As many of you know, I recently accepted a role as an Executive Vice President after over 27 years as a top performing, C-suite Executive Assistant. The kudos have been effusive and flowing like water. But, I'll have to admit, they've opened my eyes to something that is pervasive in this industry. Lack of confidence and vision beyond the role.
As an EA I've always wanted to be the very best I can be. I've wanted to know everything about anything and everybody who was somebody in order to be an omniscient resource for the people I supported as well as elevate my own brand above my competition. I've managed to do that in some respect and feel confident knowing that I could send 3 emails and 2 texts right now and get a phone call with pretty much anyone in the world. That's immense power through connections built over the last 27 years.
However, what I'm grasping from all of the comments of congratulations is that I'm being perceived as a unicorn or "one of us who made it." While I appreciate the sentiment, it's clear we still have a lot of work to do. Me, in particular.
When I joined the EA ranks all those years ago I was under the impression that executives wanted someone supporting them whom they could groom into executives themselves. Similar to the track of a junior analyst in investment banking who worked their way up the chain to ruling the roost as a managing director or partner with the full support of their supervisors. Sadly, what I found is that most executives saw me as a convenience and while appreciative of my efforts to help keep their individual train on the tracks, did very little to actively help me grow professionally, one even blocking a promotion being offered to me because he didn't want to lose me for fear he'd never find another EA who could help him run his office as effectively as I had done.
Because of this tacit lack of support I took the attitude of "F*ck you, I'll do it my damned self," and continued to up my game, make moves, leverage all of my strengths and connections, and eventually land top roles supporting the heads of multi-billion dollar companies. Sure, I had a few managers along the way who truly helped me level up and entrusted me with "the keys" and the latitude to fly, bump my head, and try again, wiser. Even then, the onus to succeed was on me. And after getting to the holy grail of EA to CEOnumerous times, I got a little bored. Especially, after witnessing that role be dumbed down, in subsequent iterations, into an expert scheduling role because of the increasing responsibilities and accountabilities of CEOs still unaware of the plethora of talents, connections, business acumen, and FITFO sitting there scheduling away with their eyes closed.
After leaving my last CEO I dove into trīb and trībU as an effort to not only be my own boss, but to really start spreading what I call "the gospel of badassery" to my fellow EAs in the global community. EAs at the top of the game who, like me, were being underutilized, under compensated, under mentored, and kept from growing professionally in order to keep things "as they are." It's one thing to call bullshit. It's another thing to do something about it.
By accepting my new role of Executive Vice President I hope to show EAs (and our captors) that we, too, are executives. We've watched intently and taken really good notes. We've studied the plays and all of the players. We've made connections up and down the chain, both internally and externally. And we've been able to quickly discern what ideas will and won't work based on the numerous roles we've likely already had supporting top leaders in numerous industries. I would offer that no one currently in an executive role, who wasn't an Executive Assistant at some point in their career, has as comprehensive a skillset, level of intuition, and breadth of applicable experience than we do. #fightme
What EAs are missing now is the confidence to shoot beyond the pail and identify allies and opportunities in the wild to move beyond the EA to the CEO glass ceiling and into executive-level roles. This will allow them to take the insane toolbox they already possess and add to it, with a tailwind of experience and exposure at the highest level. No, not all EAs have what it takes to be an Executive Vice President. But I'd offer that more than 70% of EAs to C-suite executives could successfully and effectively serve as Vice Presidents after only a few years in the C-suite with the right education, tutelage and managerial support. Many have advanced degrees. Many would happily take classes or even return to school if it were funded by the company with the promise of a new, higher level position as a reward for those efforts. Sadly, it will never happen...not the way things are now.
Let's unearth a few uncomfortable truths for a sec. This role is majority female. 95%, in fact. And #realtalk it's still a pin cushion for misogyny, condescension, and a number of low-key abuses exacted by execs who still see EAs as a necessary evil and those in the role as less intelligent, less driven, and less worthy of the same opportunities provided their male counterparts in other roles. It is a role that while having unprecedented access to incredibly sensitive information, is scrutinized, reviewed, compensated, and respected less (in aggregate) than any other role in the company. EAs are a fortress of sensitive information, but often get flamed for simple perceived gaffs of discretion when those gaffs are usually required in order to quid pro quo information an exec can never get on their own. Something that happens daily, rather conspicuously by those who mercilessly excoriate us. EAs are experts in the administrative capacity and are deal makers at a level that puts most executives to shame. Yet, they are rarely granted a seat at the table, rarely asked their opinion or given needle-moving work, or taken underwing as was often promised during the interview process to get them to sign on the dotted line and stop the bleeding. It's an absolute embarrassment that is rarely called out. Happy to do it.
One thing I profess is to go around especially when, after repeated efforts, you continue to run into the same barriers, ignorance, sabotage, and ghosting by people who professed to be invested in your success. And I believe the only way to change the perception of this role is to do it within our own global community and start infiltrating the levels above us with ex-EAs who go toe-to-toe with executives who've gotten a little too comfortable on the throne. It's time to compete for these roles and start advocating our overall value to organizations much more effectively than in decades past.
We are in a new fight for relevance. I can confidently project that 30% of all EA roles will be obsoleted by AI in the next 2 years. Which means it's time for EAs to morph once again. It's time to seek out real allies of this role and insist that they remove the kid gloves and show us exactly what it takes to do what they do or get to the next level. It's time for educators in this space to admit their limitations and push younger, fresher versions to step up and teach what's relevant for their generation's success. And it's time for those of us who "made it out" to circle back and push a new narrative that's more than just "how to be the best EA" but how to leverage your EA badassery to land a VP-level role. That's the new evolution and where our focus as a community should be. Not being the greatest at a role that continues to garner little respect as evidenced by tech's insistence on obsoleting it in the most conspicuous, misogynist way. (Alexa, Cortana, Siri, Amy, Jane, Jessie, Amelia, Sophia, Erica, Pepper...really, guys?)
The evolution is upon us. And a revolution is now critical. As unpopular as it may sound, I now see the role of Executive Assistant as a stepping stone to greatness. It's no longer thedestination. EA to CEO is no longer the holy grail. It's yet another marker along the way. And as I traverse the world with my next wave of trībU workshops, I'm turning up the heat and setting what I hope will be the new bar in EA advocacy. Awards shows, pricy networking conferences, and cocktail parties are nice. But they aren't moving the needle and aren't kicking down the doors we need to breach in order to create a relevant professional path for this community. And now, more than ever, we need to galvanize around a desire for more. Not fall for the crumbs on offer and what continues to be prescribed for us with hidden agendas and nefarious intent.
Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.