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Today, it is difficult to imagine the world of banking as a solely male environment, but just over a century ago that was exactly the case. The handful of females employed by Barclays in the early 20th century held what were considered at the time to be menial roles, and the position of branch manager was an aspiration that few women dared to even think about.

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In 1962, shortly after Anne Harwood became Barclays’ second female branch manager, she was interviewed. She recalled that earlier in her career a male colleague had commented that the day a woman was appointed as branch manager, the Barclays Spread Eagle would flap its wings and fly away! In the intervening period, the eagle may have changed from black to blue, and softened a little around the edges, but it is still with us.

Today, female employees account for more than half of the Barclays workforce. Quite a development considering that it was not until the outbreak of World War One in 1914 that women began working in the banks in significant numbers, albeit on a temporary basis, as the only option to replace the male clerks who had been called away for active service.

Relatively few women occur in the history of Barclays before the 20th century. Caroline Gunner became a partner in Gunner and Company (part of the Barclays family), on the death of her husband Charles in 1872. In 1890, having been sole partner for twelve years, she took her two sons into partnership, and remained senior partner until her death in 1906. Although Caroline was undoubtedly from a privileged background, her achievement in occupying such a significant position in what was definitely a man’s world is remarkable.

There are also a few instances of women from a less privileged background breaking through. Miss Margaret Tyson was employed as an agent in Coniston from 1884 to 1887, as was Miss Mary Clark in 1884 in Bootle, Cumbria. Other female appointments include telephonists in 1908 and typists in 1913, although it is difficult to trace whether these were ‘firsts,’ as it is rare for the records to list temporary positions.

World War One saw a breakthrough for women’s employment. A staff register for the London and South Western Bank shows that around 140 women were recruited during the war years at their head office. However, the employment of women during the war years cannot be seen as a permanent shift in attitudes, for as the Salaries Committee Report for 1917 records the female employees as ‘Temporary Staff.’ Accordingly, it was accepted practice for the men returning from the War to return to their positions within the bank, and for women to return to the home. This is exemplified by a letter from a branch manager to the Local Head Office in 1919 which states, ‘I could manage with two good fellows capable of working ledgers and for the general routine work, a new junior clerk. All my four girls could then be released.’

However, a small number of women were retained, and by 1920, Barclays employed 38 permanent female staff. This can be seen as a drop in the ocean compared to the 6,802 men who were employed, but does represent a significant start. Moreover, the emergence of the ‘Lady Clerk,’ offered women recognition and new opportunities. In 1921, a 25% quota of female employees was put in place, and in 1926 the employment of women was formally recognised by the introduction of Conditions of Service. This was followed in 1928 by the production of guidelines for female staff within the Staff Handbook.

At this time, it was not standard industry practice to retain women who married. On marriage, women were expected to resign, a system known as the ‘Marriage Bar.’ In reality, many married women did return to work for the Bank, although as temporary staff in minor roles with no benefits or pensions. Indeed, it is notable that the early trail-blazers for women in banking were all unmarried.

In 1961, Barclays abolished the marriage bar which meant that women could remain in post, with additional benefits such as maternity leave, albeit unpaid. Statistics reveal that this had some effect, as by 1962 the proportion of women employed by Barclays overtook men for the first time. Significantly, this was eight years prior to the Equal Pay Act before which pay was based on both age and gender. For example, in 1962, a 24 year old male’s yearly salary would have been £590, while a woman of the same age would have been earning £550. By the age of 31, there would have been £275 difference between the two.

By 1979, Barclays was employing 38,000 women in the UK, and importantly, 266 were managers and 9 were branch managers. In 1983, with women making up 65% of the Barclays workforce, Mary Baker became the bank's first female director. In 1984, Tina Boyden was appointed as the first Equal Opportunities Manager, at a time when Barclays was largely female in staff numbers but predominantly male in management. In 1986, Barclays introduced the Career Break Scheme, and this was also the year that saw women hold proportionately more senior positions at Barclays than at any of the other four big UK banks. The 1990s saw a surge of initiatives which helped women progress, and in 1993 Barclays was awarded Employer of the Year by the Working Mothers’ Association for the Career Break and Job Share Schemes.

In 2000, a survey of 10,000 employees identified key areas for action for women and minority groups in Barclays. The result was the Equality and Diversity Charter, launched by Group Chief Executive Matt Barrett in July 2001. This set out in detail Barclays’ commitment to equality and diversity for employees, customers, shareholders and the community. In 2007 Barclays established the first Women’s Initiative Network and launched the ‘Women of the Year’ award for employees. In the same year, Barclays published ‘A Question of Gender,’ a report to examine the relationship between wealth and gender. Two years later, Barclays was listed as one of the Times ‘Top 50 Places Where Woman Want to Work’ for the fourth year running. Chairman Marcus Agius publicly committed in 2011 to ensure that 20% of the Board be made up of women by the end of 2013, the same year that Barclays won the ‘Opportunity Now Awards for Advancing Women in the Workplace.’

Past and present influential and powerful women

In 1954, Barclays DCO opened a unique agency in a tent in Episkopi in Cyprus to serve British Military Forces stationed there. Araxie Yaghlian was a manager in all but name, running the agency as clerk-in-charge with the help of A Sanidhiotis as messenger.

Hilda Harding entered Barclays in 1934 as a shorthand typist, becoming secretary to the Local Head Office Directors at Reading in 1941. She was one of the first groups of women in 1947 to attend the Bank’s Training School at Wimbledon. In 1958, Hilda was appointed as the UK’s first female branch manager at a new branch in Hanover Street, London. Her appointment caused such a stir that headlines appeared all over the world.

Rebecca Nunoofio was appointed as Barclays first female cashier in Ghana and took up her post at the High Street, Accra branch in 1959, having joined the staff as a machine operator just three years earlier.

In 1961, at the age of 19, Rosemary Mwangi Njoki became the first African woman to be employed by the Bank as a clerk since its formation in East Africa. She took up the post at the Government Road, Nairobi branch following completion of the Senior School Certificate at the African Girls High School at Kikuyu. Rosemary has said,

I always wanted to be a nurse, but I knew I would be the first African girl to work at the Bank and the opportunity seemed too good to miss.

Anne Harwood joined Barclays in 1935 as a shorthand typist before being appointed as Barclays’ second ever female bank manager in 1962. In 1969, she was subsequently posted to Head Office as Women Staff Manger, the highest position ever occupied by a woman in Barclays at that time.

Ena Alice Evadne Leung-Walker can claim two firsts. In 1964 she was appointed accountant at the DCO branch in Georgetown, British Guiana, and the first woman to hold such a position in the Caribbean. In 1968 she was appointed manager of the Main Street, Georgetown, Demerara branch, the first female manager in Barclays DCO.

Joyce Bailey was appointed assistant manager in the City Trustee branch, DCO in 1967, the first woman to hold a position at that level in the Bank.

In 1968, Joan Myburgh became the first woman to obtain a Board appointment in South Africa when she was appointed as Assistant Staff Manager at Head Office in Johannesburg. She was subsequently elected by the Rand Daily Mail as the Business Girl of the Year; her prize included a trip for two to Europe.

D M Howard was the first woman to receive a managerial appointment in the Cape when she was made manager of the Business Development Division at Cape Town Local Head Office in 1971. The staff magazine at the time commented,

as she has no children she can more easily concentrate on her job in the Bank.

In 1976, Pamela Emney succeeded Anne Harwood as Women Staff Manager. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Pamela’s life differed in one major way: she was married with three children when she joined the Bank. Her previous roles included shorthand typist and secretary before moving to Barclaycard.

Mary Baker became the first female Director of Barclays Bank UK on 1 January 1983. At the time, 65% of Barclays colleagues were women and Mary worked hard to promote equal opportunities. In 1988, Mary became a Director of Barclays PLC, a role she held until her retirement in 2000.

In 1984, Tina Boyden was appointed Barclays’ first Equal Opportunities Manager. She was also a founder member of Women in Banking, a support and contact group set up for women in the profession in 1980.

Margaret Mwanakatwe shocked both the banking community and the nation in 2000 when she was appointed Managing Director of Barclays Bank, Zambia. She recalled how it was unusual for an African to hold such a position and unheard of for it to be a woman.

In 2005, Deanna Oppenheimer was appointed Chief Executive of Barclays UK Retail Bank and went on in 2007 to be named one of the top 25 most powerful women in Banking by the US Banker Magazine. By 2010, in addition to heading the UK retail bank, she was also Vice Chair of Global Retail Banking and Chief Executive of Barclays’ retail business in Western Europe.

In 2009, Zarina Bassa became an Executive Director of ABSA, the first woman in South Africa to achieve such a high position. She had joined ABSA in 2002 as the Managing Executive of ABSA Retail Banking Services, and after the completion of the landmark deal that saw Barclays PLC acquiring a majority stake in ABSA in July 2005, Zarina was appointed as Executive Director responsible for Private Banking in the ABSA group.

Maria Ramos took up her post as CEO of ABSA in 2009, and in the same year she was named the World’s ninth most influential business woman in Fortune Magazine’s Global Leaders list, and Outstanding Business Woman of the Year at the African Business Awards. Her success continued, and in 2011 Maria won the Africa Business Woman of the Year at the CNBC All Africa Business Leaders Awards.

Val Soranno Keating was named as the new Barclaycard Chief Executive in 2009. She was named amongst the five most powerful women in finance by American Banker magazine in 2011.