Blacks Note Progress in Banking but Some Say Barriers Persist on Long Road to Management
Cynthia Todd Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
WHEN DOROTHY JONES walked through the door as the first black clerical worker at Cass Bank and Trust Co. in August 1963, she knew things wouldn't be easy. And they weren't.
Some people who worked next to her refused to say "Good morning." A restaurant owner refused to serve a group of bank employees because she accompanied them.
Thirty years later, much has improved for blacks in St. Louis' banking industry. Some blacks have won coveted positions in upper management, deciding who gets hired, who get loans and where banks will invest.
Still, serious problems remain, some black managers say.
Even blacks who have climbed the ladder to success say barriers are slowing blacks' move into management.
"In St. Louis there are two issues that are problems for banks," said Clifton D. Berry. Berry, who is black, is a senior vice president for community relations at Boatmen's National Bank of St. Louis. "Banks typically have high turnover rates . . . and the pool of talent among blacks is less because of the turnover rate."
A second problem is time. It can take 25 years to get enough experience for upper management jobs, Berry said.
Only now is there a pool of black bank managers who have qualified to make the leap. Often, banks lose those managers to competing industries that promote them faster, he said.
Jonathan Ford, executive vice president and senior lender for the St. Louis region at Commerce Bank of St. Louis, says mergers have shrunk the pool of entry-level training positions for talented applicants.
"Some of that talent has prior, related experience which makes it difficult for people without experience to gain entry," Ford said.
Over 30 years, blacks have advanced steadily in the St. Louis banking industry, although in some cases the corporate climb has been slow.
Of the larger St. Louis banks, Boatmen's and Magna Bank did not provide specific statistics on minority employment for this story. Boatmen's has one black on its board of directors.
Commerce reports that 5 percent of its management group is black. Of 25 board directors, one is black.
At Mercantile, 8 percent, or 64, of its 815 upper- and middle-managers are black. That includes supervisors, officers, assistant vice presidents, vice presidents and above.
Roosevelt Bank says that blacks comprise 8 percent of its middle managers. …