Resident Paves Way Toward Equal Rights
September 30, 2009
By: Kathleen Kearns
In the trust department of a large Oakland, Calif., bank, Pat Flanagan had an epiphany. It was the late 1960s, and efforts for racial and gender equality were just starting to gain traction.
Flanagan had worked as a secretary for the bank since 1948, acquiring so much expertise that her boss, who managed the department, frequently left it in her hands. When the bank began hiring young men right out of college as officer trainees, they asked her to show them the ropes.
“They were nice young men, and I didn’t blame them,” says Flanagan, who now lives with her husband, George, at Grand Lake Gardens in Oakland. “But I started thinking, ‘I’m training them, they’re going to become officers and make more money, and I’ll be working for them in another five years.’”
She knew the bank also sent the men to a school in San Francisco for legal training, and she thought, “Why can’t I go to school?”
The department manager wouldn’t hear of it, but the assistant manager was more sympathetic. He also realized discrimination lawsuits were being lodged against banks and other institutions at the time. Women weren’t allowed to hold higher-level positions in the banks, Flanagan recalls, and they received salaries 10 to 20 percent lower than men in the same jobs.
Racial minorities and women in other professions were experiencing similar disparities, and Flanagan stresses that her story was just one example of a widespread pattern. But through her perseverance, she became a pioneer in her profession, the first woman vice president in the bank’s trust department.
It wasn’t easy. Her bank finally allowed Flanagan to attend the special weekly training, but they insisted she also keep on top of her administrative assistant job. She stayed on for a year but wasn’t promoted, so she made a lateral move to a San Francisco bank.
“I told [the new bank], the next time you have an opening for a trust officer, I want to be considered,” she says. “They said. ‘OK, sure.’” But three or four months later, she came in one morning and a young man told her he was the new assistant trust officer. She asked her boss about his promise, and he said, “I didn’t think you meant right now.”
Flanagan held her ground, the bewildered young man was given another job, and she got her promotion. But there was a catch. Normally, trust officers had administrative assistants – Flanagan had to do both jobs until she had proven herself. But prove herself she did. She got the assistant, and she continued to work her way up.
“It was a constant battle,” she recalls. By the late 1980s, she was a vice president but still experienced startling reactions, like a woman client who told her, “You’re a very nice lady, but I really need a man to take care of my affairs.”
Still, she enjoyed the legal work involved: taking care of trusts, setting up wills, and overseeing probate. And she made sure other women had an easier path. She worked with the local chapter of a national professional women’s group to address hiring discrimination against minorities. She also mentored young women, especially those from minority backgrounds.
Having fought so hard for the training she needed, Flanagan seems to have developed an insatiable thirst for learning. She completed a B.A. in English, and she regularly takes humanities courses at the University of California, Berkeley. If things had been different for her, she says, she might have gone to law school. These days, she takes satisfaction in encouraging young women to go.