How anomalous is this income increase?
January 20, 2017 12:16 PM   Subscribe

In 2001, a white, age 35 woman worked as a corporate admin assistant at a salary of $25K in a large US Midwestern city. The same woman kept learning and developed her skills. Over the next 15 years she changed jobs just 3 times, trying to make strategic decisions and maximize her earning power. She just got her W-2 from her current employer- the IT department of a large manufacturing company in the same town. She grossed over $100K in 2016. Is this an exceptional growth rate? Or is this trajectory more common than not for women in this cohort?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Having known corporate admin people, that doesn't seem anomalous to me. Obviously it's not the arc for everyone, but you have a situation where there is a pool of low-skill and low-experience people, and the ones that get attached to rising executives will dramatically increase salary. I wouldn't say "more common than not" but I would say there's a cohort of rising admins where this is roughly the arc.

To me the only thing that seems anomalous is that she's 35 at the start rather than mid-/late-20s.
posted by vunder at 12:27 PM on January 20, 2017 [15 favorites]

Same position, just different companies? $100K for an admin assistant, even with 15 years' experience, in a Midwestern city seems extraordinary. Legal secretaries (who have semi-specialized skills) in NYC would be unlikely to make that much.
posted by praemunire at 12:27 PM on January 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

100k salaries for administrative assistants very high up in wealthy organizations, regardless of geography, are not unheard of. If you are AA for the CFO, you are probably operating at a very high level and responsible for way more stuff than the average AA. I have seen negotiated C-suite employment contracts where one provision was basically "you are going to hire me and also hire $my_AA and pay her $85,000 plus benefits per year." The AA for the managing partner at any 500-lawyer firm in any major city could earn that kind of money, for example.

In the legal sector, at least, the overwhelming majority of AAs (and people, for that matter) do not have the clock speed to operate at this level. In my experience, the ones that make it (they tend to get called "paralegals" instead, although duties vary, and it's more of a title change than a promotion) have the right combination of self-motivation, curiosity about the field, social intelligence, computer literacy, typing speed, telephone manners, and experience with their particular boss. It's hard to subconsciously anticipate the needs of a person you've never worked with before.

This has held true both at the tiny-firm level and the BigLaw level.
posted by radicalawyer at 12:27 PM on January 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

(If she was personally attached to a C-suite person, sure, it's more plausible, but also significantly less common.)
posted by praemunire at 12:28 PM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

How much of that $100K was salary? It's entirely possible that she's making way less but got a great bonus this year (or got the previous year's bonus a little late and this year's bonus a little early, so it works out to be two) or cashed in a bunch of accrued vacation days or somesuch.
posted by Etrigan at 12:29 PM on January 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

Based on this description I assumed she was now an IT Professional, no longer an Admin. The salary increase seems totally normal for that.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:33 PM on January 20, 2017 [13 favorites]

The current position is the key question. There may be EAs to C-level executives who make over $100k, but there aren't many. (I am an EA to a C-level executive of a multinational corporation, and have been in similar roles since 2001.)
posted by something something at 12:38 PM on January 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah, when you say that she changed jobs 3 times and is now receiving a W-2, is she still working as an admin assistant or as something else?
posted by craven_morhead at 12:39 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think it's exceptional on a cohort level but reasonable for someone who moved from admin assistant to senior IT professional or management in a large city.

I also agree that the small number of people I've known who followed that path were at least 5 years younger, or did it ten years earlier and rode the tech boom.
posted by sputzie at 12:41 PM on January 20, 2017

At the company I work for, they do a great job of promoting people across sectors. If this person has both good people management skills and project skills (higher level IT stuff doesn't require technical skills as much as project/budget skills), that's not unheard of by any means. Three job changes, and promotions in current job should make that possible.

(I take this question to mean she moved from admin asst to some manager type in IT, vs being the assistant to the IT director. )
posted by k5.user at 12:43 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

While I wouldn't think it was a standard trajectory (since many folks bail on administration after a while) that progression seems totally plausible to me. Especially if: 1) she picked up an MS/MBA/CPA along the way, 2) shifted into IT, 3) is now either the executive assistant to a member of the C-suite or is actually the Chief of Staff, or 4) is now an Assistant Director or Administrative Manager for the department and has direct reports (e.g. all the admins in the department report to her) and budget responsibility.
posted by skye.dancer at 12:47 PM on January 20, 2017

Anon, could you contact a mod to clarify if this person is still an admin assistant? Or did they change roles with these three job changes?

And by "developed her skills," do you mean earned degrees/certifications?

Also, why has she just learned her gross income from her W2-- was she unaware of her salary?

I can come up with many scenarios where this is not anomalous, and many that are. But it's hard to answer the question without knowing what her current job is.
posted by kapers at 1:03 PM on January 20, 2017

This article from USA Today mentions EAs making $60k to $200k plus bonuses and equity.

They are talking about Silicon Valley specifically, but they are also talking about double what you are, so in context, I still say it's not anomalous for a high performer even without leaving Admin.
posted by vunder at 1:24 PM on January 20, 2017

That works out to an average salary growth rate of 10% a year, which yes, is unusually high for pretty much any cohort except corporate executives and partnership track client-facing roles in a few of the professional services.

The average salary growth rate across the US has been in the ballpark of 3% or so for the last few years, and I wouldn't expect that 35 year old administrative assistants have been doing much better on median; 3% growth a year would land you at around $38K/year in 2016.

So yeah, call it somewhere around twice to three times as good as median - possible for somebody who's been a high performer, made smart moves and had some lucky breaks, but fairly unusual.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 1:27 PM on January 20, 2017

I live in the SF Bay Area, so dramatic income rises and falls are part of the norm, but if that was admin assistant to IT, nothing about that seems at all out of whack.
posted by straw at 2:03 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Location might be a confounding factor. A move from the US midwest to either coast can double salary, other things remaining equal. 'Course, the cost of living increases too.

Similarly, moving from a stagnant business environment to a growth industry can greatly increase salary, regardless of certifications, degrees, and experience.
posted by gregoreo at 3:36 PM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Neither salary sounds atypical for the geography and the era, assuming she was an admin assistant in 2001 and is doing an IT job such as senior developer or (more probably) a project manager or similar position. What is left out of the description is WHAT she is doing now, but it's highly plausible to have made the move from one to the other.

IT has been a difficult industry to recruit in for the past few years, and salaries have moved up noticeably.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:38 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Agree that the job title makes a big difference here. I've had an analogous salary trajectory over a similar time period in the right part of the country but my titles went from AA to director of a department.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:27 PM on January 20, 2017

In one of my functions, I sponsored our assistant to do her CIMA exams. I think she makes more than me now, 10-ish years later. A lot of very bright people end up as Assistants, and if they are also lucky and clever, they can use their access to management to build their careers. Some companies need talent a whole lot more than they care about the "right" background-- IT, for one.
posted by frumiousb at 4:54 PM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

But I also should have added that if she stayed in admin, I would find it more unlikely (although still possible).
posted by frumiousb at 4:55 PM on January 20, 2017

If we're talking about purely income, without regard to what she's doing job-wise, it isn't what I'd call average, but that doesn't make it that weird, either, if that makes sense.

Strictly average wage growth for women tends to be much less than that because a lot of women are going to have time spent off or working part-time due to having children, or they'll make less-than-ideal job choices because of decisions that impact child care or their husband's job.

I'm 35 now and because of a career change and a move, my salary just jumped 50% this year alone, and I expect it to be much less than 16 years for me to go from "below poverty line" to "over $100k", knock on wood, if I make that a priority. It really depends what you're doing. Going from admin work to IT, yeah, the average incomes in the tech world are high enough to make for some jumps that would not be "normal" by the standards of someone who'd spent 16 years doing bookkeeping for manufacturing companies. The anomaly is more between industries and, potentially, job roles.

Median household income in the US--frequently with two earners--is like $50-60k right now, so you can't say that someone who now makes $100k herself is anywhere near "average" for women. But that doesn't make this result particularly unexpected for the way you describe what she's been doing with her time.
posted by Sequence at 4:14 AM on January 21, 2017

Not typical, not super unusual. 15 years is a long time -- long enough to train for a completely different job and get to a mid-level position in it! -- and admin assistant salaries do get that high, so there are several ways to get there.
posted by miyabo at 7:45 AM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sounds exactly like my personal experience, timing and age just slightly different.
posted by wwartorff at 8:07 AM on January 22, 2017

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