How 'Mad Men' Made The Word Secretary Fashionable Again

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Secretaries are making a comeback. But not the actual workers — the job title itself. The use of the term secretary to describe an administrative assistant has been on the decline for decades, thanks, in part, to the feminist movement.Now, however, job descriptions containing the word “secretary” are on the rise, possibly due to the success of the AMC series “Mad Men,” which has re-energized and glamorized the image of the corporate helpmate.

“The title secretary started to go out of fashion after World War II,” said Ray Weikal, communications specialist at the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), which conducted the research. “The association was formed as a way of professionalizing secretarial work. The idea was to encourage professional development. After World War II, there was a stigma attached to the title secretary, so many people preferred to be called administrative assistant.”

That shift continued in following decades with the rise of feminism and women’s rights movements, Weikal told BusinessNewsDaily.

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“With the cultural change of the 1950s through the 1970s, women increasingly wanted to have titles that better reflected their status as fully professional members of their office team,” Weikal said. “It was a matter of recognising they weren’t merely secretaries, but that they were equal members of the team that made corporate America work.”

Today, it appears that a reversal has occurred. According to the IAAP’s Administrative Professional Skills Benchmarking Survey, the two most popular job titles for IAAP members were still executive or administrative assistant. However, seven per cent of members also identified themselves as administrative secretaries, making it the third most popular job title.

That may be a result of what IAAP is calling the “Mad Men” effect. According to the survey, in the past two years, the number of workers who have secretary in their job title has nearly doubled, and this year’s survey marked the first time in several years that the job title of secretary was included among the top three job titles. The researchers think this is due to the nostalgia that the popular television show evokes when featuring secretaries in the corporate world.

“The ‘Mad Men’ effect comes down to the fact that when we were looking at the figures and we saw the increase in the number of administrators who carry secretary in their job title, there was no obvious rational data explaining the increase,” Weikal said. “There were some anecdotal examples, nothing data- driven, that there had been something of a culture change among some employers about using the secretary title. I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility for people to be influenced for that reason.”

The IAAP survey is based on the responses of more than 3,300 IAAP members.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily staff writer David Mielach at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @D_M89.

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