Men and women at work together | RBS Remembers

RBS remembers 1914-1918


Men and women at work together

Cartoon from The County & Westminster Magazine, December 1916

 

Employing women brought new challenges for banks. In the early days, separate work rooms were provided for them, but such distinctions weren’t practical in local branches, and didn’t last long. Nevertheless, women’s toilet facilities had to be provided, and in branches where air-raids were feared, evacuation procedures had to take into account the impropriety of ladies climbing ladders or undertaking other unseemly manoeuvres.

Other problems were more unexpected. According to the Evening Standard, one London bank granted women an extra quarter-hour for lunch breaks, because it took them longer to get served in cafés, where the waitresses focussed on male customers. 

Furthermore, the women had to be trained as quickly as possible, so they could undertake responsible work much sooner than would ever have been expected of anyone before the war.

Many of the women felt that their new jobs gave them a glimpse of a secret world, with its own unique traditions and vocabulary. One recalled being teased by the bank men for saying ‘add’ when she should have said ‘cast’, and referring to ledgers as ‘books’. Another noted ‘I should never have thought that men could be so old-maidish, but get a lot of men together for a time and they evidently develop the faddiest of ways…’

The men, meanwhile, found their working environment transformed. Looking back on her early weeks in the bank, one woman remarked, ‘I have since discovered that the men were as frightened of us as we were of them’. Nevertheless, there was fun to be had. A poem in Parr’s Bank Magazine in 1915 observed the change:

The office is really a different place,
For ev’ry man works with a smile on his face;
It’s certainly evident such is the case
Since we had girls at the office.

The junior formerly looked such a wreck,
But now with clean collars his form he’ll bedeck;
Indeed it is whispered he washes his neck
Now we have girls at the office.

We ‘Mister’ each other most formally now,
And never by any chance kick up a row;
Our conduct’s exemplary all must allow
Since we had girls at the office.

From using strong language the seniors shrink
(The effort it costs them you really can’t think);
It’s cocoa and tea that all of us drink
Now we have girls at the office.

Another man, writing in the Manchester and District Bankers’ Institute Magazine in June 1915, described the arrival of women in banking as a step towards emancipation – not of women, but of men. He foresaw ‘a time when the routine work of the world will be done by machines tended by contented females, the male finding occupation enough in the supplying of imagination and ideas.’

More about women at work

Women making a banking career

For some women, wartime bank jobs developed into careers.

The first temporary lady clerks

The arrival of women permanently transformed the banking workforce.

Related topics

Working in a bank in wartime

Every aspect of banking life felt the impact of war

Our First World War banks

In 1914 30 of the banks that were to come together to create today’s RBS were trading independently.

Wartime pay – temporary staff

Most new workers were paid weekly wages rather than salaries.

Temporary staff

Banks relied on temporary staff, including retired bankers, teenaged boys and women.

Case studies

'Queenie' Quekett

Queenie was one of the few women already working in a bank before the war.

Mary Wood

Mary worked for Commercial Bank of Scotland from 1917 to 1924.

Doris Janie Elvidge

Doris was one of the first ‘temporary lady clerks’. Her brother Jabez, also of the bank, was killed in the war.

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