I graduated from Haaga-Helia in 2017 from the Degree Programme for Multilingual Management Assistants (BBA). The basic studies were quite extensive, covering subjects such as business law, HR, marketing, accounting, entrepreneurship, at least three foreign languages, and continued with advanced professional studies, a six-month internship and finally a thesis. These Haaga-Helia assistants are quite valued in the labour market and are often employed during their last year of studies.
So why on earth did I get slightly embarrassed whenever someone asked me what I studied to be? Oh, just an assistant. You know, a secretary. Upon hearing the word “secretary” I sometimes still get a mental image of a 1950s office with a young, mousy woman fetching coffee to middle-aged executives in fancy suits, writing memos on an old-timey typewriter, or chatting in the mailroom with the paperboy. Why do I make this association?
We discussed this issue shortly with my new workmate the other day when he wondered how I manage to simultaneously check-up on all our teammates and stay on top of projects, do scheduling, task lists and follow-up, guide students, answer phone calls and emails, and keep our Lounge tidy. We both agreed that the words assistant and secretary still hold a slight demeaning undertone (often referring to a female employee) even though it is widely recognised that any organisation works better with an effective assistant. I am good at my job and I know this job is anything but menial. It is not rocket science, but rocket scientists would probably be at a total loss if they did not have someone assisting them.
Some synonyms for the word assistant are advice, aid, guidance, support, confidant. The term secretary is derived from the Latin word secernere, “to distinguish” or “to set apart”, with the connotation of something private or confidential, secret. A secretarius was a person overseeing business confidentially, often for a powerful individual such as a king. In conclusion, both words have a long history of meaning a distinguished member in the hierarchy of an organisation, and henceforth that is how I should see myself as.
Today the degree programme I studied in is called Business Service Solutions and Languages, and I have just realised I am actually partial to the old name. I am multilingual, I manage, I assist. I think I would from now on prefer to be called “Multilingual Management Assistant of Awesomeness and First Impressions Manager of Haaga-Helia StartUp School”, but it is a tad long for my business card and therefore “Assistant” is just fine and I am proud of it.