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I’ve been an Administrative Professional for 34 years, and during my role as an Executive Assistant, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve experienced the hollowing feeling of being left out by my coworkers, nor can I tell you how many times I’ve had Assistants come to me after their team or executives excluded them from a birthday gathering or happy hour or important meeting and say, “I can’t believe no one even asked me if I wanted to join.”
“I know, unfortunately, that happens” I tell them. “I’m so sorry.”
It’s hard to explain why it happens, because it is inexplicable. But I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Clearly, everyone knows we’re part of the team — if the copy machine is broken or there are questions about travel, expenses or various office processes, we’re the first ones people come to for answers. We’re the ones who plan internal promotion celebrations, client meetings and company events and purchase gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, wedding celebrations and funeral, events in which we’re expected to consider the honoree’s personality and interests. Yet we’re rarely included in the kind of activities that best help us get to know each other not just as colleagues, but as people.
What drives this lack of inclusivity? There could be several reasons. Maybe it’s because EAs are often seen as the “eyes and ears” of the executives they support, which could potentially make other team members feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because Admin responsibilities are viewed through a more narrow lens, leading executives to assume they don’t need invitations to meetings that don’t directly apply to their assigned tasks. Or maybe it’s that the EA doesn’t do enough to remind fellow team members of their invaluable contributions and that they too are a part of the team, often staying silent until their executive or teammates specifically seek them out.
Whatever the reason, it’s not OK. If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my career as an EA, it’s that we’re all one team working towards the same goal. Sure, everyone has different roles, but none are more important than the others. And as someone who has been fortunate enough to build exemplary relationships with my executives over the years, I can offer some hope: There are effective ways to ensure inclusivity in the office.
First of all, as an EA, recognize your worth. We all have our functions to perform and we all need to work together to get there. I’ve seen assistants who have something as simple as a document they need signed ASAP by their executive, but they’re afraid to approach them, even if the executive is clearly not doing anything extremely important at that moment. Unfortunately, many assistants still fall victim to the stereotype that their place is outside their boss’ office, that they shouldn’t interrupt their boss for anything, that their boss should come to them. But if you’re looking to build a partnership, that’s not the way it works. Both the EA and the executive have to come to an understanding that there is a better use for assistants than to simply wait for things to do.
Likewise, executives need to rethink their EA’s role. Leadership needs to see their assistants as people who are on a career path. We may start out as receptionists or assistants, but we have the capacity to grow beyond that. Executives need to mentor their assistants just like they would any other team member in their office. This means inviting them to key project meetings so that the assistant can get a full view of the undertaking; while a specific process may not apply to them in a particular meeting, that knowledge will no doubt become important down the road. And really, what does it hurt to have them there? Especially considering the side conversations that break out in meetings, it can also be a way for the assistant to better know the team, and vice versa, which can only make the office environment better.
Additionally, think about ways to break down some of those social barriers. It doesn’t have to be a time-consuming process. Sometimes, it’s as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee — just say, “Hey, I’ll walk and talk with you on our way to the breakroom” or “How about if I grab lunch for us and bring it back to your office?” Then, it’s easier to have some of those more personal, getting-to-know-you type of conversations.
However EAs and executives choose to go about it, ensuring assistants are seen as an integral part of the team — and not just as a resource for other team members — is key to helping any assistant grow in their position and become even more of an asset to the executive and the team. Those kinds of social interactions, which often include shop talk, give EAs more insight into clients and how the business as a whole is run. Everybody wins when everybody feels like an essential part of the office culture — and we’re all better off for including each other in the human experience.

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The Backbone Blog is all about the modern Admin. Created by the Admin Awards, Backbone is all about leveling up and inspiring Admins to do their very best work. It’s also about overcoming outdated stereo-types about the profession and those that serve in it. We work hard to tell the stories of innovators, change agents, thought leaders and pioneers who area making a phenomenal impact to their organizations and profession and inspire others in the process. We believe the best ideas and insights come from Administrative Professionals themselves, so that’s what you’ll find here.