The life of a secretary, from 1946 to today

Career advice, Employer advice

In the 1940’s, when Brook Street founder Margery Hurst set up Brook Street Bureau of Mayfair, secretaries were the focus of her business. Margery sourced temporary workers to fulfil the duties of a secretary to businesses across London, and did so with great efficiency and commitment. But of course, the role of the secretary goes way back, further than 1946 when Brook Street was founded. 

A secretary is a person employed by an individual or in an office to assist with correspondence, make appointments, and carry out administrative tasks. Whilst the definition remains largely the same, the role has changed significantly to what we know it as today.

First a look to the past

In the late 19th Century, Sir Isaac Pitman founded a school where students could qualify as shorthand writers. Originally, this school was only for male students. As Industrial expansion and World War I put increased pressure on the workforce throughout the early 20th century, more women started positions as a secretaries. With the advent of the manual typewriter, the role expanded further to include correspondence typing and note-taking. Fast forward then to the 1950's where over 1.5 million UK women worked as secretaries. Back then it was normal for a secretary to work six days a week until the early 1950’s, at which point the normal working week was reduced to five days.

Duties throughout the 1980’s and into the early 2000’s included Audio Typing, Shorthand, Correspondence Writing and secretaries often worked for one person only, rather than a team or multiple managers. Kerry Lewis, Permanent Consultant in our Cardiff branch remembers in the '80's how the introduction of the electronic typewriters further changed the role of secretaries. "Dress code and professionalism were extremely important in my early career", she says. "Whilst professional, people would be addressed by their surname, as first names were never used in a business context".

Secretaries today

Though the basics of the secretary's role hasnt changed, it has evolved with the times and still remains a vital part of any organisation. Usually linking the efficiency of new technologies with the tradition of the personal touch, secretaries remain integral to the day-to-day running of businesses. The role of the secretary has evolved over the years; to take on more responsiblities and to drive new ways of working and new technologies. Today, secretaries are expected to be professional, but a warm personality will always impress at interviews. Secretaries are expected to be professional but also team-players and it is expected that the candidate will have work experience as a secretary, rather than specific secretarial training. Other vital skills include strong knowledge in IT, proficiency in MS Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook. 

The role of the secretary has also evolved from just being a 'secretary'. Now amalgamating with PA roles, in today's working landscape there are a number of different roles where the skills acquired by a secretary can be transferred. Senior Administrators, Executive Assistants, Personal Assistants, Office Managers, all evolve from the secretarial roles.

Check out our latest secretarial and office support roles on the Brook Street job search page

This blog was brought to  you by Leigh Davis, at the Cardiff branch.