Have you heard this old philosophical fable about an old man who has lived in a cave all of his life? Who then suddenly exits, and when the sun’s glare fades, for the first time he sees the world for what it really is, and realises everything he had learned before was pretty much obsolete? The old man is me, two years ago, freshly graduated. And did I leave that cave in style. I rode that £27,000 white elephant straight out of town, ready to take on the world.
Enter the receptionist desk. After four years of academia I should be able to blast right through it, right? Two weeks. That was when the time came to smash the illusions of grandeur, let the elephant go, and make myself comfortable in my swivel chair.
My name is Ana, and I am a receptionist.
I work for an agency called JLA- one of the biggest speaker agencies in the UK, specializing in providing motivational and after dinner speakers for corporate businesses. The job description made me believe that my position would entail all of the traits associated with secretarial trade: reception desk is to be a Zen sphere, continually emanating nothing but laughter, light, and effortless energy. A clean, relatively easy job. The reality turned out to be very different. Although this is often achievable, in reality a reception is a pressure cooker, testing just about every attribute you have been prescribed in order to define yourself as a “good person”.
It is a well-known fact that the ratio of women to men in this profession is overwhelming. The reasons may be many: maybe his hunter- gatherer instinct would make a man wander off. Maybe we do enjoy talking more. Or possibly, our organisational ‘housekeeping’ ability counts in our favour. Be as it may, one thing is clear: to become a successful gatekeeper- especially within the after dinner speakers industry- a receptionist must be both patient and concise, friendly yet steady, assertive yet reassuring. In other words, in this irrefutably female- dominated sphere one could say that a woman must exercise traits socially prescribed to men. Trying to dodge appearing as a patron of female empowerment, I really do believe that this job, so misrepresented via the media, deserves a lot more respect owing to the amount of emotional stamina we build, and the courage and savvy that is required to do this job well.
Likewise, some of the comediennes we represent are put in a similar position. Just as females are typecast in the domain of reception, women in comedy are frequently perceived(or perhaps expected) only produce humour relating to their menstrual cycles, bodily function, their mothers, or their failed relationships. In reality, the likes of Katherine Ryan, Holly Walsh and Shappi Khorsandi defy these misconceptions: their repertoire is sound,genderless humour, beaming with excitement, revelation and challenge. It seems the day is upon us where, finally, a female comedian is more than just a gimmick- we are to expect big strides in the number of female guest and after dinner speakers.
It is important to say that I love my job. Being a receptionist is teaching me a lot: is a noble profession that ought to be held in high regard. We are the buffers that pave the way from the client to our after dinner speakers. We are the faces, the voices, and the first impressions. It is a role that grants occasional frustrations, but also one that provides an exciting glance into an industry that is full of promise.