Debbie Maguire, a vice president at National Bank of Washington, feels she has come a long way in banking since the time when her first boss would pat her on the head as he introduced her to corporate clients.
Maguire, a 10-year banking veteran, is not alone. Many women executives in Washington-area banks believe great progress has occurred in the past decade.
Kathleen Wooley Collins, senior vice president and general counsel at NBW, says that "record strides have been made especially in the last three or four years." Collins came from a small bank in Philadelphia where she says that while "the women were not oppressed, I would just say we were a novelty. As a novelty, you're always uncomfortable."
When her husband was transferred to Washington, Collins decided it was a good time to look for a job at a larger bank and landed at NBW, which she refers to as "fortuitous."
Patricia Klinck, a vice president at Riggs National Bank, explains, "Women have had titles in banks for many years. Historically they've worked in trust or personal banking, never in commercial lending."
She says that in the past, if a woman had been a secretary or a teller for a number of years, "she was given the opportunity to have a title so she could join the National Association of Bank Women before they retired."
No more, and there are statistics to back up what these women say.
Last fall, the American Bankers Association released some figures filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by the largest 150 banks in the United States. It showed that 39.5 percent of the workers in the "officials and managers" category were women. This was up from 37.8 percent the year before. The figure quadrupled from 1970 to 1980.
Klinck has been in commercial banking for 10 years and now heads up the credit department. "We train lenders before they lend," she says, adding, "I love my job."
While she has mostly good stories to recall throughout her banking career, she remembers when a senior officer at a previous place of employment, commenting on her position as a commercial lender, said, "A corporate treasurer would chew you up and spit you out."
Undeterred, she says she decided, "If he didn't have enough faith in me, that was an attitude problem that he had." She also decided she would not work as a subordinate to that man and changed banks.
Eve R. Grover, president of the First Women's Bank of Maryland, remembers the 1940s when "having a woman as a teller was a major accommodation.
"Now it's up to the women to reach up the corporate ladder," Grover says. But she notes that it is still difficult to get into senior management. "It takes hard work and perseverance."
The First Women's Bank, which had its ribbon-cutting on Nov. 28, 1979, is "the fruition of a dream." Grover says she now has the opportunity to really help women who are going into business, but quickly adds, "it's not for women only."
She is pleased with the bank for three reasons: it was needed in the area, it is doing well and growing, and it is well-accepted in the community, she said.
A banker for 35 years, Grover recalls with frustration the stumbling blocks she faced when she first went into banking. "I was the best teller, but was not appointed head teller because it wasn't right," she says. She changed to a bank where she knew management would be more sympathetic.
While Grover doesn't think most of the women who are coming into banking today realize how much the older women paved the way, she doesn't resent it. "Women are more assertive now. I don't think they can comprehend that something like this existed.
"In a way, it's good," she says, "because they don't carry a chip the way we automatically did. They are more objective about their advancements."
Mary Irvin, who has been in banking for 10 years and now is a vice president at First Virginia Bank, says she has seen tremendous progress for women. "The ones entering banking now don't realize that things are so different from 10 years ago. They don't realize that you can't change things overnight. I want to say to them, 'If you only knew how things were.' "
While Irvin praises her own bank's support of women, she remembers one client whose attitude annoyed her.
"I would call him, and he would return the call by asking for one of the men," she recalls. "If they weren't available he'd leave a message."
When she finally confronted the client about the situation, the man bluntly said, "I just would rather deal with one of the men."
Irvin says, "I decided some people in this world are never going to change, and I wasn't going to let it bother me."
Besides, she has seen enough progress to know that such people are part of an ever-decreasing minority.
While most women talked of long days and weekend work, none seemed to think they worked exceptionally hard to prove their worth as women. "Being a woman hasn't been an asset, but it certainly hasn't been a hindrance," says Vivian Walton, vice president and general auditor at NBW. "I don't work harder because I'm a woman, I work to get the job done." Collins, who has an 18-month-old daughter, says that she often worked from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., but admitted that "you just can't keep doing that when you have a child."
Klinck said she believes younger women are entering the profession the right way. "There are so many well-trained women now who are gaining experience in finance. Years ago they weren't trained that way. Now the advancement goes to the person who does the best job."
Klinck has accomplished a first of her own. The highly rated Graduate School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin had maintained an entirely male faculty until Klinck joined it two summers ago. She returns every summer for two weeks in August to teach.
One of the special joys Klinck receives from her job, she says, "is the support she receives from the younger women. They want me to achieve. If I gain some recognition, they come in and mention it." She says that with this type of support and team effort, "If I get a downer now and then, I can handle it."
About her male mentors, Grover says, "If you don't have someone who is willing to take the time to train you, you only learn the job half way."
"We're all young," says Collins of the women executives at NBW. " NBW Chairman Luther Hodges goes out of his way for us. He will even tell you things like how to behave at a board meeting."
"I've had male mentors all the way," says Klinck, "but not in the typical sense. In my own desire to achieve, I've set up models who were usually a step or two above me. I've asked 'What is it they know that I should know.' Several times I moved into their positions when they advanced."
Irvin talked of two close male friends she has in banking. "They've provided a lot of help, guidance and inspiration. They've given me a lift when I was down."
Collins believes it will still take more time before all of the older men are completely comfortable asking the younger women out to lunch the way they ask the younger men. Walton says, "It just takes time to get into the old boys network."