Every year thousands of well-meaning managers re-enforce a worn out stereotype that should have been buried away under the road to respect and equality long ago. I guess it might be nice for some secretaries to be given a special day when their bosses are encouraged to show them their appreciation for all the effort they have put in throughout the year. But surely isn’t it about time to move on?

There are just so many aspects to this topic that wind me up that I will force myself to write in bullet points to be sure of keeping a level head: Secretary day is:

  • Patronizing at best and outright sexist at worst (perhaps there are even grounds to ban it under European equality law)?
  • Not helped by the Dutch language that reinforces the fact that only the female secretaries will receive special attention
  • Unfair; why not bookkeepers, cleaners, sales personnel, or even CEOs? If we chose for cleaners we could at least extend it beyond the office and out into the streets and bus stations?
  • The role of secretary is a professional position. The incumbent is employed under the law of the land and is financially re-warded for her or his effort so why do we need to single them out once a year for extra special gifts and attention? Or are we implying that the secretary’s tasks go beyond the usual code of employment and therefore need compensating in some other way? If this is true, are a few flowers or some chocolates once a year enough?
  • For those secretaries that do not appreciate being singled out – what about their rights not to be patronized by their boss in front of their fellow professional colleagues?
  • Degrading the professional status of one group of female employees degrades all women, while at the same time categorizes men, especially bosses, as fitting into the same patronizing group. You cannot impact one without the other.

If I have not convinced you yet, try looking at it this way: If my wife saw me going to work with chocolates and flowers for my secretary on any other day of the year, she might have good cause to question what the hell is going on? 

There can be no question that women are still way behind the equality stakes when it comes to professional careers and it is my opinion that the last thing that we need is to have an annual day legitimizing that image.

Perhaps secretary day should be turned 180 degrees around into a kind of Martin Luther King day, one day a year where we can reflect back, not on racism but on sexism in general?  If we did which female person do you think would be best suited as a role model? Harriet Tubman, Jane Addams, Emmeline (or Sylvia) Pankhurst or…?

You can call me a ‘kill joy’ but quite frankly we need to encourage more women into senior and managerial positions. The spring plank from secretary to departmental manager or even director has always seemed a logical one to me. I have witnessed several situations where the secretary could have done just as good a job at running the department or company as their boss, especially if they had received all the training and support that was offered to their male counterparts.

I can just imagine what Emmeline would do. She would most likely re-establish the 18th of April as ‘patronizing sexist manager day’, where secretaries around the world would be encouraged to politely return their presents with the words “Thank you for your kindness, happy male boss day!”

So on the 19th of April, lucky secretaries all over Europe and even the US will be receiving cards and gifts and even (most likely) an unwelcome kiss from their bosses; just because she is a she and he is a he and she happens to work for him.

Have a nice week,

Harley