CEO Fights Perception of Woman-Run Bank as ‘Feminist’ Business
ATLANTA (AP) _ All Christine M. Weakley wants to do as head of Paces Bank & Trust is run a successful business.
But as one of the few female chief executive officers of a bank, she finds herself in the position of having to knock down misconceptions that Paces is a ″women’s″ bank.
Though the majority of the bank’s stockholders, directors and senior managers are women, ″our interest first and foremost is to be a good bank,″ Ms. Weakley said.
Stressing highly personalized service, Paces caters mainly to small businesses. The Atlanta bank opened last month and had, as of Dec. 31, $1.5 million in deposits and $500,000 in loans.
Because of the attention she has received as CEO and president, several misconceptions have arisen about the bank, Ms. Weakley said.
″There are always various and sundry comments, that we’re all feminists out to right the wrongs of the world, that we only bank with women. We’ve even been called a pro-choice bank,″ Ms. Weakley said.
″One man who came in was real uncomfortable and said he had to talk to a man,″ Ms. Weakley recalled during an interview at her office Wednesday. ″He said, ’No offense, but women in banking to me is like men selling Avon.‴
Ms. Weakley is no newcomer to banking. She worked for nine years at the First National Bank of Cobb County before deciding to open her own bank.
The preponderance of women in the organization helped Paces qualify for the federal government’s minority banks program. The program helps open the door to accounts for such banks by making them eligible for deposits from government agencies and certain corporations.
″The government still considers women a minority,″ Ms. Weakley said. ″I’ve never been a rabid feminist and don’t plan to be. I simply saw it (the program) as a way to get started quicker.″
The minority status has been a mixed blessing for Paces and Ms. Weakley. It has helped the bank get a foothold in the competitive Atlanta market, but also has given it a label that makes some potential customers wary.
″Unfortunately, it has been turned around that we’re automatically making a social statement,″ Ms. Weakley said. ″When the publicity first started, that was the angle the media used - a women’s bank opens in Atlanta.″
Ms. Weakley’s experiences with people uneasy about her position are not uncommon among women in high-ranking executive jobs, said Patricia McDougall, an associate professor of management at Georgia State University who specializes in issues involving women.
″It’s very common for female executives to face the problem of being stereotyped and their sex being reacted to rather than their expertise,″ Ms. McDougall said.
She said the problems occur especially at the higher levels of the corporate world because women in middle management positions now are not considered unusual.
Ms. McDougall said negative reactions have accompanied most instances where women have done things that previously were taboo.
″It goes back to when the first female walked out and filled your car with gas. It was a shock,″ she said. ″Now we think nothing of seeing women stand at self-service pumps.″
Ms. Weakley said she and her bank have been accepted by those in the banking business, but the misconceptions remain largely among the public, which she said is not accustomed to seeing women run banks.
Indeed, Ms. Weakley said that in most cases when she has been given the chance to talk to a wary potential customer, she has overcome their hesitance.
″A lot of people, if they sit down long enough to talk to you, they get over a lot of the preconceptions,″ she said.
A Treasury Department roster of banks qualifying under the federal minority program lists 98 institutions across the country, but does not distinguish between those that qualified because they are run by ethnic minorities and those run by women.
A Treasury official in Washington, who asked not to be identified, said most of the banks in the program are run by ethnic minorities.
″The fact of the matter is there were more women banks in the country and more in our program. But for whatever reason, many of them folded. It seemed to be an idea whose time hadn’t come,″ the official said.