A woman bank manager was 'hard to believe' in 1964

When one Canadian bank appointed two women as branch managers in 1961, it was a change that prompted a second look and a catch-up in 1964.

Working for gender balance in the careers ledger started with not-so-small changes at banks in 1961

Shirley Giles, was one of two newly minted branch managers of a Canadian bank in 1961.

Shirley Giles, a bank employee for some 18 years, made the news when she and another woman, Gladys Marcellus, were appointed as branch managers in 1961. 

At that time, Giles was interviewed by CBC News, and the reporter didn't refrain from asking how she would deal with her male customers. 

"Oh, just as I deal with the female customers I imagine," was her smiling response.

Just over two years later, this revolutionary step up the banking-career corporate ladder prompted an in-depth look. 

Now with some of that management experience under her belt, Giles was invited into Take 30's studio for a catch-up on how things were progressing in January of 1964.

It would seem though, that the rate of change for the public view of a woman in that role was slow-moving.

'A bank manager?'

Interviewer Anna Cameron didn't hide her amazement at the sight of the woman she introduced as "Mrs. Shirley Giles — she is a bank manager, it's hard to believe, it really is."

When Take 30 caught up with one of Canada's first bank managers in 1964, she was still fielding questions about how a woman would handle such a job. 2:03

Diving right in to the subject of the strangeness of a woman in her career, Cameron asked how people have reacted "in social situations" when they heard how she earned a living.

"At first it doesn't really sink in, and then they'll say 'did you say a bank manager?' Quite often they've never heard of a woman bank manager," Giles said. "They think I don't look like one."

"No you don't," Cameron interrupted, "you look far too young and too pretty."

And as of the time of the Take 30 interview, the number of women who had been appointed as bank managers could be counted on one hand. 

"There are only five of you all together," Cameron said. 

"I think one of our competitors also has one," Giles replied.

Discussing the suitability of women for this "sort of work," Cameron concluded "you have to deal with the public in every way then, don't you?" 

"So besides having a thorough knowledge of the technicalities of banking ... you have to know about human beings, people, and how to deal with them," Cameron asked.

"That's right," Giles said, "and you have to like people, I think, to be a bank manager."

Spouses at home, colleagues at work

Shirley Giles, a two-year veteran as a bank manager in Canada, talks to CBC's Anna Cameron about liking her job. 0:37

"Shirley — you said your husband also works in the same bank," Cameron said. 

When Giles explained that he was in a position at head office, Cameron laughed, "so he is your boss ... you are responsible to him. Oh, that's a relief to any husband who is listening." 

"Who looks after the accounts at home?" Cameron asked. 

"My husband does ... he's a very good bookkeeper" Giles laughed.

"I would say that you enjoy your work, very much," Cameron continued. "What do you find the most satisfying about it?"

"Well I think to be able to help the people," Giles responded.  "And I think we do."