The arrival of women in banking

1880-...

Typing office of the BNCI's administative annex in Paris (1950's) - BNP Paribas Historical Collections


Up until the 1880s, bank employees were exclusively male. But the creation of new administrative departments – never in direct contact with customers – coincided with the first hiring of women in the major financial establishments.

Contrary to common belief, women were being taken on to work in banking before the First World War. This was part of a wider movement that saw the feminisation of clerical work, with the fairer sex often deemed more “competent” or “conscientious” and sometimes even more “honest”.

Behind the scenes at the bank

Women seemed perfect for the jobs that were primarily created at the head offices of the large banks in Paris in the administrative departments, for example collections, accounts and, more especially, the securities and coupons offices. Whether it was at the Crédit Lyonnais, Société Générale, Banque de France, at Rothschild Frères or at the Comptoir national d’escompte de Paris (CNEP), women were busy at their immaculately aligned desks in what today we would refer to as the back office. In the securities office, they worked on the bonds: when the coupons were paid, they detached them and pasted them onto the pages of the bank’s big ledgers, noting the date and name of the person to whom the amount was paid. They worked under the scrutiny of a senior employee who was also a woman since women had no contact with customers or with their male colleagues. In certain banks, they entered the building through a special entry and in all the establishments where they were employed, they worked and took their meals in separate rooms.

 

Fiche de mouvements de personnel d'une employée du service du Portefeuille au Comptoir national d'escompte de Paris (CNEP), 1926. Archives historiques BNP Paribas

Staff movement form of  a  woman employed in the “Portefeuille Department” at the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris (CNEP),1926 – BNP Paribas Historical Collections

Their numbers kept rising

In 1909, women, often young and educated from the middle classes, who needed to work, represented one tenth of the main staff at the Crédit foncier. In 1914,  they accounted for almost 25% of the total Parisian staff at the CNEP (700 out of 3,000). But these figures hide a disparity in status. Women were paid lower salaries than their male counterparts and had far less job security.

 Typing room at the administrative centre of the Banque Nationale pour le Commerce et l'Industrie (BNCI) around 1960. BNP Paribas Historical Archives

Typing room at the administrative centre of the Banque Nationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie (BNCI) around 1960. BNP Paribas Historical Archives

 

In the bearer bonds department for example, they could be hired the day before the main payment dates and dismissed immediately afterwards. In the less seasonal departments, their status was often only that of an auxiliary and it took them far longer than men to obtain a permanent status.

Centre administratif de la BNP à Montreuil-sous-Bois (France) en 1974. Cliché du Studio Chevojon - Archives historiques BNP Paribas

Administrative Centre of BNP in Montreuil-sous-Bois (France) in 1974. Picture from the Chevojon Studio – BNP Paribas Historical Archives

 

An important role for women in the bank

Today women represent 54% of the total workforce of the BNP Paribas Group and 31% of them hold senior management positions.

The Group is committed to promote professional equality in all professional spheres. Since 2011, it has therefore developed a programme to support women in their progression to senior management positions. It is in this context that the target of 25% of women senior managers was reached in 2014, compared with only 18.4% in 2011. Then in 2020, the target for women senior managers was raised to 30%.

While women work in all areas of banking, BNP Paribas is committed to improving gender balance in traditionally male-dominated and female-dominated professions, as part of its partnership with the global HeforShe programme, initiated by ONUFemmes.

 

About women topics, you may also be interested in the following stories :

 

 

Close

Contact us / Send us a document

    This website has a cultural and historical purpose; it is not intended to deal with trade and banking relationship issues which will not be processed. See moreless

    If you have a document, a photo, a story about BNP Paribas history and want to share it, please do not hesitate to share it there.

    In transmitting this document, you certify to own it and to hold the property rights needed for their use. You authorize BNP Paribas to use it on the website Source of History.

    Thank you for indicate the origin of the documents and give us any information you consider relevant to its understanding.

    The personal data collected on this form is processed by BNP Paribas SA for processing. It allows us to provide a personalised answer to your requests (access to archives, research, information requests. Please note that fields identified by an asterisk (*) are mandatory.

    For more information on the processing of your personal data, you can access our Data Protection Notice.

    Close

    Suscribe to Well of History's newsletter

    The personal data collected from the Site are subject to data processing by BNP Paribas to enable access to and use of the functionalities offered by the Site www.histoire.bnpparibas.
    Pursuant to the French Data Protection Law No. 78-17 of 6 January 1978, you are entitled to access the data collected by BNP Paribas and to have it amended, updated or deleted, where such information is incorrect, incomplete or outdated. You can exercise this right by contacting: BNP Paribas – APAC TDC Val de Marne, TSA 30233- 94729 FONTENAY SOUS BOIS Cedex.

    Close

    Files download

    I undertake to make private use of the contents downloaded from the website

    OK
    Close

    You have added an item to your selection.

    You can find your saved contents in the “My space” section, which can be accessed at the top right of any page of the website.

    My space English A+ A-

    To find this content on your next visit, you need to create an account from this section, by clicking on:

    Fermer Welcome to

    Well of History

    Since 1822, history has made us a key player and a witness of transformations taking place in society and economy in Europe and around the world. We invite you to share in our story and explore our archives to learn more about our constantly changing world.
    Jean Lemierre Jean Lemierre,
    Chairman
    of BNP Paribas