ask the readers: men, women, and admin positions

A reader writes:

Where are all the guys?

I am in the midst of seeking out entry-level administration positions and overwhelmingly, administrative positions (at least entry-level ones) are filled by women. I have seen male receptionists and admin guys, but they are decidedly in the minority.

What entry-level positions are they applying for? Are there other entry-level positions out there that it hasn’t occurred to me to seek out? Or am I operating on a faulty, sexist premise?

Is there a whole other entry-level category where it’s mostly men applying, and women are in the minority? I’m all confused. I know there are young men out there with no experience. They must be applying for jobs at the same level that I am. So… Where are they?

Good question. I’ve seen the same thing myself when I’m hiring for admin positions. There are male candidates for those jobs, and I’ve hired them, but they’re definitely outnumbered by women.

I want to hear from readers on this, but I have two thoughts that might explain this:

1. Men are still more likely than women to get degrees in business, science, technology, and engineering, and women are overrepresented in majors like psychology, English, and other liberal arts. The latter are more likely to lead to a career path that kicks off with an admin position.

2. I would also bet that a lot of employers hiring for these roles see women — even if only unconsciously — as more suited for the work, and so favor them in hiring.

What do others think?

{ 134 comments… read them below }

  1. Malissa*

    I think men with no experience tend to gravitate towards trade fields. Who do you see when you pull into a shop to have your oil changed? Mostly men. Same goes for construction work, truck driving, welding, etc.

  2. Sophie*

    I work tech support at a university. From my perspective, I see many more women in the majors of psychology, liberal arts, nursing, and education. I see more men in majors like engineering and science (nursing excluded, which is overwhelmingly female). I think #1 is dead-on. Even within my own department, we have done some recent hiring at the entry-level and just above, and the more technical positions, like media assistants or computer support, have been filled by men, and the more clerical positions, like admin assistants, have been filled by women.

    To answer the OP’s question, I think the entry-level positions that men are going for are more technically oriented. I see a lot of men applying for and being hired in the tech support arena, like at help desks.

    1. Amanda*

      Ditto – I think the male equivalent of admin seems to be tech support. A lot of men have their degrees in technically focused disciplines, and even if not directly in IT they are more likely to develop and emphasize their IT skills in other areas like hobbies and project work.

      Women almost seem to undervalue IT, seeing those skills as a geeky/expert sort of domain. In reality, entry level IT jobs are a lot more about being interested in developing IT expertise than already having it – and those same organisational, methodoligical and interpersonal/customer service skills one needs to sell in an application for an admin role are the same things a lot of IT support call centres are looking for. Sure you need more than a basic understanding of Microsoft office, but desktop maintenance, troubleshooting, web development and basic networking are all skills that women I know have picked up along the way and completely disregarded as potential career boosters.

      1. sparky629*

        I agree with you to some extent Amanda but I will say that in the tech field (IMO) that women are underrepresented because it’s so dang hard to move up the ladder in IT as a woman. It’s not that we don’t value those IT skills but most of us ‘older’ women were introduced to IT through admin.
        I have been in admin/tech for a long long time and what inevitably happens is that to move further in the tech areas you HAVE to gain those hard tech skills (i.e. programming, web development, systems configuration, etc.) to move up. However, if you aren’t particularly interested in those areas, the upper level positions will be out of your reach.
        So then what happens is…you are overqualified to be a straight admin person but underqualified to be tech/computer person. It’s a horrible gray area that I have been trying to get out of for years. :-( Maybe in the future when there’s a better blending of admin and tech the playing field will be more level.

        1. Anonymous*

          “I agree with you to some extent Amanda but I will say that in the tech field (IMO) that women are underrepresented because it’s so dang hard to move up the ladder in IT as a woman. ”

          Oh definitely. Look at some of the posts in this very article about how women don’t like those subjects or ignore IT or whatever. If you’re told as a woman that you can’t possibly know about this subject, or shouldn’t know about it, or can’t know it better than a man, would you really be interested in that subject enough to pursue it? I can’t tell you how annoying it is to be talked down to by a man who thinks he knows more than you simply because he has a different set of genitalia. It’s obnoxious and sexist.

        2. Michael*

          “I have been in admin/tech for a long long time and what inevitably happens is that to move further in the tech areas you HAVE to gain those hard tech skills (i.e. programming, web development, systems configuration, etc.) to move up. However, if you aren’t particularly interested in those areas, the upper level positions will be out of your reach.”

          Is it just me or does this just make sense? If you’re not interested in getting into the “meat” of the IT world, why would you expect to advance up its ladder? Also, if you’re thinking about management positions, how can you reasonably expect to manage that which you don’t really understand?

          I’m not trying to be confrontational but am just trying to understand. An analogy I would draw from this is that I’m no where near interested in serving tables but I want to manage a restaurant. That doesn’t make sense to me.

          1. J*

            Actually, a lot of IT managers where I work (higher ed) do not have background in higher-level IT/CS work (programming, engineering, networking, etc.). They’re more project management types with some tech savvy/mid-level knowledge.

            1. Michael*

              This is just from my personal background, but those types of people usually make the worst managers out there for IT. They often expect too much, too fast, don’t really understand the scope of what they’re managing and ask for things that either the technology doesn’t do or things that make zero sense such as dictating coding style. The managers who I’ve had that have been developers themselves have been amazing as they’re able to talk business to their boss and translate business needs to us in a way we understand.

              So, sure, non-technical managers exist for IT, but I cringe every time I see it as those positions I’ve had often required me to work twice as hard since my boss is not my peer but just another business user who needs their hand held when I’m explaining things. This isn’t bad but is frustrating when one of the people you interact with most has to be treated this way.

              1. sparky629*

                >but those types of people usually make the worst managers out there for IT.

                See I would argue the exact opposite. In my experience, people with strictly IT backgrounds make the worst managers. They are so used to dealing with computers/technology that they don’t have any real world people experience. Technology is either black or white, people however are very gray. I’ve seen way too many IT managers struggle with managing staff, resources, and projects.

                What inevitably happens is the manager ends up not managing and leaving the ‘management’ stuff to the admin person or they leave the position. Which is really unfair to the admin person because they are making way less than the manager but still doing the work. Also, the admin person can’t apply for an IT manager position (even though they’ve managed IT staff and resources) because they don’t have the hard tech skills. But now they are overqualified for higher level admin positions.

                So I think we are both seeing the same situation but in very different lights.

              2. Michael*

                I disagree with your eventuality but do agree that if you’re “doing the work” and doing it well then you deserve the role. Though, I’ve never been in a position where the manager routes information through an administrative assistant type person. I’ve always talked directly with my boss and get my work assignments from them, take any issues up with them, etc.

                My current manager has worked up from being a developer himself and does great at communicating with the business at large, keeping others off our backs and giving us what we need to get our work done. It helps as well that I work in a consultant heavy area so most developers here (in the city as well as in my department) have people skills. If they didn’t, they generally wouldn’t find “good” jobs. So, your premise that IT “born and bread” type managers are social recluses don’t apply to my situation. I guess I have the best of both worlds. Come to Ohio. Haha.

          2. sparky629*

            >An analogy I would draw from this is that I’m no where near interested in serving tables but I want to manage a restaurant.

            Um, serving tables doesn’t mean you can’t manage a restaurant. Many restaurant managers have never waited tables. They only have to understand the general philosophy behind exceptional customer service. Restaurant managers need to know how to manage a restaurant and waiting tables is well the least of things they need to know to be successful.

            Now having said that…I totally understand programming (actually I have some under my belt), web programming, and hardware/software configuration. I get all of that but you know what…I don’t want to spend my days doing that because it’s not very interesting.

            Besides from being on the periphery of this field for so long it is saturated with people who all have about the same technical skills with more entering the field every year. Most of them would do well to gain some admin/people skills because it would make them better managers. :-)

            For the record, most IT managers that I have encountered do not spend any time programming, web developing, installing/troubleshooting software or hardware. TBH, they don’t have an in depth knowledge of the newest shiniest technical thing. They need to manage the people (which is the biggest deficiency in technical areas), resources, and projects.

            So contrary to what IT people like to think…it’s ever so possible to manage IT staff without ever having done programming or web development. IT is the only field where people act like if you haven’t done it before you couldn’t POSSIBLY know what’s going on. *sigh*

            1. Michael*

              I understand what you’re saying. See above for my “general” response.

              Also, the large difference between IT and other fields is that, in IT, nothing is set unlike well founded and defined fields such as people management, physics, and basic mathematics. In IT, software specifically, you literally model your own tiny universe. This is why writing code is not like building a bridge. In building a bridge, you have steel beams, rock foundations, rivets, a set a physics model that dictates how everything behaves, etc and all you do is put the pieces together in a specific configuration. However, in software you have to define what each of those equivalents mean and any changes to those individual pieces have ripple effects across entire systems as I’m sure you can appreciate as you say you know some coding. So, if you’re a non-technical IT manager that can understand and appreciate the fluidity of such a system then that’s awesome. I simply have not had a manager like you yet.

              1. Jamie*

                “So, if you’re a non-technical IT manager that can understand and appreciate the fluidity of such a system then that’s awesome. I simply have not had a manager like you yet.”

                So well said. Truth be told, some days I spend way more time on management stuff (someone needs to justify a budget) than IT – and that’s sad. But we’re a small enough company that I’m still very hands on. But I would never want to manage ITs if I didn’t have the background myself. Even the basics of management: hiring, setting challenging but realistic deadlines, finding the root cause of project problems, etc…how could you do any of that for IT without the skill.

                In other words, if a manager doesn’t know what I do or what X entails how could they vet my approach, time lines, or budget? And how could a manager ever offer professional guidance in areas where they have no expertise?

          3. Jamie*

            “Is it just me or does this just make sense? If you’re not interested in getting into the “meat” of the IT world, why would you expect to advance up its ladder? Also, if you’re thinking about management positions, how can you reasonably expect to manage that which you don’t really understand?”

            I was about to weep as I was reading the comments – then Michael restored my faith in humanity.

            The one thing all good IT people have in common is logic and respecting colleagues with the skills to do things right the first time. Competence is valued…gender is just an aside.

            I’m a woman and my career path over the last eight years: entry level admin (clerical/temp) > operations admin (clerical/systems) > IT Manager > Director of IT > now CIO (as of a couple of weeks ago).

            I would just hate to see AAM readers get the impression that it’s not possible to make a life in IT if you’re a woman. It’s possible – I fell backwards into IT, loved it, and worked ridiculously hard to aquire the skills and knowledge I needed. If you have a passion for tech then the knowledge is it’s own reward – and collateral benefit is people want to pay you.

            If you don’t have a passion for the field in an of itself – don’t bother. I’ve never known a decent IT who didn’t have the love for it. If you go into it for the money you’ll be dissapointed, because if you don’t love it you’ll never be good enough at it to make a decent living.

            (disclaimer – love for the work doesn’t preclude bitching about one’s job. It’s not nirvana with a server farm. I reserve the right to whine about being overworked and roll my eyes out of eye shot of users all day long.)

            1. fposte*

              Actually, what I’m hearing is that entry-level IT is on a par with many other entry-level office jobs (which I wouldn’t have realized), and that women are underconsidering a solid career area based on misunderstanding the qualifications. So I’m seeing a revelation of possibilities.

              I’d just assumed that the arrangement here (bottom rank relatively unskilled, more customer service) was due to its being a university, but sounds like it might actually be the general model. And I would totally have been up for that in my entry-level days.

            2. sparky629*

              Can I ask in what industry/field you currently work? Are you the only woman at that level? Are there other women at lower levels of IT ladder? What size company do you work for?

              While I am happy that you were promoted to CIO from an admin position, that is not the norm for most women in the admin/tech fields.

              At my current employer, there are only 3 women in any positions of power in IT (and I work at a large university). Those 3 women all have strictly IT backgrounds. The assistant to the former CIO (who had to know as much as he did about IT, technology, staff, etc was still only a coordinator).

              This isn’t my first position and in former places, I do not recall seeing ANY women in higher level technical positions and definitely not C level positions.

              So while the world is certainly changing it’s views on women and IT we still have a long way to go.

              1. Jamie*

                I’m in manufacturing – which is about as far away from the academic work world as you can get. We have our own issues, but manufacturing tends to run lean so there seem to be less bureaucracy than some other industries and more room for movement outside of the traditional paths.

                I don’t work for a huge company – there are certainly other women at my level in different positions, but to manage a couple of hundred users we don’t need tiers of support.

                I made the leap from admin to IT in another manufacturing company – not my current employer. But my current company has moved women from admin positions to engineering, including paying for classes, when they showed an interest and aptitude. And engineering is just as stereotypically male as is IT.

                Upper level management in manufacturing used to be a boys club – but that is changing. I am involved in a couple of IT forums and there are always plenty of women involved. We’re not 50% yet – but we’re not alone, either.

                There are still pockets of sexism out there – and it disgusts me when I see it – but my point was that it isn’t so universal that it should discourage women from pursuing IT – if you bring skills to the table you can find a place. I absolutely believe that.

            3. Nikki*

              Jamie, you are so right. I’m told (by IT people) I would make an excellent IT person, programmer, help desk, web developer, you name it. It’s what my brother and a close friend do and we talk about the nerdy/geeky things and they try to convert me. .but boy my heart just ain’t in it.
              I believe, I BELIEVE! I just don’t care, ha…

      2. Anon*

        When I was in high school there were two versions of the aptitude test – pink for girls, blue for boys. After all, how could a girl have an aptitude for a man’s job, or vice versa? I think we still hold the attitude that some jobs are for girls and some for boys. I’m a woman in IT – started as tech support – and love it, but it’s clear that there are still folks who don’t think women belong there. I’d rather be a woman in a “man’s job” than a man in a “woman’s job,” though, even though both are hard work and anyone may have the right talents. The concepts are silly but they’re baked into our culture.

  3. Michael*

    I’ve never seen myself filling an administrative role so I’ve never pursued it. “File these papers, get me those reports, let Mr. so and so know blah blah” is not something I want to do. I’m not saying I don’t do these things ever, of course I do, but it’s not the core function of my role.

      1. Michael*

        I didn’t attend college so I have no major. In high school, I took a vocational course in networking and programming and took another class to get a technical certification. After graduation I got a web developer position and have now been a programmer for about 8 years.

          1. Michael*

            Yup! That said, there was an “Admin Tech” course immediately adjacent to my networking class in the vocational school I attended that was exclusively women. I say that in retrospect, so I could be off, but the vast majority of attendees were women, of that I’m fairly sure.

    1. Kelly O*

      As an admin, this is so little of what we actually do, but I understand how this highlights the perception of an administrative support role, especially from someone who may not have been exposed to a variety of those kinds of roles.

      The thing that turns me off from entry-level IT probably further illustrates that – I can’t imagine spending the day reminding people to turn something off and turn it back on, or that they need to actually have a computer plugged in to work, or resetting passwords. My husband is an IT guy, formerly a manager now back in a support role for the moment, and he’s in a more advanced support role, but I hear his awful call stories.

      So I guess there is a lot of preconceived notion on both sides about what a person in that role actually does all day.

      1. Natalie*

        “I can’t imagine spending the day reminding people to turn something off and turn it back on, or that they need to actually have a computer plugged in to work, or resetting passwords.”

        Interesting. As an admin, I do a fair bit of this. We have in-house tech support but I am well known in my office as computer-literate, so if they can’t remember how to print double sided they come to me.

        1. Kelly O*

          I do agree there is a certain amount of tech support involved with being an admin. Most of the time it’s not issues like that, and I will admit I have a CEO who still calls me into his office to change his printer toner and I’m not even his admin anymore. Most of the support I do is directly related to the software – how do I do this in Excel, how did you format the presentation to look like this, can I even do this in Word?

          Although I will readily admit that a good 60% of the time when someone has a bigger hardware issue if we reboot the computer, the problem goes away. I do let our IT staff know about it just in case, but the old “turn it off and turn it back on” works well enough and frequently enough I always do it first.

        2. Kris*

          I am a specialist where I work. I deal with heavy trucks and what bridges they can and can’t cross and such. I also, sometimes I think unfortunately, am the most computere literate person in my office besides our IT tech. I say unfortunately because our IT tech is not a people person so most of my co-workers come to me first. So the point of all this is it doesn’t matter where you fall. Admin, management, tech. If you demonstrate that you know about computers people will see to use you knowledge.

      2. Michael*

        Working phones in a C/S role can be pretty daunting, especially when users are “sure” they’re doing it right and you’re the one at fault. That’s why I work with code. :)

        1. Sophie*

          I wish I worked with the code. I’ve been in my position for 2 years and I’m slowly but surely moving into the back-end management. I work with online courses, and there is only so much you can take of “So I didn’t turn in my homework or take my online test, cuz the computer wasn’t working, and I didn’t call tech support, but could you email this to my professor anyway…” ARGH!

          1. Michael*

            Just be careful. Code ALWAYS shows you your bad spots. It only ever does exactly what you tell it to do.

      3. ChristineH*

        My husband is an IT guy too and has told me his share of horror stories, both as a helpdesk person and in his current role supporting servers.

  4. Interviewer*

    Entry-level jobs dominated by men might involve big box stores – think stockers and floor workers in grocery stores, retail, etc.

    Also, construction, maintenance, and repair work – home and automotive.

    Military takes a bunch, too.

  5. Student*

    I suspect you’ve simply chosen a middle path that few men (but many women) take. I speak only of the young men that I know, and I don’t wish to overgeneralize, but in my experience, young men either choose a very ambitious career path or completely give up on the idea of a career. Women are more likely to forgo a career or seek out an “easy” career path than to choose a “hard” career path.

    The young men I know who intend to have a career aim to be engineers, scientists, businessmen, programmers, lawyers. The entry-level jobs are essentially apprenticeships, or they are heavily recruited by large tech firms. If the young men don’t seek a career path (just an income), then they end up working at colleges or at low-level jobs in retail, construction, manual labor, the food-services industry, security (and at the far low end, drug dealing). It’s kind of a go-big-or-go-home attitude. Young men also have the option of military service.

    The women tend to go into education or administrative work if they want a career. Ambitious women are funneled more towards med school if they want a high-gear career. Women are still very rare in all of the tech sector and most of science (physics, my field, has about 12% professional women). Women are rare in the military – they are not allowed to have most of the jobs that lead to promotions, so it’s not really a good career option for women the way it is for men. Those are the fields that are as short on women as admin and education are short on men. Women without career ambitions also go into some low-level admin work, resulting in an extra glut there, as well as the food service industry and retail.

    In the end, I’d still say that you should pursue the career path that you think you’re best suited to, regardless of whether your gender makes you stand out. I did, and I don’t regret being a female in a male-dominated world. There will be challenges you’ll face as “the guy” in a woman-dominated office, but they aren’t insurmountable.

    1. Naama*

      As a woman in law school, gotta say there are a lot of us in the field, even though the field itself is pretty sexist (partly due to women’s greater likelihood, through free choice or through pressure of some sort, to spend more time raising families than men do; partly due to unquestionably sexist hiring, promotion, and client acquisition practices; partly for other reasons). From what I understand, business school and the business world in general are similar, although less anachronistically gender-biased.
      Also, nursing is highly technical and requires a great deal of knowledge — and it’s a damn hard job. I couldn’t do it. Same with teaching or social work, although they’re less technical. But since those are female-dominated professions, they’re SEEN as requiring less ambition, hard work, investment, and drive than male-dominated professions. That’s unfair to women *and* to men in those fields.
      When we talk about careers as higher- vs. lower-level, ambitious versus less ambitious, we end up reproducing a lot of the ideas that make it harder for women like us to succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields. Are some careers more “ambitious” than others? I really don’t know, but it seems more useful (and less potentially harmful) to talk about ambition as something an individual has, and something that you can measure in a bunch of different ways, as opposed to something inherent in a career. There are a lot of lazy-ass businesspeople out there, and a lot of really driven retail workers who do great work and try to be better every day. I don’t care what your job is — you can be ambitious and high-gear in a whole lot of positions that don’t get their proper respect. Comes down to caring about your work.

      1. Student*

        I mean it strictly from a monetary standpoint. The “ambitious” career paths I cited are strictly ones that pay more than “middle” career paths or non-career jobs. $100k vs $50k vs $20k, if you want the rough breakdown in my mind.

        I agree with you that, in an ideal world, “women’s work” wouldn’t be worth less on average than “men’s work.”

        However, we don’t live in an ideal, socially equitable world where work is valued based on some sane measure of its value to society. So, I don’t try to offer advice on that. I try to tell the kid where the entry-level jobs are overwhelmingly male, because that’s what he asked for. And I try to tell him that being the odd man out as a male admin shouldn’t deter him from a career he’s well suited for – because I hope for a better tomorrow, where men are welcome as admins and nurses and women are welcome as scientists and construction workers.

    2. Ellie H.*

      Great points Naama. I dislike the idea that women are less “ambitious” and tend to prefer “low level careers.” I also dislike the idea that men who work as mechanics or whatever have somehow opted out of a career. What is a “career” anyway – my feeling is that if you work for a living, you have a career. Someone has to do construction work (though unfortunately these days there’s not enough of it) and I think it’s needlessly disparaging to say that those who work in construction have opted out of a career and just want a paycheck. At some level, everyone really wants a paycheck. Also, the idea that the only “high-gear” career women can enter is medicine is totally ridiculous. What about being a professor? HR professional? Nurse? Lawyer? Social worker? Journalist? All these seem “high gear” to me but I sort of feel like commenter Student means “socially impressive” by “high gear.”

      1. Jamie*

        To me there is a difference between a job and a career – but it’s not based on level or salary. It’s about choice.

        Someone who works in food service because they’ve chosen that – they enjoy it and it’s how they want to make a living has a career – even if it’s flipping burgers. Because they selected that of the available jobs based, at least in part, on interest.

        Someone who works in food service as a job would just has easily taken a job walking dogs, cashier at a drug store, moving furniture…whatever to bring in a paycheck.

        That said – not a thing wrong with having a job rather than a career. But to me that’s the distinction: is it a field chosen of your own volition and you’ve given thought to the future in the field or is it just 8 hours and done.

        And it can be fluid. A job can definitely turn into a career and trust me, a career can sometimes feel like a job…for me it’s defined by the attitude of the person who has to haul themselves into work every day.

        1. Kelly O*

          I totally agree with you, and I really hate that we place so much value sometimes on how important a job is. There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to be a mechanic, or a plumber, or a call center worker, or whatever you choose to do.

          And to a point I disagree with Bonnie. I sort of fell into my career path; it’s not anything I sat down and decided to do. If I had the opportunity to take the proverbial dream job, I would. But that doesn’t diminish my commitment to the work I do now, and the path I’m currently on. I feel like you can do both – you can have a job that’s not exactly what you want but treat it like a career. It’s all in the way you look at it, and I might be Pollyanna, but I like looking at things in the most positive yet realistic way I can.

      2. Bonnie*

        I agree with your general premise that no matter what one does it can be a career. However, I don’t think if you work for a living you have a career. I think if you are doing what you intentionally set out to do and wish to continue doing it or use it as a stepstone to the next level it is a career. But if you are only doing it until the MLB scouts find you or your rock band is discovered then it isn’t a career it is just a job.

  6. Danielle*

    I work at a small CPA firm and we have a male receptionist. He does a great job, but it is definitely brought up all the time how unusual it is. I definitely think there is probably some sort of bias when considering candidates, but it is more likely unconscious.

    1. Sophie*

      One of the best student workers I ever had was a guy. He did a lot of admin assistant stuff, like answering phones, filing, routing materials, etc. He was great to work with and we were very sad when he transferred.

  7. Piper*

    Maybe it’s just me, but I never really viewed a receptionist or admin assistant job as an entry-level job to a career path in anything other than higher level admin work, like an executive assistant or maybe even to certain HR paths at smaller companies- my best friend did this and is now an HR manager.

    My first job in my field was at the specialist level in marketing and it was definitely not an administrative position, although it would be considered entry level for that field. It never occurred to me that I should have been looking for an admin job to get my start.

    PS- I’m a woman.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Depends on the field, but in the nonprofit sector you see it a lot — people taking an admin assistant position to begin to build experience.

      1. Piper*

        Really? I didn’t realize this. My roommate from college has worked in non-profits her whole career and she started as a development and communications coordinator. I did all of my internships in non-profits, with the expectation that I would continue working in them, but the economy was terrible when I graduated so I pursued other paths. But while I was interviewing, I never once interviewed for an admin or receptionist job in a non-profit as an entry level position. They were all development coordinator or marketing coordinator type positions, which of course, come with the filing fun, but also with other non-admin responsibilities.

        Not saying what you’re saying isn’t true, but I just haven’t seen that in my experiences.

            1. S*

              Yes! I was just going to make that point. Arts administration is a field where it’s definitely true, not only in nonprofits but also in for-profit galleries and such.

          1. Anonymous*

            Other than peace corps, admin positions are the ONLY entry level positions for international development non-profits (the titles are different, but the work is the same. You book other people’s travel and fill out expense reports). Most think tanks only hire BAs for “research assistant” and admin jobs…some research assistants are really admins, some are really junior researchers, it’s hard to know before starting. I’ve generally found that you need at least an MS/MA to do any non-admin job in my field.

            1. KayDay*

              ^That was me (where did my name go??). Just thought of something though. In the non profit sector, I have one friend who started in least least administrative role of all of us–she was a “contract coordinator,” where as the rest of us were some sort of assistant. However, even though she started out more specialized, since she was on the finance side, her career path is more administrative in nature (she was an office manager in her second position). She loves the work, so it’s great for her, but I think it’s interesting that the least administrative starting job let to the most administrative career path, while the more admin starting jobs have put people on a more programmatic path.

        1. Naama*

          That might be because you had already gotten in the door in the nonprofit world through your internships, and admin jobs wouldn’t further your career. For someone without your prior experience or connections/demonstrated commitment to nonprofit work, it’s harder.

    2. Blinx*

      At my former company, admins were rarely able to take another position in the company, even if they had a degree or completed a degree while in their position. There was some type of stigma attached to them. This was at a Fortune 500 company. They did, however, have a few male admins.

      1. Piper*

        This has been my experience in every company I’ve ever worked in (and I’ve worked in non-profits, Fortune 500s, agencies, and small/mid-sized local or regional companies). I’ve never seen an admin advance outside of that position, other than a receptionist moving in to admin assistant role or something.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’ve been in nonprofits my whole career. Started as a receptionist while I was still in college, was promoted to volunteer coordinator, then moved to a different organization as a staff writer, then somewhere else as publications director, then somewhere else as communications director … and eventually ended up many years later as a chief of staff.

          1. Chocolate Teapot*

            Piper and Blinx both mention situations I have experienced. I even had a “well we don’t promote assistants into senior Chocolate Teapot production roles” in one job. I think to advance in an administrative position, you often have to change companies in order to get new experiences.

            And I belong to a association for administrative professionals. The male assistants who have joined are not even in double figures. Maybe, it’s the idea that “administration” equals “Secretary” equals “that’s not a man’s job”? (Not that I agree with that!)

            1. KayDay*

              I’ve found admins don’t normally move directly into more senior roles but first go to grad school, but work experience before grad school is generally encouraged. So usually people do 1-2 years in an admin type job (these are also known as project assistant, but it’s still admin work), then grad school, then mid-level job.

        2. Jamie*

          I made the jump from admin to IT. In manufacturing it’s about getting in the door – companies tend to run lean so if you have an interest and an aptitude people are pretty willing to let you help with their work…while you learn their jobs.

        3. ChristineH*

          At one place I volunteer at, the current Membership Coordinator (a female) started out at this same organization as a receptionist. So it’s absolutely doable.

    3. K.*

      Yeah, I find this “white collar entry level job = admin assistant” thing interesting. Like Piper, my first job was a specific entry level job related to my major (psychology – I planned to get a Ph.D and become a clinical psychologist, and then I changed gears and went to business school). The admin assistants where I worked were career admins – they were mostly women in their late 50s who had started as “what we called secretaries back then.” I’m a 31-year-old woman, for context. When I came out of undergrad, I feel like people had more specialized entry-level jobs – even those of us, male and female, with “soft skills” degrees. My friend with a history degree became a history teacher, my friend with a poli sci degree was a legal assistant in DC and then went to law school, a few friends with English degrees went into PR, etc.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think in general people would love to do that, but especially in an economy like this one, it’s not always an option immediately available to everyone after college.

        1. K.*

          Oh, of course! And the economy was different (not great, but certainly better than this) when I came out of school, stuff varies by industry, etc. There are a lot of factors. It’s just interesting to me that there seems to have been a shift in what’s considered entry-level – the coordinator/specialist/associate jobs that require 1-3 years’ experience today were the jobs my friends and I were applying for as seniors in college – those were the “dues paying” jobs, and admin/reception work was something separate.

          1. Piper*

            It’s also what’s making it tougher because suddenly those associate/specialist jobs that require 5+ years of experience are what we (who graduated into those jobs years ago) are suddenly being offered now, years later. It’s insulting (and we’ve discussed it ad nauseam in other posts here) and the last thing I want to do is go back to what I consider to be an entry level position and take the pay cut that goes along with it.

          2. Anonymous*

            That’s really interesting, I didn’t realize how different things were before I graduated. I graduated just a few years ago and in general I would not have sought out a “coordinator” or “specialist” position–when I was looking these jobs usually required 2-5 years of post-college experience and/or a master’s degree. (Although, non-profits do not have very standardized titles, so the above is a generalization.) I do have one (brilliant and hardworking) friend who had some amazing internship/in-college work experience who did get a “program coordinator” position right out of college, but it was still very administrative in nature (this was in a non-profit). She was laid off after about 10 weeks. Her next job was as a “research assistant.”

            1. K.*

              And see, I had numerous paid research assistant jobs during college – full-time ones in summer, work-study ones during the year. And while of course some admin work was to be expected, it wasn’t the lion’s share. It’s not that I’m so awesome, it’s that the standards were different. One summer I had a research assistant job AND was a part-time data entry clerk (was socking away money to go abroad the following spring and data entry paid pretty well, involved sitting in an air-conditioned office, and had flexible hours), and none of the full-time data entry clerks where I worked had degrees – they’re really not necessary for that kind of work. Yet today, I see data entry clerk jobs that require college degrees.

              It’s so unfortunate that standards have shifted. There’s no on-the-job training anymore, it seems, so you have to come in fresh off the boat already knowing the business or company.

            2. Laura L*

              Same here. Graduated 6 years ago, did a full-time volunteer gig for a year and by the time I was ready to join the job market, it was difficult to find jobs like that that didn’t require experience. Or connections. On the other hand, I think I might have been able to find some of those jobs, I just didn’t know where to look.

              Now, though, it’s ridiculous that companies won’t train you for that type of work.

        2. Kelly O*

          I’ve been trying to finish a Bachelors for a while now. I have an Associates and it is truly difficult to get anywhere without the Bachelors. I’m hopeful I can find a solution soon that is affordable and can work around my schedule.

    4. Foxing Incredible*

      In my experience in the corporate world, it’s extremely common for recent grads to use an admin/clerical position to get a foot in the door for “better” roles higher up on the food chain. I work at a big bank, so jobs in the sexier areas of the company, like marketing and communications, are extremely rare. And they’re hard to land as an external candidate because those jobs go almost exclusively to admins in those departments, who are usually hired as admins so they have a chance learn the department and network. There’s an understanding by all parties that they’ll eventually be promoted to entry-level role in that line of work. (Of course, with the number of reorgs we have, it’s definitely a risk. The person who promised you a job in a year may get moved elsewhere.)

      I started off in an admin-ish role in HR supporting our corporate communications department, with the sole goal of getting myself hired into an entry-level comms job. It worked, and only took about 1.5 years in the admin role (though clearly it doesn’t work out for everyone).

      As a result of all this, you find a lot of young, well-educated Journalism/Communications majors scheduling interviews and filing papers at our company.

      1. Anonymous*

        Same here. Started in an admin role and have moved up to management. Also keep in mind that “admin” is an extremely broad term where the duties can range from answering phones to planning events, providing training, and other support type duties. I was able to demonstrate how capable I was and gradually took on additional duties that launch me into higher level roles.

    5. Ellie H.*

      I’m an office assistant at a university (I really hate the term “administrative assistant” – it’s a pet peeve of mine) and like all of the other staff here are career admin. I’m 24 and I’m among the very youngest people working here. There are one or two other young people here who don’t have advanced degrees and, I would imagine, just see it as a good job to maybe advance in, but the other few young people around are just doing this as something to do for a bit before grad school (which I am too) or another professional career like nursing school or teaching. But for the most part people here are older and have had a career of administrative work. I’m sure that if I wanted to I could move up the admin ladder and maybe become a director of an office or something eventually.

      For the most part my classmates from school do have “real jobs” that somehow use what they majored in, or want to have a career in, or at least are NOT entry level admin positions like mine. Though what I’m doing seems pretty generic, I think it’s less typical than what my other peers are doing 2 years out. (I majored in Slavic Languages and Literatures so there are extremely few jobs that use this. I didn’t want to work for the CIA or a think tank or something, though I know other area studies majors who have.)

    6. Laurie*

      Agree with you completely, Piper.

      I am a woman too, in finance, and it never occurred to me to look for an entry-level admin position because I didn’t see how that would ever connect to a financial analyst position down the road. I got my foot in the door by working as an intern in a financial team, and was hired to a permanent position shortly thereafter.

      I have always worked in teams with other men in entry-level positions (in fortune 500 as well as government/non-profit) – so, to answer the OP’s question, men and women apply in equal numbers to entry-level positions in corporate finance, banking, marketing (most of the business fields, it seems). Position titles for such roles typically start with “Marketing / Sales / Financial Analyst”.

      Also, when I was working in non-profit, I did see a guy get hired into an entry-level admin position (the other 5 were women). But when he got promoted, he moved up into a senior admin analyst position, so I am assuming that’s the career path he wants to follow. I don’t see that he will be able to make the jump to the technical or financial sides, unless he gets a degree in the relevant field and pivots from there.

  8. J*

    I think #1 is dead on. I’ve worked with a few male admins, and they ALL had liberal artsy majors (Philosophy, English, etc.). I think there’s another side, as well, that might also have to do with gender: I’m a woman and I started out as an admin too (my major was International Relations, which is about as useful as Philosophy without a master’s). I only started moving into positions that were more attuned to my natural abilities (IT) when I realized that I could sell myself beyond what my degree was in. I think many women tend to take job requirements as concrete and do not sell themselves beyond proving they can fill the basic job requirements. So many women might see an entry-level IT Help Desk position and think “oh, well I didn’t go to school for IT, it doesn’t matter that I troubleshoot my entire family’s PC issues every holiday.”

    1. fposte*

      Totally agree–it’s news to me, honestly. I’ve assumed that our support is like that because the entry-level is handled by students (and the gender split seems about even there), not because that’s the norm.

    2. JT*

      “Liberal arts” means an education that includes a mixture of sciences/math, social science and humanities in a way that makes a person well-rounded and good at learning. I went to a liberal arts college and within it we had majors of a huge variety – from math, engineering and computer science to economics and sociology to folklore/mythology. And every student had to have some exposure to science, social science and humanities. Indeed, our professors were collectively called the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

      What you and AMA to be talking with the phrase “liberal arts” is people majoring in humanities or (perhaps) social science. But economics is a social science that is valued in business.

      One last thing – at my school (part of an elite research university) some students who majored in philosophy got very high-paying financial services jobs right out of school. Logic is a key part of philosophy and these students tended to have strong math and logic skills they applied to philosophy.

  9. Anonymous*

    I think it’s entirely unfair to say that women “choose” liberal arts fields as opposed to math and science. Many studies have shown that young girls are sort of pushed away from and socialized to not be interested in subjects like math and science. They’re less likely to be called on by their teachers in those subjects in elementary and middle school classes. Their teachers in those subjects in high school are overwhelmingly male. Saying that they “ignore” IT or something like that is ignoring decades of our society’s gender roles and the socialization that comes with them.

    And before anyone gets all righteous and indignant about this post, please check your privilege and do some research.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Dude, obviously there are reasons why women are more likely to choose liberal arts fields. No one here is arguing it’s just some weird coincidence that comes out of nowhere or getting indignant at your point, which I’d think most of us take for granted as true. Of course it’s rooted in cultural stuff.

    2. Anonymous*

      You’re absolutely right. But there’s also something that pushes women who do stick through and get a (or many, in the case of the MS and PhD holders I know) technical degree/s away from the field.

      I know several women who got degrees in engineering, chemistry, and physics who then decided to go to law school and med school instead of working in engineering or a related field. The pay for lawyers and doctors coming out of a Tier 1 school is higher than engineers coming out of the same schools with masters and PhDs. One thing I’ve found to be true is that women generally tend to be more pragmatic about their career choice.

      Many men will deal with the crappy boss, company that cuts his benefits in half every bonus season, etc because he gets to fire rockets. The woman will say “thanks but…” and leave for a place that treats her better and pays her equitably. Usually this place is outside the engineering field.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Not true. Women will put up with quite a lot so they can fire rockets.
        That said, sexism is still in a lot of technical fields. Men are questioned about thier technical opinions while women are challenged.
        That said, engineering is a rewarding field.

  10. Anonymous*

    For what it’s worth, even though I had a college degree (yes, liberal arts), my first job out of college was as a receptionist. I thought it was just “paying my dues.” In that position I just kept volunteering to assist with other things, and within a year I was promoted into a public relations position. Never had another admin position again, and it was designed to be the beginning of a career path…And yes, I’m a woman.

    1. Piper*

      That’s great (it’s also nice that you were allowed to take on other projects- that’s not always the case)! I wasn’t saying that it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying that it never occurred to me to apply for such jobs and none of my friends did that, either. I was applying for coordinator and specialist positions. I did a ton of internships, so I had a good amount of solid experience with actual, real-world portfolio pieces by the time I graduated and I viewed that and then that first job out of school as paying my dues.

  11. Joey*

    I’m only hypothesizing here but I think the stereotype works both ways. Many men believe their chances of landing an entry level clerical position aren’t very good because of gender so they don’t apply. And vice versa for women.

  12. JLH*

    I’ve worked in several areas with many companies in multiple industries, and the one axiom throughout all of them is that women make up the vast majority of administrative staff.
    Personally, I think it goes along with the “help” nature of women–supportive roles are, well, more supportive. While a good admin should receive good feedback for their work, it’s very much less likely to be tied into their pay or chance for advancement, whereas their manager is apt to receive bonuses and advance. Men, probably by a mix of inherent nature and of cultural nurture, are more likely to seek positions where there’s an obvious chance of advancement with increasing salary. Women still make .75 of the men’s dollar, and I think part of that is women aren’t as motivated as men to negotiate salary because they get more out of inherently doing their job then men do. Men gauge it (more often) by how much they make, not how much praise they get or knowing they did a good job.

    1. Anonymous*

      Part of it is socialization. Women very rarely do ask for a raise, no matter what their position is. Men are more apt to ask for a raise and get it. I know there are books on this particular topic.

      1. Tax Nerd*

        Women Don’t Ask is the book that discusses this problem. There’s a sequel to try to get women better at negotiating, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it.

        I think both mention the fact that women get penalized more for negotiating. A man says he wants a 15% raise or he’s going to consider his options is seen a tough negotiator who fights for his worth. A woman who does that is seen as a demanding bitch who puts her own priorities before the company’s.

  13. AD*

    Someone just asked me if I know anyone to fill a job called “Staff Support Specialist” at a financial planning firm. This is an entry-level position responsible for answering phones and ordering office supplies and such. They want someone with an econ or finance degree, and the job description really played up the finance parts of the job: tracking expenditures and trying to minimize them, etc., but at the end of the day, it sure sounds like an administrative assistant.

    I wonder if entry-level men are taking “admin-in-disguise” type roles, or if this is more of an anomaly because the hiring manager can ask for whatever they want in this economy.

    1. KayDay*

      “I wonder if entry-level men are taking “admin-in-disguise” type roles” – I think this might be part of it….

      1. Anonymous*

        Yes! One of my best friends (who’s a guy) graduated with an economics degree and spent the last couple of years working at a small business. His official title was something fancy sounding, but he was totally an administrative assistant — he did lots of scheduling, managing the office, ordering supplies, answering emails…

        I don’t think he ever would have accepted an administrative associate job, but he was pretty happy to take a job that involved the same tasks with a different title.

  14. Lee Zaruba*

    This is something that’s less a mystery to folks like myself who work in the customer service / call center arena.

    I’ve seen and been handed multiple studies over the years that indicate people… both men and women… respond more positively to a female’s voice. I’ve also witnessed it. All things being equal… in most cultures they find a woman’s voice more pleasing, more calming and more approachable. (There are contextual exceptions, but this is just a reply comment).

    Many admin positions include the role of initial greeter, receptionist, phone record-over duty for voice-mail systems, message taker and scheduler for executives, and the like.

    Whether consciously or subconsciously, I’m sure this factor plays into this. You interview for such positions for people who give a pleasing first impression, smooth things over between people, communicate while introducing the least amount of “extra noise or attitude” possible, and so on. So. If you are really thinking about most admin/reception oriented tasks as you interview, you would probably gravitate toward women due to this mental wiring. In this case, that bias is somewhat scientifically valid for the job requirements as well.

    1. Anonymous*

      I do think it’s true–the mother’s soothing voice, assuring you everything will be OK, etc. It does make sense on a very base level, no?

      1. Lee Zaruba*

        Indeed. The preference among males *and* females to hear a female voice in these contexts is not just subjective. There’s a lot of material on the subject — just Google. If you pair suitability bias of a female voice with the selection bias of the interviewer… well. The answer isn’t so mystifying. Between this and occasional sexist overtones in some companies or cultures, you’ll account for the vast majority of the cause.

    2. Natalie*

      It’s hard to know if this is the case without seeing the research, but I wonder if socialization plays a part here, as well.

      Women, in general, are socialized to speak differently – less commanding, more deferential, even less loudly. There’s a pressure that exists for women to not be “bossy” or “shrill” that doesn’t really apply to men. And that friendly, deferential tone is a good one for your front-line customer service person.

      1. Jamie*

        This. Although I believe there is no room in the work place for anyone raising their voice so I won’t, I worked hard to drop the deference from my manner of speaking and it’s something I still have to be aware of and it’s a fine line. If I’m blunt and direct in the exact same tone and verbiage as a man at my level it’s perceived very differently…projecting confidence as a woman without losing your audience and getting labeled the dreaded B word is a delicate act.

        I have known women who didn’t have this issue, though, so maybe it’s just me. I think a lot of it goes back to how valued being sweet and nice was for girls in our families of origin.

  15. Anonymous*

    How about the fact that many men may feel it is women’s work and therefore will feel embarrassed to be a receptionist/admin. So they seek everything else first.

    1. Anonymous*

      & if men with that belief ultimately begrudgingly take an admin job, that “this is beneath me” attitude will carry through to everything they do, & they’ll leave as soon as they can. I’ve known great & terrible admins of both genders, & the most important factor is disposition.

      for what it’s worth, I’ve also worked my way up from an entry-level admin position twice (I had to jump back a bit when I switched from the corporate world to a nonprofit). even though I’m grateful to leave that work behind, & even though I always knew it was something I didn’t want to do forever, I was a GREAT admin while that was my job. someone who’s like “ugh, I guess it’s a paycheck” probably isn’t going to be super successful at the role, & probably isn’t going to get promoted to bigger & better things as a result.

  16. Risa*

    Our receptionist is male, and he has a degree in fine arts/fashion. I think there is largely a function of majors (for graduates)/personal interests/skills (for non-graduates) that lend them to these particular types of entry-level positions.

    I also manage the call center and we are about 50/50 male to female. These are entry level positions at a hospitality/travel company. Oddly, a lot of the students I get are majoring in criminal justice. I haven’t been able to figure out the correlation, other than we get a lot of employee referrals from friends/classmates.

    We are hiring right now, and a lot of our resumes included backgrounds from more typically male-oriented fields: military, construction, certain types of retail (automotive). I suspect because these are the industries that were particularly hard hit in my area, and as people are staying out of work for longer periods of time, they are broadening their horizons in terms of the types of jobs for which they are applying.

    1. fposte*

      You also have to be the kind of guy who’s not bothered by operating in a female-dominated field. (I’m in another female-dominated field, and the men have to be secure with that or they’re doomed.) So there’s probably some self-selection going on, too.

  17. Jenna*

    In some companies, it is pure sexism. When I started my career as a technical writer fresh out of school, I got a technical writing job in a branch office of a manufacturing company. Because it was a small office, I also had to double as the admin assistant/receptionist (which I had experience in from summer jobs in high school and university). Being in manufacturing, the makeup of the offices were mostly males. Whenever I had to be away, or the receptionist at one of the other offices was away (all female), one of the other female workers was required to fill in for them (including me having to go to the main office to play receptionist for a day). Heaven forbid a man answer a phone!

  18. Jasmine*

    Oooh, this is fascinating. OP here, and I’n so delighted to have this question answered with such clarity!

    For context- I ended up with a general arts degree due to having an wide range of interests. (Finnish, Women’s Studies, Business, Environmental studies, Rhetoric, Outdoor Recreation), but I did not take business courses, although I was interested in business. Also, I’m Canadian.

    I have no role models who are employed in a professional capacity, and despite my lifelong immersion in business books (started reading Napoleon Hill at age nine and kept going) I am aware that “I don’t know what I don’t know”.

    Most of my career experience has been in retail, something I’m trying to get out of because I’m much better at paper pushing! It seemed to me that starting in a supportive administrative role would give me clarity and an “insider’s view” from inside a professional position. A greater understanding of what business looks like, the structure of an office, and really, what a person does at an office. I would then like to use the exposure to that environment as a decision making tool, to figure out if I want a degree in International Business.

    You see? I didn’t know I’d need an International Business degree when I went to school, because I had never been to university and did not know that business was something I was interested in, nor did I have any exposure to people who had followed that career path. It was completely outside my experience.

    I’d love to avoid making the same mistake twice, which is why I was wondering what happened to the male grads. There was obviously another path there that I wasn’t aware of, and J’s response is particularly helpful in pointing out the IT fields!

    I have recently developed an interest in web design, and it is nearly impossible to peel me away from the computer. I have the classic nerd addiction to information, sympathize completely with the struggles of programmers and their desire for elegant design, and have mentally check marked “learn css next year” as a project.

    But it never occurred to me that there might be something I’m already qualified for in the IT field, because again, it’s completely outside my experience, and just something I’m starting to explore.

    This discussion is exactly what I needed to shift my job search, so thank you all. I can start marketing myself for positions that I may have never considered before, and now I’ll learn what skills are really necessary for entry level positions.

    And of course in the meantime, I’d love to pay off my student loans whether that is through an admin position or something new .
    Thanks for broadening my horizons! I look forward the the rest of the discussion!

    1. fposte*

      Thanks for asking this question, J. People are bringing really interesting stuff to the answer.

  19. KayDay*

    Wow, I am so happy someone finally asked about this!!! I have always wondered this, but unfortunately went to a school that was about 2/3 female, so I have few male friends to compare to. My BF started his career in a low-level job in the contracts department of a company. While I’m sure his work was very administrative in nature, he did not hold the title of admin assistant, nor did he have to do things like buy supplies and pay bills.

    I’ve worked in the international development and int’l policy realms, which is a very female dominated field. Almost all entry level jobs are very administrative. I’ve been fortunate to work for wonderful female bosses, who started their careers at a time when women expected to be discriminated against in the workplace–they therefore never asked me to do the lowliest admin type things, like get them coffee every morning or hang up their coat, since they knew how demeaning that could be. On the other hand, I was still very much thought of as the “admin” and never really challenged in those positions.

    I also wonder (and this is pure conjecture, based on a few of my friends, not actually statistical evidence) if women are more likely to seek out jobs in more entrepreneurial environments? I think women are more likely to see an admin position at a start up as a way to really build their resumes and take on new challenges (especially in an ad hoc manner), even if that means they have to also get the mail. Where as men are more likely lean towards large, competitive corporations/firms with very specialized positions where people climb the latter very linearly.

  20. Jasmine*

    OP again.

    That…is a very good point, KayDay. I know I am certainly drawn to more entrepreneurial environments. I like to grow into something new, rather than follow a linear path. It makes me feel like I have more control; I’m very clear about what real expectations will be, because I have observed what is really required in a specific environment.

  21. KayDay*

    I was just looking back through some old job postings at my organization. Back in the day (about 7-10 years ago, I think), my organization had a “finance and operations coordinator” who was an entry-level man. This position handled basic bookkeeping, updating the website, and other misc admin type tasks. After he left, and entry-level woman was hired to replace him, as “office coordinator.” Interesting, no? Not sure who was responsible for that title change.

  22. Steve G*

    Interesting comments.

    When I moved to NY in 2007 I applied to a million admin positions. The job market was already getting very tight and I figured they would be the easiest jobs to get, and I was getting desperate for work due to $. Applying to admin positions, however, didn’t speed up by job search, as I never got an admin position.

    1. Rana*

      I’ve found that the idea that lower-tier admin jobs are entry-level to be incorrect in a lot of cases. There’s a fair amount of specialized skills one needs to be a good admin, even at the lower levels. Temp jobs may be an exception, but my general experience is that most office jobs require skills that people don’t have just off the street.

      1. KayDay*

        I sort of agree? When I first started in non-profits, in a admin assistant role, it was like people thought that because they hired me for this role, I somehow automatically knew basic computer networking (adding new users and mapping network drives) and how to fix the 10 year old copier. Those duties were never explicitly stated in the job description, but were a part of that “other responsibilities as assigned” catch-all.

        That said, my employer fully expected a recent-grad for the position. The requirements were something like: BA in economics, poli-sci or related field, at least 1 year office experience preferably in a non-profit setting, and event planning experience. And when they re-hired for the position, after I moved on, they were very much seeking (and found) a recent-grad.

      2. Jojo*

        I agree as well! There is a lot of entry level admin versus career admin discussion here and sounds like posters have great educational background. Would be interesting if AAM runs a little survey about her readers, such as current position and whether they consider this to be an entry or career position, education, city/state and will be even more interesting to know the salary.
        That being said, I am an EA (exec. assistant), and I consider this a career – in previous life, I was in PR, Marketing, Promotion, and even owned my own business.

  23. ARM2008*

    2 observations I’ll throw out there: I see just as many young men at the cash register these days as young women, even in my small, blue collar, stuck in the 50’s little town. This NEVER used to be the case.

    I have done a lot of work as a software tester. Over the years about 2/3 of the testers I have worked with have been women (as am I). Developers probably 2/3 men, but slowly more women.

  24. Helena*

    The original post didn’t specify, but if we’re assuming that these jobs require a bachelor’s degree, then it’s worth noting that women are earning about two bachelor’s degrees for every one a man earns: Men are also less likely to stop with a bachelor’s degree, since they earn about half the PhDs despite only earning a third of the bachelor’s degrees ( Part of the answer is that the pool of men eligible for these jobs is much smaller.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      This is a poor analysis of the data. To get a good job, it isn’t having a degree that is important, as having the RIGHT degree.

      From the Washington Post article:
      “In the health sciences, for example, the number has risen at a rate of 14 percent per year over the past decade. Women now earn 70 percent of doctorates in that field. They represent 67 percent of doctoral degrees in education, and 60 percent in social and behavioral sciences.”

      Health science includes nursing (low paying). Education and behavioral science are also low paying as a group. The higher paying jobs are in the technical and finance fields. Part of it has to do with perceived value to society, but it also has to do with the number of available applicants. Because electrical engineering and brain surgery are hard, you will never have a lot of available workers in that field. Conversely, top tier people will always get big bucks – there are lots of basketball players, but few are at the caliber of professional ball players. That is one reason they get big bucks (another is that they generate big bucks for their team)

      If you make it past all the hoops in a hard field you are almost guaranteed a job. If however, you get an english degree (which are dime a dozen) you will be competing with a lot of people for any job. There is a higher probability of ending up in an admin job just so you can be employed.

      1. Lee Zaruba*

        As much as it will chagrin some readers… EngineerGirl is largely correct.

        I work in Mergers & Acquisitions management, as well as IT management. The job market is not as it was 15-ish years ago. With so many people displaced… particularly in IT… the bar is set fairly high for even entry-level tech support or IT positions. In fact, they’re often being set so high that you cannot apply unless you have prior work experience. (Meaning, they aren’t really entry level).

        With the mixture of a contracted job market, plus global sourcing for lower-end jobs, that’s the prevailing U.S. reality in IT/Tech. Without in-field undergrad work (or expensive certs), PLUS experience, you are facing stiff competition in the low end of the U.S. IT work force.

      2. Helena*

        I think you misunderstood me. We’re talking about entry-level admin positions, so the applicants will have terminal bachelor’s degrees in non-STEM fields. I’m simply pointing out that most of the people with non-STEM terminal bachelor’s degrees are women, since men are either not going to college or going on to pursue higher degrees.

        1. Laura L*

          That’s not true at all. A whole lot of women are getting advanced degrees and very, very few bachelors degrees are terminal. Master and PhD degrees are offered in most every field. Therefore, most of the people with college degrees who are in admin positions have non-terminal bachelor degrees.

          And let’s not forget that admin positions can still be filled by people w/out a degree or with an associate degree.

  25. techie girl*

    As a tech-savvy girl, I agree with a lot of the comments here: although I know more about computers than the entry-level IT guys in my company and often use my own hacks for problems that they are taking too long to solve, I never really considered my skills in that area as valuable or marketable. Whereas I immediately recognised value in my math and language skills and pursued studies and a career path accordingly.

    That said, most of the women I interact with have even less of an interest in fixing computing problems than I do. I take the reason for this to be twofold: To some extent, men do tend to derive their sense of value more from being good at tasks, whereas women tend to derive their sense of value more from being liked. Not all of them, but it does seem to be a common trend, and could partly explain why unskilled men tend to gravitate towards technical (task-oriented) stuff and women towards admin (frontline) kind of work.

    The second reason relates simply to critical mass: there are many caring men out there, but so many nurses are women that it takes a special kind of strength for a man to do it. With engineers, it’s the other way around. However, once a critical mass is reached of whichever gender is in the minority, the career suddenly appears accessible and many more of the minority gender flood in. We can see the turnaround in law and medicine: they are both traditionally male-dominated careers that now attract more women than men. And while I doubt that engineering will ever become majority female, I have noticed that the gender balances in different universities are vastly different, suggesting that it is either regarded as very male (in which case 25% or less of students will be female) or as acceptable (in which case the numbers jump suddenly to about 40% female).

  26. Mander*

    So, if you are someone who doesn’t have a degree or formal training in IT (but have a tendency towards geekishness and are in fact quite good at troubleshooting), how would you go about emphasizing that on your CV/cover letters?

    1. Jamie*

      The best thing to do is have a frank discussion with someone with professional expertise in IT to vet your actual level of troubleshooting. Helping relatives update their browsers or run a virus scan doesn’t rise to the level of troubleshooting which should be mentioned in a job hunt – but configuring a router or setting up a home network might – depending on the circumstances.

      You don’t mention your level of troubleshooting expertise – but if it doesn’t rise to a professional level it does more harm than good in the hiring process to overstate it. The most dangerous end users in any organization aren’t those with no computer skills – it’s the users who think their skills are better than they are who scare the IT department.

      That said, if your skills warrant it and you’ve done any type of freelance tech support definitely mention that. If you have assisted the IT department in a previous job in a significant way mention it. Even better, try to get a reference from an IT at an old job who can speak to your skills.

      Moving into IT from other jobs is definitely possible – but it’s a lot easier to do it when you’re employed and can gain some skills in a workplace.

      It’s almost a language barrier when it comes to the phrase tech support between users and IT. Helping people learn more about Excel or Photoshop is great, and the IT department will probably appreciate it since we generally get those questions if no one else can answer them – but that isn’t tech support in the IT sense of the word and it will hurt your credibility to confuse the two.

      1. Jamie*

        Oh, I wanted to add that IT is a really broad term. If you want to move into web development I would make sure you have an excellent page so people can see your work. If you’re into development there are plenty of open source projects out there where you can start as a beta tester and as you learn more can contribute to a project.

        Being part of an online tech community in your area of interest is important. It gives a hiring manager something to find when they google your name and they can see your contributions. Even comments and questions help gauge someone’s thought process and depth of knowledge.

        1. Michael*

          Also, there is the distinction between developer and designer. If you’re writing back end code emphasize features over form.

          1. Jamie*

            Good point – it’s an important distinction.

            Personally, I do a little web development out of necessity on our company site – but I won’t touch design. Ever. The aesthetic aspect makes me very stressed as I have less than zero talent in that area.

            Simple to moderate I can build it – but I need to know exactly what it is supposed to look like. Learned a long time ago to leave that to better people.

            I actually hate web dev – it’s one of the couple of things that I do which I leave off my resume because I don’t want to do it again.

  27. Vicki*

    Given that I am used to seeing articles on “Where are all the women in Tech?”, I find this question to be vastly amusing.

  28. Janie*

    Just wanted to add my two cents to the administrative assistant debate. I started my career in administrative roles – three, to be exact. I’ve NEVER seen someone in an administrative role be promoted to any other position – but I’ve seen lots of qualified, intelligent women take lower-ranking positions just to get away from the administrative ‘stigma.’

    In my last role, I was an extremely high performer. I was promoted to the top administrative role in my company (Executive Assistant) and within just one year received a 40%+ salary increase to be at the top of my salary grade. In fact, I had more of a managerial role, so it was a fairly high ranking position. However! There was no advancement from there because I had the ‘admin’ stigma attached to me. When I was ready to advance, I was told that I was ‘not qualified’ because I was ‘only an assistant.’ I was told that I was ‘inexperienced’ despite doing my Executive’s job daily, and I was ‘not educated enough’ despite having a degree in the field where I worked (finance – ironically, I had a better educational background than the executive who told me that). To advance, I would have to take a lower-ranking position (three steps down from what I was actually managing!!!!) and a 60% pay decrease.

    I turned in my notice five days later and went to work for a tech company. I love it! I have been able to advance quickly, and I have more opportunities available to me now. In all my years working in tech, no one has ever told me I wasn’t experienced enough or educated enough based purely on my job title.

    I would never, ever recommend that ANYONE take an administrative job unless you plan to make a career of it. With few exceptions, no one in your company will ever see you as anything than ‘just an assistant.’ Call it anecdotal if you want, but I’ve known probably 75 or more administrative assistants (including some men) and the ONLY way out of that job is leaving the company or taking a pay cut and lower-ranking position.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d caution you against drawing hard and fast conclusions based on that, since while it was your experience, we’ve also had lots of people sharing the opposite experience here (including me)!

      1. EngineerGirl*

        But I think she makes a good point. Most techie types don’t consider admin technical. They can’t imagine someone making that jump. And lets face it – the perceptions of others can control our ability to move around in a company.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          My objection is to the “never,” “only way,” etc., which clearly isn’t true from the experiences others have shared here.

  29. Anonymous*

    Re: #2

    “I would also bet that a lot of employers hiring for these roles see women — even if only unconsciously — as more suited for the work, and so favor them in hiring.”

    “Favor” is an understatement. I’m male. I have a B.A. in English. I applied to something between 100-200 clerical/semi-clerical jobs over the course of a year and a half after graduating. I had less than 5 interviews in that time, and finally took a non-clerical job.

  30. krzystoff*

    as a male, I am somewhat perturbed by the idea that females are taking over my industry, even though I believe they deserve every equality. my MD, departmental head and managers are all female, while most of the worker bees are male. in a large organisation that has traditionally been 95%+ male for generations, in the last two decades have seen dramatic shift and now half the new recruits are female and a clear majority of those who are promoted are female. this has led to more and more mid-level male workers leaving, and perhaps that is better for all. but it has to be recognised that women are better at some things, particularly involving multi-tasking and administration — by which I mean ‘managing’, people, resources, projects, time, you name it, women have a clear distinct skill set that is hard-wired. men have yet to evolve to acquire such a skill in broad terms, and many business ventures probably fail with a man behind the helm than if a woman was to take it. equality is perhaps impossible in that sense — the scales have tipped the other way, and it is only a matter of generation before men are the poorer earners.

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