Interview with Menno Spiekerman – Founder of The Male Assistants
Who is Menno Spiekerman?
I am 41 years old and married. I have two dogs, Roos and Muis. I was born in Leidschendam in The Netherlands but now live in the Betuwe region. After my administrative education, I started working in temporary administrative roles in order to get some experience. My CV became a civil service one as I moved in 2006 into roles at various ministries in The Hague, including Justice, Economy and Defence. Since September 2020 I’m working for the city council of Utrecht giving support to a coordination project between all the local councils within the province of Utrecht. I have a busy social life, will soon be moving house and I’ve been working on The Male Assistants of course.
What was the driving force behind the Male Assistants?
In April 2021, I was interviewed for Secretary Day by De Telegraaf, a Dutch daily newspaper. They were looking for a different focus for their article and invited male assistants who work for women mangers to talk about their work. I shared the article on LinkedIn and was overwhelmed by the positive reactions I received. It was great to be in the spotlight as a male assistant, but why just once a year? The nominees for the Dutch Secretary of the Year award have always been women. So I got together with some other male assistants to see how we could change things and we came up with the idea for The Male Assistants which went online on LinkedIn in June.
How did you become an assistant, did you make a conscious career choice?
My education was in general administration and in my first temporary roles, I was mostly kept busy with number crunching, which is absolutely not my thing. I then worked in smaller companies in the role of Office Manager, where I had a much broader portfolio of tasks; finance, reception, secretarial duties etc, and that was much more my cup of tea. So even though I had no formal secretarial education, I rolled into the job and increased my skills to become the assistant I am today.
What do you like the most about being an assistant?
Taking care of my manager. Taking over tasks so that they don’t need to worry about them. This depends on how much of the manager’s personal life you are also expected to take care of, but I always find out about their family, when are important dates, like birthdays. There’s not much I don’t like about the role. Juggling very complex calendars is a challenge, but it has to be done well, especially in the Civil Service, where we deal with politicians and council officers who have very full agenda’s. Building positive relationships with their assistants is crucial, so I get on the phone to them and ensure we have regular contact.
What are the differences between men and woman working as assistants?
It starts with the interview. Most job adverts are written with women in mind. Recruiters don’t expect to get men applying for these positions, so that’s the first challenge. Especially in small traditional companies where managers have a stereotype view of the assistant as a woman.
In the Netherlands government departments, you see many more men in support positions. In younger, more modern companies, the culture is different and they are more open for diverse candidates. It all depends on the industry.
Of course, it’s all about your abilities, not who is better at the job. It’s my experience that women working together tend to take things more personally than men. The interpersonal relations between women are such that communications can really break down for the most petty reasons, which adversely affect their work. Men, however, are simple creatures and more prepared to end the discussion, shake hands and move on. A man in the admin team can often diffuse those moments of conflict or tension. Both men and women should become excellent ambassadors for this profession.
What message would you give to a young man who’s looking for a career as an administrative professional?
Just do it. Don’t be put off by signals from others around you telling you it’s a woman’s job. Get in touch with other experienced male assistants who are prepared to take you under their wing and give you tips and tricks about the role. Sometimes, in a new job, you have a solid onboarding plan, and in others you’re left on your own to sink or swim, so find yourself a mentor by simply asking for one on social media, I guarantee you’ll get a response. Men experience the working world in a different way from women, so as an ambassador for the profession, we can really help the younger generation of male assistants.
The WA-Alliance is working on a campaign to increase awareness of the profession as a career choice. What do you think we need to take into account?
You should highlight the fact that men can also do this work. So make sure that in any campaign about the profession, you use images and language that don’t only show or refer to women. Make it completely diverse.
What’s the future for The Male Assistants?
After giving interviews in the press and other Associations in The Netherlands, I realised that we needed a more concrete path for the future, so I’ve just written a plan to present to our members at the end of July. We are starting workgroups to focus on creating a website, another workgroup will be creating articles for a newsletter, an international workgroup of members will promote The Male Assistants in their respective countries, South Africa, USA and Italy, translating our press releases and planning interviews with their local media. We also want our platform to offer training events for male assistants, as well as regular social networking evenings. We also have an HR workgroup that will look at how we can convince recruiters to write job advertisements that are more diverse. We also want to be able to empower our more experienced male assistants to support and mentor those who are just starting out in this profession, helping them with issues that they are confronted with in their daily work. Members can volunteer to join one of our working groups, depending on their availability.
Any tips for Male Assistants?
Male assistants should talk about the fact that they are supporting each other through this network. A manager sees this as a sign of engagement and initiative and is much more likely to want to invest in their development. There are sometimes so many applicants for one position, that as a male, you need to be unique and original to catch the eye of the recruiter. Make your application as noticeable as possible, try a handwritten letter, use a different colour, but nothing too crazy, you must always stay professional. If you’re looking for work as a male assistant, you need to do something that will make you stand out from the rest.
Thank you Menno – we look forward to hearing more from The Male Assistants.