The Executive’s Second Self.
BY HERBERT J. HAPGOOD IN SYSTEM.
Shall it be a man or a woman stenographer? This is a question that is now exercising the minds of many business men. The women have had it all their own way for so long, that it seems foolish to suppose that a man could do the work better and cheaper. But this is the opinion of an increasing number of employers.
HOW could we do business without the typewriters and the stenographers? In England the penman may still have a place with many leading firms, but American business methods demand the nimble fingered shorthand writer and typist. Time in America is too precious to write or decipher longhand, and so nine-tenths of the details of our business go into the ear of a stenographer and come back to us in the shape of correspondence, accounts or records so clearly printed that “he who runs may read.“
Without rapid, accurate operators, who knows how to keep a secret, who are well educated and capable of intelligent interest in the work, the advantages of the typewriter are greatly lessened. Were it not so there would be no excuse for this article.
Men or women—which? That is the first question confronting the employer who wants his stenographic work done economically and well. It’s a big question, too, and one that ought not to be considered settled by the mere fact that the bulk of this work is done to-day by women.
Stenography opened the office door for women, and young and old, they rushed in to take up this clean,! pleasant employment for which in many ways they are extremely well adopted. Once inside they were not slow to extend their field of activity to book-keeping, correspondence and other lines which for years had been exclusively for men.
To-day over 100,000 women are employed in downtown New York offices, and in every city they are to be found in the thick of the commercial fight. The introduction of stenography and type-writing was the original cause of this feminine invasion.
Of late years, however, the tide seems to be turning. There is a growing belief that men make better stenographers than women, and are worth the larger salaries they command. Many large companies have adopted the policy of using only male stenographers, and others are planning to take the step in the near future.
Even in the Government service, where female clerks and stenographers have been employed in constantly increasing numbers since the early sixties when F. E. Spinner, treasurer of the United States, appointed the first woman to a position under the Federal Government, they are not giving entire satisfaction. Leading department heads at Washington reg’ard them with disfavor and think their work could he done better, quicker, and at less cost by men.
“A woman does not make a good private secretary or official stenographer for various reasons,” says a well-known Washington official. “If in following instructions she makes an error or fails to grasp what was required of her, a disagreeable scene is bound to result. If 3^00 dis-
cuss the matter plainly with her and point out the mistakes made, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the clerk will take it as a personal matter and fly to pieces and, perhaps, burst into tears. Her nerves go back on her and it will take her the rest of the day to reach a condition where she can do any work at all.
“Now, if you call a man down for poor work or bad judgment, the situation is entirely different. He may think his chief is a mutton-head and he may swear inwardly, but he goes Jback to his desk and does the task over again and does it promptly. And, after all, results are what we want, and what we must have.
“There are a few positions in which the woman clerk may be able to compete successfully with the stronger sex, but taken as a whole, the Government ’s work would be better done, and at less expense than it is to-day, if men alone conducted it.”
Far be it from us to decry the business ability of women. That would he idle in the face of such striking examples as Mrs. Reader, of whose financial exploits all the world is talking, the brilliant $12,000 secreta ry of Equitable fame, said to comknand the highest salary of any woman, the capable assistant of H. H. ^Rogers, and scores of others. But the women who make themselves valuable to their employers—the women who succeed—make a business of business, while the majority of women who take up stenography or other work do it simply as a makeshift to bridge over the time between school and marriage.
The attitude of the average woman to her work was well illustrated by a remark I heard one make the other day. She was speaking of a-
reprimand she had received from her employer for some mistake.
“Why should I care what he says?” she asked indignantly. “If he fires me I can get another place in an hour’s time. Besides, I don’t have to work, for I’m to be married in June.”
A well known New York importing house recognized the damaging effect which approaching matrimony is apt to have by refusing to hire a woman who is engaged to be married and by requiring all their women employees to sign an agreement not to become engaged while in its employ.
Now men. with a lifetime of work ahead instead of a few months or years, have all the incentives to effort which women lack. Approaching marriage increases their value by creating a necessity for larger salary.
Men, even when inexperienced, »have a better general knowledge of business than women, and they thus have a clearer understanding of their duties. Their ambition to get ahead puts them above routine work. Moreover, they are stronger, can work longer hours, are more regular and punctual and can work in places and n1 der conditions where women could not be expected to.
The chief reason, however, for giving preference to men is that they can be trained for more responsible positions. With the possible exception of selling goods on the road, there is no better way to acquire thorough knowledge of a business than through stenographic work, but few women have either ability or the desire to make it a stepping stone to anything higher. Most of the firms which are replacing women with men are doing so because they wish to make their stenographic force
a training school for future managers and department heads.
Perhaps the best example of the value of stenographic work as a training' school is the career of George B. Cortelyou. He owes his present place in President Roosevelt’s Cabinet directly to the expert knowledge he acquired early in life of shorthand, typewriting and the art of correspondence. It is largely the experience gained in the humble position of stenographer which enables him to fill so creditably his present important place in the nation’s affairs.
Momen will always be preferred by many firms. For routine work such as addressing envelopes, filling in form letters, they are undoubtedly better than men. A Chicago employer who uses them exclusively and 'with good results has these suggestions to offer regardingthe sort’ of a girl to hire :
“I avoid hiring pretty girls,” he says, “because they are apt to get married just as they are becoming of valu e. I also avoid very young girls, for experience has shown that they want to be off too often to attend parties and picnics.
“My best results come from the girl just out of business college. I start her at a very small salary and ’advance hier slowly as she shows» ability. I always have two or three of these beginners in order to be prepared for increase of business and any vacancies that may occur.
“I look for a girl from a good, but not wealthy family, if possible one from a family sk^e has to help support. The girl who works simply to clothe herself and earn a little spending money is not likely to be permanent.”
Business colleges and the typewriter companies are the best sources
of supply for stenographers, especially for women. Many of the commercial schools are really excellent institutions and recommend only students who are well gTOunded in the principles of shorthand and have attained a flair rate of speed. It is a good idea to cultivate th eir acquaintance so that they will clearly understand a firm’s requirements.
Nearly all the typewriter companies maintain special departments for supplyingstenographers and some of these are well conducted. It is well to avoid those companies who have on hand only a limited number of îapplicants, as the salaries they will demand will be above the market rate.
It is of little use to ask candidates for positions how many words they can wrr e a minute, for their replies will give you no idea of the speed with which they can take your dictation. A test on two or three letters is of no value, only for showing if they have cool, clear heads, and how well up they are on grammar, spelling and punctuation. Do not always turn down the girl who cannot take your ' dictation perfectly the first time.
Probably not one employer in ten understands what a stenographer should know. Here are the requiiements of a good one as summed up by a man who has from two to three hundred in his charge.
“The first-class operator knows tbdat his machine must be kept free from dirt ; that th e rollers, escapement wheel and other wearing parts must be oiled and cleaned once a week; that scrapings from a cheap eraser are harmful; and that, when he finds it absolutely r»?eessary to make correction, he should use a good eraser and cover the basket of his machine to ore vent the scrapings
from falling into the mechanism. The eraser has been properly likened unto an antidote to poison—necessary only in extreme eases—and the good operator avoids its use.
“ He knows that it does not pay use a ribbon when it is full of holes —new ribbons cost less than a mew roller. He knows that tüe two timekillers in typewriting Jare frequent lifting of the carriage (usually without reason), and stopping to make corrections; so he has learned to write page öfter page without lifting the carriage or making errors. He does net allow ?all the type to become filled with dirt before cleaning, but cleans each type as it shows it needs it. He knows how to adjust the finger and carnage tensions and marginal stops.
“He takes dictation coolly and in distinct firm characters. He is not a machine but has a clear understanding of the work in hand, and calls attention to unfinished sentences, lapses of speech, ?and such grammatical errors as he does not feel at liberty to correct without mentioning. He is always alert, responsive to the slightest suggestion and often even thinking ahead of the one whose dictation lie takes.
“He is able to transcribe his shorthand notes rapidly and accurately; to take dictation direct upon his machine; to do tabulated work and billing; to cut mimeograph stencils; to manifold; to write all kinds of legal papers, depositions and affidavits; to copy from printed work or rough drtaft; to write telegrams; to write on ruled paper, or narrow or wide sheets; to direct envelopes; or to write post cards.”
One prime essential in stenographers is seerecy. They should be given to understand that the business of the firm is absolutely confidential
and that it is not only business courtesy but also their duty never to mention any details, no mJatter how trivial, outside of the office or to other employees. This matter can be impressed upon them more strongly by giving them to understand that thleir advancement will depend in great measure upon the discretion they show in this regard.
“How can you afford to p.ay that young woman $1,200 a year?” some one asked the head of a Wall Street brokerage house.
“We pay her $1,200 a year for keeping her mouth shut,” was the reply. “We could hire a stenographer to do the work she does for half that figure, but we can’t afford to have any leaks in our office. The young woman you speak of makes herself worth the extra $600 by not prattling about our business outside the office.”
It is surprising how little value some employers get out of their stenographers. The trouble in many cases seems to be that they are afraid or do not know how to dictate. Now. of course, this is all wrong. Everything that can possibly be given to a stenographer (and there are few things that cannot), should be dictated, and it is by this means only that a large amount of detail work can be handled. Call a spade a spade for there is no reason why anything which ?a gentleman would say in his offie»9 should not be typewritten.
The most successful business men have their stenographers trained to he almost a part of themselves. In this way only can the executive keep bis correspondence from occupying practically all of his time.
A good case in point is the general passenger agent of an eastern railway system who handles daily an unusually Targe volume of correspondence. One day a friend was com-
plimenting him on the conciseness and polish of his letters.
* * The credit belongs out there, ’9 he said, pointing into the next room where a half dozen young men were 'bending over their machines. “I give very little time to my corres-, pondence and dictate complete replies to less than ten per cent, of it.
“Most of it I dispose of after this fashion—7 Turn him down hard’— * Grant the usual rate’—* Arrange for extra train service,’ and so on. That’s all—and the stenographers do the rest. It took some time to train them to do it, but it certainly pays by saving my day for more important things and by fitting the boys for promotion.”
Every stenographer should be mure or less of a private secretary, and ttaught to take the mass of detail work off the hands of the superior, and handle a large amount of work in addition to taking his dictation. Stenographers should be familiar with filing systems so that they c?annot onlv file papers, but can look up points on different subjects as instructed without immediate supervision.
As a business proposition it pays to treat stenographers well—to provide a comfortable place for them to work in, to pay them extra when tluere is much night work, .and to give them reasonable notice when their services are no longer needed. A firm’s reputation in this respect travels fast, and often increases the difficulty of securing competent employees.
A Kansas City manufacturig company gained !a reputation for ill treatment of its stenographers that required years to live down. “Fetter no job at all than one with Blank & Company,” was the slogan of every stenographer in the city ?and surrounding towns. The company was
put to great expense and inconvenience through having to import its stenographers from a distance and pay them higher than the market prices.
It is somewhat strfange that many companies which figure the cost of their product down to the smallest fraction of a cent, cannot tell surely whether the letters sent out of their correspondence department are costing th.em three or twenty-five cents each. A cost system can be easily installed in ifhe stenographic department and it will be of the greatest value in showing which stenographers are doing the best work and ia making it possible to arrange the sa7ari»es on an equitable basis.
Miscellaneous work, card work, special work, is all reduced to the basis of regular dictated letters, so that the daily and weekly totals on the weekly report are given in totals of Letters.
A record like this is of immense value, as it shows at a glance what letters are factually costing for stenographer’s time, and determines the relative value of th?e various stenographers in the office. Experience shows that in most cities stenographers can be secured who will under proper training do this work as it should be done at an average cost as low as three to five cents per letter.
By the ordinary rules of proportion a stenographer’s actual worth
to the office, in the exact earnings in
dollars and cents, can alw.ays be calculated in a moment’s time, and it can be shown definitely whether stenographers are entitled to a raise of salary, or are being paid more than they ane worth.
The record also is an absolute check on the postage account, and should be checked daily with the amount of postage given out by the cashier, or whoever hfas custody of the stamps ; daily checking up of this kind pnevents a possible leak in the postage account.
There is no department of an office which will repay systematic attention better than the stenographic work. Letters should not be allowed to remain over in the note books from one day to another unless thev are reported back at night as un written, and in no case should one remain fifteen hours in a book. When this cannot be done it is time to increase the force.
Whether a business mfan decides the stenographer problem in favor of men or women, he should see to it that the work is done accurately and neatly. The world judges his business by what it can see, and there is too much advertising value in a nefatly written, correctly spelled letter, with a clean wide margin, to permit of careless work. The value of the stenographer is too important to neglect.