Breaking the clerical mold requires commitment

Dear Joan:
I have been working for a major corporation for 3-1/2 years, classified as a secretary but working well beyond the job description. Requests for reclassification of my unique position have been acknowledged, but no positive action has been taken.

In my recent performance review it was communicated to me that I am at a point where I well either stay just where I am, or with action on my part, I can move upward on a career path. Specifically, I was told of my need to leave behind the "clerical mindset." While my supervisor cautions that the switch will no doubt be painful and stressful, he sees me assuming administrative supervisory duties if the necessary changes are made.

It has been so frustrating being viewed as a secretary (because of my job title and the fact that I can type) while working outside of that realm, so I am very anxious to make this long-awaited transition. I am willing to do what is necessary to see it come about. Please address my situation on women in clerical positions moving into supervisory roles.

The good news is that your manager sees your potential and is willing to give you opportunities to grow. He is also giving you some sound advice about changing your "clerical mindset" so that you can advance into management ranks.

Now the hard part. What the heck is a "clerical mindset"? And how do you change it into a "management mindset"? And why does he warn you it will be so "stressful and painful"? His choice of the word "mindset" is a good one. It's an attitude, an outlook, a way of behaving. This change in behavior must be demonstrated in the way you approach your work and the way you deal with others. It will signal to everyone that you are ready to move up.

Let's analyze some differences between the stereotyped "clerical mindset" (I'll call it CM), and a "management mindset" (MM):

·        Responsibilities
The CM takes on new responsibilities but wants a raise along with it. Sometimes the new work is not higher level work but just a larger quantity of similar work--she doesn't understand that promotions are earned by taking on more responsibility, not more volume.

The MM on the other hand takes on higher level responsibility and authority and learns and grows and gets more visible with each new assignment. She finds a need and fills it; she is eager to take on as much as her boss will give her. She knows her rewards will come later...if not at this company, the next one.

·        Problem Solving Focus
The CM brings a list of complaints and demands to management; she expects that management should answer these concerns. Often, she speaks on behalf of other clerical staff who want their needs met. Then she waits to see what management will do.


The MM becomes a partner with management in solving problems. She realizes that management doesn't have any magic answers or secret power. She works behind the scenes to resolve conflict and tackles problems that need solutions.

·        Time Orientation
The CM punches a real or imaginary "time clock." She leaves at quitting time and never looks back. When she is asked to finish an important task around lunch time, she is quick to quote rules and regulations...the task can wait until she's back on the clock.

The MM will get the job done, even if it's on her own time. She knows that doing whatever it takes to get the job done is a prescription for career success.

·        Goal Orientation
The CM's focus is on herself. Her schedule. Her career. Her salary.

The MM's focus is on the needs of the organization. She knows that if she exceeds the expectations of others, she will be in big demand...and she will be promoted to do bigger things.

·        Self-Development
The CM isn't interested in hearing much feedback. But she is quick to give her opinion about what everyone else needs to improve.

The MM seeks feedback and requests coaching on political situations. She is anxious to learn and apply it.

·        Leadership
The CM is focused on the social aspects of her job and prefers the company of her co-workers. The desire to be well liked is stronger than her desire to make good decisions for the company.

The MM is sensitive to the feelings and individual needs of others but can see the big picture. She does what's right for the organization and equitable for all.

·        Image
The CM looks like the clerical stereotype. Her attitude is "Hey, I work hard so what difference does it make what I look like?"

The MM studies the appearance of those above her and strives to fit the management image. She knows she must fight the clerical stereotype on all levels.

Finally, in spite of doing everything right, some women find their organization has "type cast" them as secretaries and can't break their own "mindset" about their promotability. If this happens, it's time to move to a new company where you can begin the next stage in your career.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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