believe in these ideas, please share this post far and wide. Thank you.
Q: If you were CEO for a day, what one change would you make to make your workplace a better one?
Ultimate Assistants are the ultimate problem-solvers in today’s workplace. Here’s your chance to show the world what you know and win a full scholarship to the Be the Ultimate Assistant 2-day master class with Bonnie Low-Kramen and Vickie Sokol Evans in the city of your choice in 2018. Subject to availability. We are headed to NYC (sold out), Atlanta, Santa Clara, and Amsterdam.
Here’s how. In honor of APW – Administrative Professionals Week, in 100 words or less, please answer: “If you were CEO for a day, what one change would you make to make your workplace a better one?”
With your permission, your submission will appear on my Be the Ultimate Assistant blog and on LinkedIn. You may remain anonymous if you wish. No submission will be published without permission. The winner of the full scholarship will be announced on Wed April 25 on LinkedIn and via email. My hope is that these ideas will support you and your leaders to build powerful company cultures that are profitable, mutually respectful, and wildly productive.
How would your office run if you couldn’t be there? Hey, life happens, right? The answer to that question should be “just fine.” However, if you go into a cold sweat because you know you are the only one holding too much information – like passwords, files, how to make coffee, phone numbers, etc. – then this podcast episode is for you. Read more
Is this the year when assistants speak up regarding the dark truths of their workplace in the effort to create a better one?
Bonnie Low-Kramen | January 2018 | Executive Secretary Magazine
I’m a #MeToo and I am happy I lived to see this day. To be more accurate, these days. The days the silence broke to the point when there is no putting this genie back in the bottle. There is no going back to staying quiet out of fear. That is a very good thing.
It began in a big way on January 21st with the Women’s March on Washington which turned into five million women, men, and children marching in cities large and small all over the world. Assistants were marching too. The march was about many issues, but sexual harassment was a central one characterized by pink “pussyhats”.