College program boosts banking women

When Shirley Manning took a job as a senior secretary at a Boston bank, she had no particular career designs. She was just interested in working. But though she enjoyed her job in the marketing department of the bank, she eventually began to get restless.

"I didn't want to type forever," Miss Manning says. Without a college degree or management skills, she wasn't going to advance very quickly. A night course in marketing at a local university showed her that she both enjoyed and had an aptitude for the field, but she didn't know whether to quit work and go to school full time or to try to get a degree through night courses, which would take twice as long.

"I was generally afraid of college," Miss Manning admits. Then she heard of a program sponsored jointly by the National Association of Bank Women (NABW) and Simmons College in Boston that would let her earn a college degree in management in three years while continuing to work full time.

The NABW-Simmons program was begun in 1973 to help the many women in banking who rise only to a mid-management level because of a lack of education. Although women make up nearly 70 percent of banking's employees, they account for only 2 percent of the senior management jobs, according to Anne L. Bryant of NABW.

The three-year bachelor's degree program includes liberal arts courses, along with six intensive two-week institutes that focus on practical matters, such as accounting and management, and on broadbased topics such as moral and ethical challenges in organizational life. The program is offered by Simmons and three other schools, including Mundelein College in Chicago, Pitzer College in claremont, Calif., and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

The founders of the program say that promoting women in banks is not merely a matter of catching up with equal-employment-opportunity laws. Banks will gain by tapping the most competent women as well as men.

Although organizers originally thought most of the enrollees would be older women, they have been surprised at the number of younger ones who are now ready to move up.

The average age is 33 to 35, Dr. Bryant says. Most of the women have about 12 years' banking experience, and most are officers or managers. But non-officers join the program also.

"It seems strange that we should have such a cross section of talents and wide variety of titles in the program," says Miss Manning, who will gradaute from the program in 1981. "But we are all on equal ground. If someone is good at math, whether she's a vice-president or secretary, you sit down and talk with her. No one can go through this program alone."

The women attend the twice-yearly institutes at one of the four colleges offering them. The liberal arts courses can be taken at local colleges and transferred, so bank women from throughout the country can enroll in the program. Independent studies are accepted, and many women receive credit for "life experience." One woman had designed a teller training program at her bank and got credit for both education and management courses.

About 75 percent of the women are married, and many have children or an elderly parent in the home.

"A key factor for a married student is the support she receives from her husband," Miss Manning says. "These women can't say enough about their spouses, who have often compromised and rearranged their life styles to help their wives take the courses."

Other women receive help from their offspring. One widow is being tutored in math by her high-school-age son. "The whole course has strengthened her bond with her children," Miss Manning says.

More than 30 women have received their degree under the program, which can cost $3,000 or more annually. Many banks pick up part of the tab, and some pay as much as $2,500. The program was started on a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, but is now financed by the colleges and NABW.

Some banks recruit women to be in the program and give them time off, in addition to vacations, to attend the institutes. Larger banks are more apt to encourage women to join the program than small banks, which don't always have the resources in personnel or money to invest in the program.

Dr. Bryant of NABW reports that 90 percent of the women in the degree program have had their job expanded or responsibility increased after entering the program.

Shirley Manning started the program as a senior secretary at Shawmut Bank in Boston and during the first year was promoted to assistant product manager. Does she feel her promotion comes as a result of her involvement in the degree program?

"Absolutely," she says. "If I were not seeking the degree, I don't think it would have come. Maybe after a number of years."

She finds that what she is learning in college applies directly to her job.

"Just a half hour ago I wrote a very simple computer program for interest calculation," she says. "I wrote it, edited it, and debugged it by myself. I never would have known how to do it before."

Miss Manning has also seen a lot of growth in herself and her classmates.

"I used to be terribly insecure and unsure of my abilities," she says. "Now I feel perfectly capable."

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