Working in a huge business can be weird. Certain people know you intimately well, and others don’t even recognize you when you enter the building (I’m talking to you, security guard who I have seen every single day for eight months and still asked me where I thought I was going this morning). On the other hand, being an underling (aka a receptionist) at one of these huge companies can have its major advantages. For example, when I got screamed at yesterday by a partner for not being able to accommodate him in the exact conference room he wanted when he asked 10 minutes ahead of time: He will never know exactly who he was screaming at, which means I sort of get off the hook.
Working for women in a huge business can be weird too. I had an interesting discussion with my father about it the other night, and he said that every single time that there’s a major problem between an assistant and a boss at his place of work, it’s two women. At first, I bristled at the implication that women are difficult to work for, but then I realized that I myself have said that I would probably rather work for a man than a woman at this agency. And I began to wonder why. I generally get along better with men than women, but I can’t be sure how much of that is based on competition. And it seems like most girls I know with nightmare bosses work for a woman (Miranda Priestly, anyone?). Why are women in this industry, particularly in the agencies, so difficult to work for?
Is it because women broke into the talent agency world much later than men? In reading The Mailroom: Hollywood History from the Bottom Up (the prerequisite read for everyone getting into the film industry, especially when on the agency track), most of the stories were by men. The first women in agent training programs at William Morris were hired in the late 60’s, early 70’s. Secretaries and receptionists had been women, of course, but it wasn’t until the Second Wave that women started to be taken seriously in this crazy industry. I wonder if it’s this very history that influences women executives: perhaps it is because these women have had to work so hard to get to the top, they figure that we, as their assistants, should have to do the same.
Talent agencies also have a dearth of women. They’ve always been somewhat of a “boy’s club” and still very much are. At a typical large talent agency, less than 25% of the agents in talent or lit (industry-speak for “literature”, a.k.a. directors, writers, producers, etc. — anyone not “talent”, a.k.a. actors) are women. There are a great deal of women who are assistants, mailroomers, or receptionists, but few of them seem to have the desire to go on as agents. Of my friends in the agency world, only two of the girls I know actually want to be agents at some point. Most of them, myself included (at this juncture in my career), want to go work at studios and production companies, and are using the agencies as jumping-off points.
Being a woman in any male-dominated industry is, of course, difficult. One has to be as competitive as the men in order to be successful, but attempt to stay true to herself. There is also the added stress of working in a hyper-superficial industry. All of the women at my agency are dressed to the nines, hair perfectly coiffed, and constantly wearing impossibly high heels. Perhaps that’s why women have problems with their assistants — their feet hurt, they’re frustrated, and they have to take it out on someone.
And I wonder: Can one remain feminine and still be successful in a field where men have dominated and dictated the terms for so long?