EP: 180 Closing The Power Gap: Growth Opportunities For Administrative Professionals With Jamie Vanek

Brave Women at Work | Jamie Vanek | Administrative Professionals

Let’s start with a story. Many years ago, I started as an operations specialist to support a team of financial advisors. (If you are new to Brave Women at Work, I have been in the financial services industry for over 20 years.) 

After my first day on the job, my husband asked me where I was sitting in the building. To this day, I don’t know what prompted him to ask, but I told him that I sat with all the other administrative assistants. He told me to move immediately because I wouldn’t be seen as having “more potential” or the ability to move up in the organization.

I didn’t want to rock the boat, so I didn’t ask to move. And you know what? My husband’s prophecy came to pass. It was difficult for me to advance in the company and during talent management reviews, I wasn’t seen as leadership material.

When I met Jamie Vanek, my guest today, I knew I had to have her on the show. The fear of being perceived as “just an admin” is wrong and the myth that administrative assistants are not capable of more needs to be debunked. 

During my conversation with Jamie, we chatted about:

  1. Her career history and why she is so passionate about helping administrative professionals.
  2. What led her to write her book, Buried in Business: Find Freedom by Unlocking the Power of Your Admin Team?
  3. The gap between administration and leadership.
  4. Why being an admin has been considered “a dirty word” for so long.
  5. Why administrative staff are the heartbeat of the company.
  6. And more.

This show is dedicated to the almost 2.5 million administrative professionals in the U.S. today, of which over 87% of them are female. Let’s give our admins the opportunities for growth they deserve!


Listen to the podcast here

Closing The Power Gap: Growth Opportunities For Administrative Professionals With Jamie Vanek

I’m so glad you’re here. Hello everyone, how are you doing out there? Let’s start the show with a story. By the way, this is a true story. Many years ago, I started as an Operation specialist to support a team of financial advisors. If you’re new to Brave Woman at Work, I have been in the financial services industry for over 20 years and still, and what makes me unique as a coach is I’m still in the corporate space. 

I have a balance of both coaching and corporate experience. That’s the beginning of the story, is that I was supporting financial advisors. After my first day on the job, my husband, John, asked me where I was sitting in the building. To this day, I don’t know why he felt moved or prompted to ask me that iquestion, but I told him that I was sitting with other Administrative Assistants in a long row. 

He told me to move immediately because I wouldn’t be seen as having, and I was doing air quotes, “More potential” or the ability to move up in the organization. I didn’t want to rock the boat, so I didn’t ask to move and you know what? My husband’s prophecy came to pass. I was at that organization for just under five years and it truly was difficult for me to advance in the company. During a process they had, it was called talent management review. 

They were reviewing what they would consider top talent. Either my name was not brought up or if my name was brought up, I wasn’t seen as leadership material. Fast forwarding, you know, many, many years into today, when I met Jamie Vanek, my guest today, I knew that I had to have her on the show and that fear of being perceived as, again, in air quotes, “Just an admin”, it’s so wrong. The myth that administrative assistants are not capable of more, needs to be debunked. I love the work that Jamie is doing to debunk this stuff.

During my conversation with Jamie, we chatted about her career history and why she is so passionate about helping administrative professionals. What led her to write her book, Buried in Business, Find Freedom by Unlocking the Power of Your Admin Team, the gap between administration and leadership. Why being an admin has been considered a dirty word for so long? Why administrative staff are the true heartbeat of the company and how that relates to her TEDx talk and so much more. 

I’d to dedicate this show to the almost two and a half million administrative professionals in the US today, who knows how many administrative professionals there are worldwide, but in the US out of that number, over 87% of them are female. Let’s give our admins the opportunities and the support that they need for the growth they deserve. Here is more about Jamie. Jamie Vanek made the unexpected career leap from teaching to construction in 2007 and discovered a passion for project management and team leadership. 

As a female leader in the construction industry, author, TEDx speaker, and facilitator, Jamie has been featured in the construction business owner, construction executive, Thrive Global, and other digital publications about breaking glass ceilings and leading in a male-dominated industry. Jamie has taken a deep dive into small business experiences, stories, statistics, and strategies to formulate a framework for managing administrative functions. Jamie is passionate about breaking down barriers and creating opportunities. It’s time to rethink administrative support. Amen to that. 

By clarifying the admin functions and redefining traditional roles, leaders can leverage the potential of their businesses to grow stronger. That is why she wrote her book, Buried in Business, Find Freedom, by unlocking the power of your admin team. Before we get started, if you’re enjoying Brave Women at Work, as a reminder, please make sure to leave a rating and review in Apple Podcasts and or Spotify. 

Of course, if the show has made any type of impact and or mark on you, giving you education, inspiration, or motivation, please make sure to share it with a family member, a friend, or a colleague. Again, your ratings and reviews help the show continue to gain traction and grow. If you’ve already left that rating review, I thank you so much and then finally, if you haven’t yet downloaded one or all of the freebies from my website, check them out at BraveWomanAtWork.com. 

Brave Women at Work | Jamie Vanek | Administrative Professionals

I’ve created three just for you. 24 Career and Leadership Affirmations, Five Ways to Manage Your Imposter Syndrome, and most popular, Getting Paid 10 Negotiation Tips. Each of these freebies is completely on your own time. They’re workbook style guides. You can do them at your leisure and they help you stay on track. Again, go to BraveWomenAtWork.com to learn more. Let’s welcome Jamie to the show. Hello, Jamie. Welcome to Brave Woman at Work. How are you? 

Hi, Jen. I am doing great. As a matter of fact, I just got back from your neck of the woods in Chicago yesterday. 

What were you doing out in my neck of the woods? 

I was out there for a conference presenting to a company that I had worked with in the past. They had their Annual Admin Conference. It was exciting to be invited back and see some faces that I hadn’t seen in a while and get to present to their group of admins.

That’s awesome. Next time when you come out, please let me know. I’m happy to take you out for coffee or lunch or whatever. You have a busy situation going on. You’re an in-and-out person. You were the one who told me that you only go if you’re in and out on the same day, correct? 

That’s right. Yes. My schedule is a little bit limited because my husband is deployed right now. I have to be very purposeful with my time and my travel schedule. I was in and out of Chicago for a day.

Okay, next time. All right, and I will meet you somewhere to make it worth your while for sure. 

For sure. I’d love that. 

Again, welcome to the show. I’m really happy to have you here today. Why don’t you kick us off and tell us a little bit about your backstory and how you’ve gotten to where you are today? 

Jamie’s Backstory

Sure. It’s funny because every time someone asks me to share my story, I feel I learn something new about myself every time I go through it but just try to keep it fairly brief, even though it’s a bit of a roller coaster. About 20 years ago, I was an elementary school art teacher. It was one of those situations where I grew up in a very standard suburban household where it was very standard for women to go into careers like teaching and men to be more on the engineering side. 

I fell in love with art through high school and into college and realized that maybe being a starving artist, even though it was a bit of a stereotype, wasn’t exactly what I was after, I thought that teaching might be a good thing to fall back on. I got my bachelor’s, and my master’s in teaching, and I went on to be an elementary school art teacher. It took about four years for me to come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t my first passion.

When I relocated from Pennsylvania to Virginia, my husband joined the Navy, we relocated to Virginia. I took that as an opportunity to do some soul-searching. I had a bit of a quarter-life career crisis and tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I realized if you want to be a teacher, that kind of profession, you have to be passionate about it because it’s a very thankless job. The children deserve someone who’s going to be passionate about it.

If you want to be a teacher, you have to be passionate about it because it's a very thankless job. The children deserve someone who's going to be passionate about it. Share on X

If you are not passionate, you can burn out very quickly. I decided I was going to try again. I took my experience, degrees, and certifications, and I went to a temporary placement agency very humbly and said, “I don’t know what I want to do.” Go ahead and put me wherever you want. I worked for about $12 an hour in some temporary positions and a while for about two weeks at a time. 

It gave me a lot of exposure to administrative functions in businesses, both big and small. There was a large business I was placed in as a temporary Accounts Payable clerk if you will. It was such a tedious job and didn’t do justice to what folks in accounts payable do, because what they were having me do was simply compare a spreadsheet to an invoice without any real background information on what it was for, and why we were doing this. 

It was millions of dollars and hundreds of line items to compare. What I learned is that it gave me exposure to project management. As the Accounts Payable clerk, I had to get approval from this very mysterious project manager whom I never met and never talked to, but I needed his approval. It was almost intriguing for me to ask, “Who is this person? What do they do and why are they so important and hard to reach?” “How do they have the authority to be spending millions of dollars on these things?” 

What I realized is that, very typically, the project managers have an assistant, and I could get ahold of the assistant. They have the authority to speak on behalf of the project manager for certain things. That intrigued me and I thought maybe I don’t have the experience or credentials to be a project manager but I could be an assistant. 

My mind got stuck on that and my temporary placement ended with that particular company and the next one I was placed in was in contrast, a very small electrical construction company, very small as in operated out of a converted house, three bedroom house. The reception area was the living room. It was a very homey place but I was placed there for two weeks to be the temporary receptionist while she went on medical leave. 

In a very short period, I fell in love. It wasn’t necessarily with the work. I didn’t care that I was answering phones or entering data in a spreadsheet. I didn’t understand. It was the people. When I worked in a large company with accounts payable, I didn’t have any real interaction with other people in the company. I was in a cubicle, I kept to myself, I made one or two phone calls to get the approvals and that was about the extent of it. 

In this smaller construction company, everybody was involved in everything. Even though I was just the temporary receptionist, I had so much exposure to the project managers, even the owner of the company, and other folks in the business who intrigued me and helped me fall in love with construction. That was my first exposure to construction and administration. 

Now, from there, I decided this was the industry for me. I stayed in it. I had some great mentors along the way and throughout that experience, I was able to grow my career. I did get to be a project manager assistant for a little while. I worked hand in hand with a great project manager who took a lot of pride in his work and a lot of pride in sharing his knowledge. I took that opportunity to just suck up all the information into a sponge and that launched my career ultimately into project management and leadership. 

You run companies now, right? You’re making it very humble and I appreciate you for that, but you have two businesses. You were the CEO of these companies, correct?

I am the President of Etolin Strait Development Group, a contractor construction company. I own my own company called Adminnovate. 

Supporting Administrative Professionals

Yes, which we’re going to talk about. I want to make sure everybody understands the journey that you’ve been on, which is quite incredible and shows your tenacity, resilience, strength, and ambition and just you made it happen. Everything is doable. Now that you’re in that president position, I wanted to ask you, why you decided to form your company to support administrative professionals. 

Let’s be honest, you could have said that was in my past or I’m leaving it in the dust or whatever, but you’re super passionate about helping administrative professionals and seeing the power of that position. I was just wondering why you ended up deciding to form your second company, Adminnovate.

What I realized as I got into the more senior level roles, program manager, vice president, into leadership roles in the construction company, there was a tendency or a gut feeling to just say, “That’s how I started, but that’s not where I am today.” I had a conversation with the owner of the company at one point.

We were debating what my title was going to be. I was in a leadership role. I was taking on some more responsibilities. It was a fairly small company. There was a lot of collaboration and flexibility as far as how we defined different roles in the company. As I was taking on these other responsibilities, we were talking about what should the title be that goes along with that. He suggested, “Vice President of Administration.” At that moment, I could feel inside my body everything cringed.

I just shrunk and said, “Absolutely not.” There are there’s other vice presidents in this company, and they do not have anything tacked on to the end of it. They were just vice president. Why would I have a vice president of administration tacked on to my title when we do have not equal but equitable responsibilities in the company? 

I say that because I had to do a lot of reflecting after that happened. At the moment, I was upset with his recommendation but after I sat back and thought about it, there was nothing wrong with his recommendation. It was my reaction to it that told me so much more about how I viewed the administration than how he viewed the administration. 

Since it made me so uncomfortable, it made me realize I wasn’t valuing my experience and I wasn’t valuing my strengths. The industry tells us that administration is not valuable, and I felt diminished when I was referred to as part of that. That’s when I realized it was a problem. This was not just a, “Me problem”, this was an industry-wide problem, and probably bigger than just the construction industry. A lot of industries have very similar experiences. 

When I went to form Adminnovate, my goal was to dismantle that stigma and try to bring light to the value of administration, especially to leadership and in small businesses where administration can get a little bit messier than in some of the larger corporations. That was the origin of how that came about and then as I released the book and got involved in speaking and conferences and workshops, that company grew.

Brave Women at Work | Jamie Vanek | Administrative Professionals
Buried in Business: Find Freedom by Unlocking the Power of Your Admin Team –

Yes, let’s mention the book. The book is called Buried in Business, Find Freedom by Unlocking the Power of Your Admin Team. When did you decide to write the book and get that in the world? 

COVID. 

Lots of people. I started this podcast. Think about all the creativity we all have. 

I know. We were all stuck at home thinking, I got to have an outlet somewhere. Everyone got a dog and did a passion project, whether it was baking bread or writing a book. I got a dog.

Did you get a dog? 

I did. 

Okay. All right. You did. You checked all the boxes. 

During COVID, of course, we’re all stuck at home and I was craving some sort of outlet. I was reading all of these business books and I thought to myself, I can write a book. I wasn’t quite sure what it was going to be. I knew I wanted to share some of my journey, and some of my experiences, not in a way that it was about my memoir, but more in a way that it could help other people. As I started writing, I didn’t write with the end in mind. I wrote, I just started writing. I said, “Let me just get some of these ideas flowing, get them out, let the creativity take over, and see where it goes organically.” 

As I started developing it and writing down my story and trying to find common threads around my experiences, how I can help other people, I started to formulate this framework that was born out of this book. The goal of it wasn’t to create another leadership book. There are thousands of leadership books out there. We didn’t necessarily need another one. There are thousands of business books out there. 

We didn’t necessarily need another one. There are a handful, maybe not thousands, but there are maybe a few dozen books out there about administration, but more from the perspective of the administrator. How can an administrator become more organized or how do you get to the next level? Those types of books were out there. The market lacked a book that bridged the gap between the admin and the leadership. That’s where I wanted to bring some additional perspective. 

The Power Gap

Let’s stop there for a minute. What is the gap? Why do we have this gap? As a compounded question, when I was reading snippets of the book, the idea of admin being a dirty word. I guess let’s start with the first. Why is there a gap between administration and leadership? I often think that our administrators, they’re our most important people. I come from banking and financial services and I always say when I work with a financial advisor, “Your admin is the most important person in your life, in your career, in your business.” What’s driving that gap? 

First I’m glad that you say that. Thank you so much for being one of the allies that appreciates what the admins do but what I think the gap is, and I focus more on the small to medium-sized businesses. That’s where I see most of the issues when it comes to admin. Some of the larger corporations have so many structures in place and processes in place that they’re fairly good at really defining the roles and responsibilities of their admins. 

When you look at small businesses, the roles and responsibilities of their admins get very fuzzy and very messy. What I think happens is we have someone who starts a small business and they start the business because they have a skill or they’re passionate about the thing that they’re making or serving. A lot of times it’s starting with one person, they’re doing all of the things, they’re doing the admin, they’re doing the sales, they’re making the product or delivering the service, and they’re wearing all the hats until they can begin to scale.

As they grow, they’re adding people to the team, and when they finally decide to hire support, or sometimes they’re just enlisting the help of their family members, the roles and responsibilities of the admin become very messy, and it becomes this catch-all position. Being the person that makes the product is very defined. Even something sales is very defined. The person who delivers the service is very defined. 

That’s usually where the strength of the owner is. It’s easy for them to train the people that they’re hiring in those parts of the business but admin is this catchall thing. I’ve heard it referred to as, “All the BS that other people don’t want to do.” That’s part of the problem, number one, we’re seeing it as something that’s diminished all the BS. It’s seen as something that people don’t want to do. You hear the term administrative burden. 

How can someone not be worried about their job when their job is referred to as a burden? It’s very difficult to say. It’s really important, and yet it’s a burden at the same time. In those early years, it can be really exciting to be the first admin in a small company that’s growing because it’s, “Oh my gosh, I get to do all these things.” I get to touch all the parts of the business and be involved in everything but it’s not sustainable.

If the company intends to grow, it needs to get more defined about the roles and responsibilities of the admin because not only does it help the admin understand what they’re responsible for, but it also helps the owners or the leaders value it better, because they also understand what the admin does. A lot of times, the leaders don’t even know what their admins are doing. They’re working behind the scenes. 

They know that things are happening, something’s staying organized but they don’t necessarily know exactly what the admin is doing every day. It’s only until the admin disappears or is gone for an extended period and stops or things start getting messy. That is when they realize how much that person was doing behind the scenes that was never appreciated in the past. 

That’s super helpful. Being clear about what your admin is doing and not doing. Understanding what your admin is doing and valuing it. Those are key rules or guideposts to have that great long-term admin relationship. You’re explaining why I think that lots of people think that admin is the entry-level and people just keep turning in admin. Part of it’s probably because they’re burnt out, they don’t feel valued, they don’t see path. I know you address those things in your book. 

Yes, one of the biggest reasons that people voluntarily leave organizations is because of the lack of opportunity for growth. Many times there is a very low ceiling when it comes to the admin positions. In the book, I talk about the metaphor of this house and how that’s a framework that can help us understand the admin’s roles. It’s very flexible so that whether you’re a tiny business or a large business, you can use the model and use parts of the model that make sense for you.

One of the biggest reasons that people voluntarily leave organizations is because of the lack of opportunity for growth. Share on X

What it also encourages is the open-mindedness to look more at the skills that people are bringing to the role and how those skills can be transferable into other roles that create more opportunities for growth for them. Now, it doesn’t mean that they can do anything. You have to evaluate skills, experience, and what the needs are of the company. It does help to look at certain positions and what career paths they can have, and to be a bit more open-minded about it so that we can offer more opportunities for our admins and it’s not seen as a dead-end job or only entry-level or having a very low ceiling. 

Stigma Of Being In An Admin Role

Yes, that’s helpful. I have to share it and I want to pivot here to the whole idea of admin feeling a dirty word. I wrote down the administrative burden and I just feel, and it’s not just because of this conversation, Jamie, I just feel so differently about it. I think it’s because I’ve been in those operational admin waste basket roles, for a lot of my early career. 

I’ll just share a short story on that whole idea of it being a dirty word. My mentor hired me back in 2004, I don’t know, it’s the way back machine, I don’t even remember, from day to day. 2004 or 2005, I came and worked for him and I sat in the line of the administrative assistants. I was hired as more of an operations manager, but the company was outgrowing space.

My husband, I don’t even know what prompted him to ask me, where are you sitting? I said, “I’m sitting out of this person’s office. It was great because we worked so closely together. He said, “You need to get out of that row as soon as possible because people are going to see you as only an admin.” Just so you’re aware, I did everything, and I’m sure admins do this. I ran this person’s budget. I built our business plans with him. I worked on our marketing plans. I helped train people. 

I was doing more of a wider role and I was perceived by the organization as not having leadership ability during talent management reviews. I think it is because, and fortunately, there is that stigma that when you’re in an admin role, you do have a ceiling on what you’re capable of. I thought it’d be well placed to share that with everybody here and with you here, Jamie.

That is not a great experience maybe, but a great example of how it’s perceived and how the stigma is affecting businesses and careers. 

Exactly. Why do you think that is that whole dirty word? What do you think that’s all about? 

I do think that it is about this perception that they are doing responsibilities that have a lower value to them and that anybody can do them/ I hear things like phrases such, “Just admin”, but you said your husband had said about where you were sitting, you’re sitting with the admins and you’re not going to be seen as someone with leadership or growth or operational talents. I also hear admins referred to as, “The girls in the office.” You’ve heard that one before?

Oof. 

I hear that a lot in construction. It’s funny, I had a colleague of mine and he is wonderful and very talented. He’s a great leader. His team respects him a lot and he has men and women on his team. He has admins, he has operational people on his team. One day, he was wearing a jacket that had the company logo on it. 

I said, “That’s a cool jacket. Did the company order them?” He said, “No, our team ordered them ourselves just because we wanted to. We thought it was a nice jacket. I even got the girl’s jacket as well.” It wasn’t unisex is what I’m trying to say. I looked at them and I said, “You mean they didn’t have women sizes?” 

Did he clue in on that whole distinction there a little bit?

He did. I could say that to him because we had a good relationship and he did understand exactly what I was trying to say but those types of things are very prevalent. They just slip out and it’s not that people necessarily mean to make it diminish, but it happens. People do have to understand that there are implications with certain words and that the way that we refer to admins or women in those positions can be seen as less than valuable. 

Brave Women at Work | Jamie Vanek | Administrative Professionals
People do have to understand that there are implications with certain words, and the way we refer to admins or women in those positions can be seen as less than valuable.

It’s interesting and not to go too off on a tangent, but I was wondering why you think that administrative assistants, and it’s not always. There are men in administrative assistant roles, but in any position I’ve ever seen or accompanied where I’ve seen administrative assistants, they’ve always been female. Why do you think that is? How can we, I think that your book is going to help to reduce that stigma so that we can have people say, “You know what, I’m a man and I’m an admin assistant and it’s an okay path.” Why is it more female-driven in that career choice? 

That is a great question and I have done a lot of research trying to answer that. I’ve gone in, I’ve gone down a few different rabbit holes with it, trying to put some pieces together and find the common threads. You can go into the history of the Industrial Revolution and women’s rights and different things that have impacted women in the workforce and tie that into these particular roles. 

If we’re looking at the modern day and yet it’s still so female-dominated in the administrative assistant world, I think it comes down to a few things. One is a lot of us have heard that when women are applying for a position, they will only apply for it if they meet 100% of the credentials whereas men will apply for something if they only meet 60% of the credentials. 

That’s right. 

Women are applying for, and I hate to call the admin assistant a lower level position, but a lower level position where they feel that they meet all of the credentials. They’re not stretching themselves beyond some of those positions in their application process where the men are. I also think that there is still a struggle with household responsibilities.

The options and flexibilities of being an admin assistant and being able to balance household responsibilities with that. Many times they can be remote. We’re seeing that more and more. That gives women more flexibility to take care of whether it’s family responsibilities or home responsibilities, but women seem to be seeking more of that flexibility that can come with those roles as well. 

I also would say, I don’t know if this is appropriate, but this is what I’m wondering is that maybe it’s just seen as, “Women’s work or a woman’s job” to be an admin assistant. I don’t know if men would get pressure like,  “You’re an admin assistant? Why are you an admin assistant with the bros or with the other men?” They probably wouldn’t take so kindly to that.

I also think it goes back, and I’ve not done research you have on this, but women are more on the whole caring, nurturing, and communal thing. This position is taking care of a lot of things within the organization. I’m sure it’s a whole edition of many different things that mean that it equals a more female-dominated job type. 

Yes, I think you’re right. I think you’re onto something there. The admin assistant is seen as a caretaker, whether it’s of a particular person, they’re supporting one person as their assistant or they’re supporting a department or they’re supporting the entire business. They’re in the background. They’re not the alpha making the decisions.

I do think that there is a gender difference there. Whether we want to argue how much of that is societal, how much of it’s learned, and how much of it is actually in nature, there’s a lot of debate around that but yes, I do think that is a part of it as well. Men don’t want to be seen as supporting someone else who is perceived as more powerful than them. I think that women don’t have as much beef with that. 

It’s true. I’ve been there. I’ve done that many times.

There’s another interesting thing too that I have seen just talking with different companies. I think that this is difficult to dismantle and prove, but I have witnessed it in a more narrative format and experiential where there are two job descriptions and the description itself is nearly identical, but the titles are different. One will either appeal to or that the hiring manager will look for a woman to fill, and the other one will appeal to where the hiring manager is looking for a male to fill. 

To give you an example, in construction, on the operational side, there are project managers, very prevalent and then there are all of the supporting people on the project manager’s team. There are so many different titles for all of those people who can have very similar responsibilities. Sometimes they’re called an admin. Sometimes they’re called a project engineer and they’re doing administrative work, but men love the word engineer, so they’ll apply to that one. 

That is fascinating. The way the job is titled or packaged, even though it might be similar, there would be administrative tasks, it would just appeal because a project engineer doesn’t sound the same as an administrative assistant to me. It sounds like a whole different job, but there might be stuff that’s administrative in there. 

Yes, there’s a lot of overlap in those types of positions. The difference may be that to be a project engineer because it’s seen as a path to get to project management, they require construction-related degrees or certifications to go along with it. That just is a stepping stone into the project management world, which is typically how it is framed. If you just looked at it at face value, at the job description itself, it is 90% administrative.

Wow, that’s fascinating. I’ll throw this out. Maybe you want to do this or someone throwing out the challenge. Somebody needs to do a study, a full study of this to pull it through to see if it was a pure admin, it sounds like it’s already been done, but even pulling it through further, I think would be super interesting work, let’s say.

Yes, I think it would be. You’d have to be up for reading a lot of job descriptions. 

Okay, then that’s not me. I’m sorry. That’s not me and you don’t have time for it either so, that’s not you. We’ll let someone else do that. 

Yes, it would be. I would be very interested in seeing the outcome of something that. Maybe I’ll put it on my long-term list. 

The Heartbeat Of The Company

There you go. I know that you’re ambitious so, who knows? You might show up with your name on it. One of the things that you mentioned in your book, is that you call administrative assistants the heartbeat of the company. I wanted to know, we’ve danced around it, but I wanted to hit it head on, why you believe that. 

Anecdotally, if they’re the heartbeat of the company, I wanted you to talk about administrative assistants as leaders, because people may not think, because they’re in a support role that they’re not leaders, but I disagree with that. I think they are. So can you comment on the first piece, the heartbeat of the company? 

As you mentioned, I did a TEDx talk back in, what was it, October, or November 2023 timeframe. I(t is out now and it is all about the analogy of the drummer in a band is typically in the background, not seen as the face of the band. It’s usually not the most famous person in the band. Without the drummer, yes, very talented musicians can still keep a beat but having that drummer, having that heartbeat with the music completes it. 

It keeps everybody on track. It keeps everything on time. A lot of times it is the first and last thing that you hear in a song. It makes you hear the, “One, two, three, four”, and then it starts. That’s usually the drummer counting it down. I think that administrators are often the first and last part of a process as well. 

They’re the ones setting things up, getting it organized on the front end, and they’re usually the ones wrapping it up, closing it out on the back end as well. I think that there’s a really beautiful analogy between the drummers and the admins with the heartbeat and keeping everybody steady. Yes, can it exist without them? It can, but it doesn’t feel complete and to address your question about, are they leaders?

I think that the word leaders gets people very excited. Everybody wants to be seen as having leadership qualities or being a leader. People get caught up in the words leaders and executive and things that because we all just want to feel we matter. We want to feel important. Everybody wants to feel important. 

Whether you call an admin a leader, I think there’s a bit of semantics to that. At the end of the day, what they’re after is the feeling that they’re important, their opinion matters, and that they have the autonomy and the authority to make decisions. That’s what people are really after when they’re after that leadership title or role or quality. As I said, the nature of the work is in the background, and it often goes unnoticed. 

Therefore to see them as a leader, It’s hard to make that jump from you’re in the background and yet we’re trying to associate it with other leadership qualities. It’s difficult for a lot of people to make that connection. We don’t look at it so much as being a leader, but being valued and important and having authority and autonomy, then that’s where I think we can bridge that gap. It’s not whether or not they’re called a leader, it’s how much we realize how valuable they are and whether or not they feel that value as well. 

I think that’s a great distinction because I’ve done operations and administrative roles in my career, I already see the value, but you’ve just re-highlighted that gap. At the end of the day, they just want to feel valued. They don’t want to feel they’re just ostracized in a corner or doing menial tasks or whatever. 

I guess I would just say this is my opinion. I do see them as leaders. I do see them as so valuable because I think of my husband, for example, another financial advisor. I can’t get away from financial advisors, Jamie. I’ve got them all over the place. He has an amazing administrative assistant and he couldn’t run his life without this person. I’m giving her all the credit and in that, she’s leading his calendar and she’s leading his day and she’s explaining, “Hey, did you get back to this person?” I don’t know, whether it’s value leadership, it’s semantics. I see that as very important. 

I do like the way that you framed that. She’s not just managing his calendar or organizing his calendar, she’s leading it. She is making decisions around it. She’s deciding maybe where things fit, where things don’t fit, where he can schedule something, where he can’t schedule something. I do like the way that you framed that as leading in those aspects. That reminded me of something else, and this is something that I spoke about at the conference, is the idea of organizing. People associate organizing with admins and admin assistants, which I think is very appropriate. 

What they often get wrong is they say that they keep that person organized. If your husband’s admin keeps him organized, that’s something I want to debunk because you can’t organize a person, you can’t open up another person’s brain and organize it. Everybody is messy, we all have our baggage and our psychosis and everything, you can’t organize. What you can organize is their time, you can organize their information, and you can organize their physical things. I may start saying lead instead of organize because I liked the way that you framed that. 

You can't organize a person. You can't open up another person's brain and organize it. Everybody is messy. We all have our baggage and our psychosis. Share on X

Use it. I’ve got another administrative person that works in my team in corporate and she is leading their calendar. She is saying, “You’re going to be here.” “You’re not going to be here.” “This is where this person’s going.” I think that’s super important. That’s just one facet of my husband’s day, this person’s day, and who she supports and things that. Use it all you want, Jamie. I think it’ll be fun. 

Thank you for that. I will.

No problem. One of the other things in your TEDx talk, you mentioned a Gallup poll that only three in ten employees feel they are heard at work. How does this relate to the work that you do with Adminnovate? Any thoughts on how we can make our administrative assistants, the heartbeat of our companies, more heard? 

Much of what I was talking about with leadership and everyone wants to feel that they’re valuable and important is everyone wants to feel heard as well. The nature of the work is in the background, so they seldom have a seat at the decision-making table. Now, I think it is great when they have, like you said, the authority and autonomy to make decisions around things on a calendar. 

It’s not just they’re doing the data entry for it, but they’re making decisions around it, which I think is important. That part of how we make everyone feel they’re heard is by giving them the authority and autonomy. We do that by building the structures and the opportunities within the company and not relying on the person necessarily to be the one to always take the initiative on that. 

Brave Women at Work | Jamie Vanek | Administrative Professionals
Part of how we make everyone feel like they’re heard is by giving them authority and autonomy.

Some people are very comfortable coming forward and sharing their opinions about things and there are a lot of people that are not. We have to be very cognizant about inviting them to the table and giving them opportunities to express themselves, whether it’s feedback or opinions, or just being a part of the decision-making conversation. 

It doesn’t mean that you are bringing all of your admins to a leadership discussion every time there’s a big decision to make. It’s just giving them the opportunities to provide that feedback and that input and making sure that it’s understood that it is valuable and that you are seeking it. Not only for feedback on maybe things in the company outside of their purview but also asking them about things that are within their roles and responsibilities. How do you feel about this process that we have? What would make it easier? What is making it challenging? Just asking for that feedback can help them feel heard. 

I was in a meeting and it talked about giving ideas to the organization and that the best ideas come from the employees. I’m in an executive position and we’re all sitting there. It’s funny. We all think we have all the answers. No, we don’t. I’m just really honest about that. We need to go and keep our ear to the ground to the people who are dealing with the customer directly. We need to listen to the people who are, you said, the heartbeat of the company.

Often it’s not us because we’re removed from the actual fray of what’s happening in the operation. Not always, but a lot of times. We’re supposed to be strategists and coming up with the innovations in the company and stuff that. We miss it because we think that we know best. I think in this case, that’s exactly what you’re saying. It’s just giving them an opportunity where they feel safe enough, where they can say, “Hey, did you think about this?” They even get asked the question which I think would be a beautiful thing for them to have that opportunity.  

Yes, I think you had it right on the head. 

The other thing that would encourage them is one of the words that we’ve talked about on the podcast is being an entrepreneur versus being an intrapreneur. If we allow our administrative assistants to be heard and to share their knowledge, they could become entrepreneurs and therefore have more of a growth path because then they would be seen as, “Whoa, that person has some really good ideas.” 

Adminnovate Model

Then they could be respected for such ideas and get those opportunities. I wanted to spend a couple of minutes, you came up with the Adminnovate model. I wanted you to share a little bit about what the model is and you have a phrase on your site taking that model from just admin, which I used in my real life to them being perceived as the A team. Can you share more about your model? 

Sure. The Adminnovate model, which was born out of the book, is about rethinking how we manage admin support so that we can begin to dismantle the stigma around it. It’s about understanding their value on the front end and not just letting them be in the background, but taking a more proactive role in what it is they are doing daily. 

That is not to be misconstrued with micromanagement or with putting people into a box. People crave structure. I think sometimes there’s this perception that we’re not going to define it. That way they have more opportunities and they can get involved in anything and they can be a jack of all trades. As I mentioned earlier, It can be exciting at the very beginning of a young business but it’s not sustainable and eventually, it does pigeonhole those administrative support people because they never get to be masters or seen as subject matter experts in any one thing. 

It’s very hard to grow when you are not seen as being the expert in something. It’s too hard to be an expert in everything. If you’re constantly the catchall and you’re constantly the jack of all trades, it makes it difficult to find that growth path. The Adminnovate model goes with the analogy of a house. I use the analogy of a house throughout the entire book to build on the framework around managing administrative support. It just gives you something to visualize and set parameters to use to help put it together in a way that makes sense. 

As I said, it is very flexible so companies can pick and choose the parts of it that make sense for them. I go through the entire thing, which has seven different elements of a house. We talk about the front door. How are you hiring? How are you inviting people into your company? We talk about the windows in the house, which are the same as a workflow because the information comes in and goes out through these windows, and making sure you don’t have an entire house of glass is very important. That there’s an understanding of what belongs in the house and what doesn’t. 

There’s always space for things to move around a little bit without it becoming just a complete dumpster for all of the BS to get thrown into. Other elements go along. One of them is the garden. The garden is more passion project because it’s hard to feel super thrilled about your job every single day. A lot of times if it gets tedious, you might enjoy your job, but it’s hard to get excited about it every day. 

Allowing admins to have passion projects within their working day can be powerful, not that it overtakes what their other roles and responsibilities are, but it may help them develop other skills that can help them in the long run and help the company in the long run. For example, your podcast could potentially be a passion project, and if you’re doing that in conjunction with your regular job, I’d be willing to bet that it has helped you with other skills that have helped you in your job.

Yes. As a podcaster, I didn’t do this, Jamie, because I think that this is going to make me better in my job. It just came to me and then I learned after all of these interviews, that I’m a better speaker. I’m more articulate. I can find the words faster or I’m a better interviewer when I’m interviewing people for jobs. I’m interviewing people all the time for my podcast, but not in the same way. All of those things were beautiful byproducts. You’re right. You’re right on there. 

Yep, absolutely. I correlate that to a garden because it’s not a required part of your job, but it certainly makes it more beautiful. It just helps you enjoy what you’re doing so much more when you have something that you can make a connection between your job and your passion project and can build the two of them together. I think can be very beneficial for both the employee and the employer.

It goes all the way through to a village. It takes a village to raise a family. It takes a village to raise a business and the people in the business are the village. What’s important about the admin’s village, even if it’s a village of one person, or it’s just a village between the admin and the president or the founder, whoever. 

Even if it’s a two-person village, it’s very important to understand how they interact and make sure the pathways of communication are really clear. You don’t want it to become a village in a mud pit where there’s no clear path of communication. Everything gets very muddy and that’s just very inefficient. When your village starts to grow, if all you have is a mud pit, then a whole lot of mud-slinging happens as well. 

The model steps through all of those things and just gets clear so that you understand the value that everyone’s bringing and that everyone has the opportunity to be heard and has the opportunity for growth and knows what that can look like and how things can shift and move without getting messy in the meantime. 

That is beautiful. Yes, COVID was difficult, but look at the creativity that came out that you built a whole book on that framework of the house and all of the analogies and the metaphors that came with it. It’s beautiful how you’ve structured the book. Thank you for sharing that. 

Thank you. I love a good metaphor. 

Brave At Work

Me too. What do you believe are one to two ways that women can be braver at work today?

We talked a lot about people wanting to be heard and feel valued. I think that one of the things that women can do to be braver at work is, and I’m not going to say speak up, a lot of people say that. I’m not going to say that. I think one of the things that women can do to be braver at work is to be an advocate who values people from the front lines to the back office. 

If you are in a management position, or even if you’re an individual contributor, I would challenge you to get curious about someone that you work with who doesn’t typically have a seat at the table. I would challenge you to just ask for their feedback or ask them how things are going with certain processes. Someone who isn’t often asked what they think about innovations or processes to invite them to share some of that feedback or just for them to know that you care about their feedback. Everyone knows that they matter is a great step to becoming braver.

That is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing that wisdom. How can women connect with you and your work online? 

I am most active on LinkedIn. Find me under Jamie Vanek. I also have a website, JamieVanek.com. That’s where you can get information about the book and speaking engagements. I have videos about every chapter up there. You can watch little animated videos, which are pretty cool. I have a blog that’s also linked to my LinkedIn Adminnovate newsletter that I post from time to time when I feel inspired or motivated by a particular topic, I will write about it and put it both on my blog and the LinkedIn newsletter. Those are the two best ways to get a hold of me and my email is Contact@JamieVanek.com

Okay, we will make sure we put that in the show notes. Also just wanted to give a shout-out again for your TEDx talk that’s on your website and that’s where I saw it. I know it’s linked there as well. So definitely go watch that too. 

Yes, thank you, Jen. 

No problem. Jamie, thank you so much for championing, I think the unsung, I’m going to say leaders again, I’m going to keep leaders, the unsung heroes and the heartbeat of our business and our administrative assistants. I love that. You didn’t leave that group behind. You knew where your roots were and you’re doing great work with it. Thank you so much for being here and shedding light on a really important topic that we don’t talk about very often. 

Thank you so much for inviting me, Jen. It was fun talking today.

— 

That’s a wrap-up of my discussion with Jamie today. I hope you found our conversation both valuable and inspiring. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the podcasts on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on any other podcast platform you enjoy. Until next time, show up, unlock the power of admins, and be brave.

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about Jamie Vanek

Brave Women at Work | Jamie Vanek | Administrative ProfessionalsJamie Vanek made the unexpected career leap from teaching to construction in 2007 and discovered a passion for project management and team leadership.
As a female leader in the construction industry, author, TEDx speaker, and facilitator, Jamie has been featured in Construction Business Owner, Construction Executive, ThriveGlobal, and other digital publications about breaking glass ceilings and leading in a male-dominated industry. Jamie has taken a deep dive into small business experiences, stories, statistics, and strategies to formulate a framework for managing administrative functions.
Jamie is passionate about breaking down barriers and creating opportunities. It’s time to rethink administrative support. By clarifying the admin functions and redefining traditional roles, leaders can leverage the potential in their businesses to grow stronger. This is why she wrote her book, Buried in Business, Find Freedom by Unlocking the Power of Your Admin Team.

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