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Women who count, a project from Historical Archives
"Women who count" is an all-digital project that traces the evolution of women's place in French society from the 19th century through to the end of the 20th. The blog, produced in partnership with the archive departments of seven financial and banking institutions*, tells the story of women banking-sector employees and women customers, and their quest for financial autonomy. It contrasts three broad periods that shaped the History of French society.
1) Women and banks, a long-running story
Women started working for banks in the 1880s. They worked as assistants in all-women departments with their workspaces strictly separate from the men's. With the First World War taking men away to the front from 1914 on, many more women started joining banking institutions. They were then allowed to manage the household's bank accounts, a "privilege" they would lose at the end of WWI. This period also saw the start of typing as a job, which many women trained for. The expansion of banking activities and mechanisation created new jobs for women (collection, accounting, etc). Employment contracts were often precarious and women performed repetitive administrative tasks in noisy environments. Most of all, they contributed their wages to their households.
Extract from a Crédit Lyonnais memo about savings accounts for married women: "Opening accounts for married women would be illegal, immoral and present a perpetual danger", 1820.
Securities department at the Crédit Lyonnais central headquarters, 1913.
Crédit Lyonnais typing pool, 1960s.
Watch the story of Eugénie**, bank employee from 1897 to 1935.
2) From employees to customers: the 20th century's great change for women
While the "Glorious Thirty" years after World War II brought no major progress in women's career prospects, there were nevertheless a number of positive social changes. The law of 13 July 1965 was the turning point that revolutionised women's access to financial autonomy as, from this date forward, women could open a bank account and carry out a business activity without their husband's prior approval. Having obtained equality from the legal standpoint, they could manage their personal property themselves. Women-as-customers then became a choice target for the banking institutions' commercial development strategies, especially in advertising campaigns.
Crédit Agricole de la Sarthe advertising poster, 1971.
Follow the story of Pauline, bank employee from 1934 to 1974.
3) At the start of the 21st century, society and women's career prospects are evolving
The 1970s were marked by significant social demands, especially from the women's liberation movement. The legal concept of "paternal authority" was at last replaced by "parental authority", and the principle of equal pay for equal work for women and men was accepted. Against this background, banks started recruiting massively to meet an ever-increasing customer base. At this time, there were as many women employees as men, although parity ended as levels of responsibility increased. Progress in IT and office automation gave rise to new types of job and new departments. More and more women received training and climbed up the bank's career ladder.
Example: the story of Annie, bank employee from 1973 to 2013.
Even though much remains to be done, "Women who count" shows that real – albeit slow – progress has been made in reaching equality between women and men. Nowadays, 85% of women who work in banking trust the gender diversity policies applied in this sector. Three-quarters of them are satisfied with their careers and over two-thirds of men consider that gender diversity contributes to growth and value creation for the company***.
*Crédit Agricole S.A., HSBC France, Société Générale, BNP Paribas, Fédération Nationale des Caisses d’Épargne, Fédération Nationale des Banques Populaires, the French Ministry for the Economy and Finance.
**Eugénie is one of the fictional characters from the "Women who count" blog, alongside Pauline and Annie. Their stories follow the changes in women's work in banks from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 21st.
***Poll from Financi’Elles, the Federation of Networks for Executive Women in Banking, Finance and Insurance, February 2017.