Ayanna Castro is the founder and Chief Maven of Work Your Package
Can we start with a little background information? Where are you from and what is your current role?
I was born and raised in New York City. I moved to Laurel, Maryland 15 years ago with my husband of 19 years. I now have two inquisitive and beautiful daughters and a cantankerous little old dog, Biggie. I enjoy completing DIY projects, traveling, and reading and writing both fiction and non-fiction.
I am currently a Management Support Specialist with one of the largest water and wastewater utility companies in the United States. I support senior leadership by serving as the project manager for special events, such as all management meetings, the employee holiday party, and the “unicorn of all projects” – the corporate centennial. As my company has never had a single drinking water violation in its 100 years, we have a lot to celebrate! In my role as the centennial project manager, I’m responsible for overseeing a committee of over 30 people and 7 sub-committees as well as their respective activities. The role requires me to communicate up, down and across the company to accomplish the objectives for the year-long celebration.
As the Founder and Chief Maven of Work Your Package, I truly enjoy working with women to help them visualize and achieve their goals. My weekly Work Your Package Wednesday social media post is the highlight of my week. The feedback that I receive lets me know that I’m headed in the right direction with my mission of helping women become better versions of themselves.
What is your background?
I received my Associate degree in Business Administration and my Bachelor’s degree in Deviant Behaviour and Social Control. Although I worked throughout college as an administrative assistant, for a very brief moment, I considered a career in law enforcement. I opted instead to begin my professional career as a fraud investigator and later as a social worker. I returned to the administrative profession when I experienced burn out in those roles.
Over my 20 years of administrative experience, I’ve had the opportunity to work in different industries and large companies, such as Gannett and Edelman Public Relations. The experience I gained at each position has groomed me for the where I am now. There are lessons learned from my formative years that I still use today, such as making a task list for the next day…before leaving for the day.
My professional background includes event planning and technical writing; and as a result, prepared me to host my very own women’s conference and start my blog. I’ve been very fortunate to have positions where my supervisor not only encouraged me to learn new skills, but also pushed me into unfamiliar territory so that I could gain first-hand experience.
How did you become an Assistant?
As a child, I wanted to be a nurse because I wanted to help people. However, I quickly realized that I didn’t like the sight of blood. My teacher in junior high school suggested that I major in secretarial science in high school. While I enjoyed my major in high school, I opted to start my professional career as a fraud investigator, and shortly after as a social worker once I graduated from college. When the emotional strain of social work became unmanageable, I returned to the administrative profession because I thought it was “easy”. It allowed me to use my passion for people and helping others without the same emotional toll of social work. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made! Being an assistant has allowed me to see organizations from a different perspective and from multiple angles. It is probably one of the reasons why I appreciate proper procedures and policies to ensure the organized execution of projects.
Tell us a little about Work Your Package. How did that come about?
“Work Your Package” was a phrase that I said to my friends during their moments of self-doubt to inspire them to use their gifts and talents in addressing an issue or achieving a goal. It eventually became a blog. I wanted to provide my readers with motivation as well as useful and timely information I pulled from personal experiences and conversations that I’ve had with other professional women. What I discovered is that regardless of their racial, ethnic, socioeconomic or professional background, all women had the same concerns: family, career, finances, relationships and health & wellness. In 2013, I started the draft for my book, Work Your Package – A Guide to Being the Total Package, with the goal to have it self-published by my first women’s conference in 2014. It was quite an undertaking, but a labour of love for what I believe to be my purpose and passion. I have since gone on to host the conference for three more years. While my message is geared toward women, there have been several men who have reached out to me to thank me for the Work Your Package message.
What are the main changes you have seen in the time you have been an Assistant?
There have been quite a few changes in the administrative profession over the years. One that really sticks out to me is the amount of project management that assistants have had to incorporate into their daily workload. With the consolidation of businesses, many assistants have had to do more with less; and are now doing the work that was once done by junior managers. Assistants are no longer just responsible for securing dates and times for events and meetings. They are responsible for everything from securing venues to working with graphic designers for programmes to managing the travel logistics for attendees.
My position as administrative assistant evolved long before I was promoted to management support specialist. Shortly after I was hired, I was asked to learn how to manage the department’s budget. Initially, that included verifying expenses and processing invoices. Within a year, I was fully responsible for the development, management and reporting for the fiscal year budget. It required year over year analysis of spending trends and ensuring all departmental programs were fully funded. I’ve also seen how the work done by assistants is no longer department specific. They are doing work that impacts the entire organization. There is more collaboration among assistants to move the organization’s agenda forward. It is no longer about what is best for individual departments. Decisions are made on what is best for the organization.
Training for assistants is taken more seriously. And not just the hard skills, such as software and technological advances. There is a focus on soft skills such as communication, emotional intelligence, and negotiation. Assistants are making the case for training to their supervisors and aligning it with their yearly goals for their performance evaluation.
What inspires and motivates you?
Influential women who have blazed a path that was once thought to be impossible inspire me. Women like Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Laurene Powell Jobs who saw a need and went about fulfilling it in grand fashion, despite critics. I’m motivated by the two sets of eyes that watch me every day, my daughters. They have watched me write a blog, then a book, host my own conference, speak at other conferences and serve within my sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. It is my daily goal to live my life in such a way that it leaves no doubt that they can achieve any goal to which they aspire.
What advice would you give someone just starting out as an Assistant?
I would give the advice I wish someone had given to me – be confident in your own skin. While it is impossible to know everything on day one, it is your responsibility to seek out knowledge before the end of day two. I would also advise them to get a mentor, a coach, a sponsor, and a solid professional board of directors to help them navigate their growth throughout their career. Their board of directors should consist of seasoned administrative professionals and their peers. The purpose of the board is to provide “been there, done that” advice and “have you tried this” brainstorming. While it is great to form a bond with co-workers, I would advise them to branch outside of their department, organization and even their industry to gain a broader perspective.
So what’s next for Ayanna Castro? Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
Professionally, I am working on expanding my project management portfolio by taking on initiatives that positively influence and benefit the employees at my company. I am also working on expanding my network and audience for Work Your Package to reach and encourage more women. At my core, I believe in serving others so that they are empowered to be extraordinary. The service will be displayed through coaching, speaking, hosting events, and creating a community where women are supported in all facets of their life.