The Person Behind the Executive Steps In

“Never mind the bulletproof coffee, LinkedIn networking events, Sun Valley conferences, and intermittent fasting. Today’s tech leaders are increasingly powered by strong executive assistants,” says Jessica Vann, Founder and CEO of Maven Recruiting Group.

According to the career website Zippia, there are over 353,903 executive assistants, or EAs, currently employed in the United States; of that total, 87% are women. But these are not secretaries or glorified interns who make coffee and copies. Indeed, Vann states that in the marketplaces they represent, experienced executive assistants command salaries well beyond six figures as noted in their 2022 Administrative Compensation Guide.

“When your entire reason for being is to maximize the efficiency, productivity and results of the most important people within an organization so they can continue to drive the company forward,” Vann says, “it stands to reason that there is a high value attached to an individual who can make that happen.”

“EAs have one of the most unique seats at the table,” according to Vann, whose recruiting firm provides placement services to founders and business leaders across the nation as well as offers e-learning courses for executive assistants looking to up-level their careers. Vann says this role is unlike any other in that it offers broad visibility across the organization.

“EAs have the kind of exposure that few employees apart from C-level staff will ever see, as well as access to the most notable, sensitive, and critical decisions within a company,” Vann explains. “And yet, the executive assistant is, bafflingly, oftentimes the most misunderstood and underrepresented role in a company or large organization.”

Despite EAs being overwhelmingly female, Vann says that gone are the days of the “glorified secretary” role memorialized in such films as “9to5” and “Working Girl.” Today’s corporate culture has moved on. Silicon Valley has usurped New York City as the center of corporate power, and its innovative, less hierarchical approach to management has empowered a new breed of executive assistants who stand shoulder to shoulder with leadership and are entrusted with significant decision-making authority, autonomy, and exposure.

Says Vann: “today’s EAs can be responsible for board relations and management, meeting agendas and action item management, communications strategy, evaluation of opportunities for appearances and speaking engagements, crisis management, pre-IPO prep and support, operational efficiency, project management, and keeping a pulse on the health of an organization — among many other things!”

It’s no wonder then, that C-level managers often seek out people who have different backgrounds and skill sets than their own. Vann says that the ideal “person behind the executive” is an experienced multi-tasker, demonstrates strong business acumen and high EQ, and thrives on solving problems. She has customized e-learning courses for such people, who already have the requisite traits and skillsets and who want to continue to uplevel in their careers by developing their leadership and project management acumen.

In a 2011 article titled “The Case for Executive Assistants” published in management bible Harvard Business Review, consultant Melba Duncan bemoaned the modern trend of replacing assistants with technology, like enterprise software and AI, observing that “effective assistants can make enormous contributions to productivity at all levels of the organization.” Eleven years later, Vann says the demand for human executive assistants (not AI solutions) is as strong as ever. AI may enhance how an EA does his or her work, but it is no replacement for the higher for the context, EQ, and reasoning abilities that an EA provides.

“For those leaders who want to achieve more, accomplish their goals faster and do it all with less stress and more time,” she says, “executive assistants are still the only way to go.”

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