By Tim Hayes []

Back in the pre-historic, pre-digital days of banking, circa 1979, I had the opportunity to work one summer alongside Millie and Betty – or, as I came to refer to them, the Bank Ladies.  My summer job between freshman and sophomore years was helping on the commercial check processing floor of one such bank’s facility. 

Millie – a frail wisp of female snap-to-it efficiency – was the supervisor, or the brains, of our merry little band of file clerks.  Betty – a more formidable physical presence, regaled in a pink smock and scuffed bedroom slippers (yes, bedroom slippers) – was the muscle. 

The department’s primary job was to process and keep track of checks written by large local companies.  Endless file cabinets and typewritten logs carried the day – again, long before computers took over. 

The Bank Ladies had worked in this carefully guarded corner of the bank’s deep recesses for years.  Neither one had ever married, because they were too devoted to their jobs.  Neither had gone to college, because they began working at the bank fresh out of high school and didn’t need degrees.  Nobody ever bothered them because they had hammered out a formula for getting the work done right, on time, and free of any external or internal guff.  As a green college kid trying to make a few bucks for books that summer, I found it an odd and fascinating experience – a blending of fear, farce, and fury that has never quite been equaled in all the years since.

One fateful day, a commercial customer requested a copy of a check that was being disputed for some reason or another.  A young business graduate being trained at the bank and working in our department that summer went to locate the check, and could not find it anywhere.  He used every tracking tool at his disposal, he applied every accounting principle and method of business logic he learned from his professors.  Nothing worked.  The check could not be found, and the customer was getting angry.

Later that afternoon, the familiar scuff-scuff of Betty’s slippers rounded the corner.  Quite by accident and coincidence, one of the papers she had been carrying slipped from her grasp and fell to the floor.  As she slowly bent down to pick it up, she happened to glance into a gap between two filing cabinets.

With a triumphant sneer, she used the eraser end of a pencil to fish the missing check out from its hiding place.  Ten seconds later, pink frock swaying, bedroom slippers scuffing, Betty the Muscle waved the check in the young business grad’s face, taunting him in front of the whole department, gloating for dramatic effect in a voice steeped in sarcasm, “Found it!  Without….a college…degree!”  Millie and some of the other frock-wearers thought that was just hysterical.

I found the whole episode sickening, and the fact that I can recall every detail of it 32 years later means it still bothers me.  Leaders absolutely should know better, and so should co-workers no matter what their background.  That sort of mocking, insulting, intentional embarrassment has no place in the workforce.

Isn’t there enough for people to do today in the overworked workplace?  Why waste time tearing each other down?  The essence of good leadership communication is respect.  When a culture of respect resides in the leader, it has at least a fighting chance of spreading throughout the rest of the team.

Sadly, I doubt the Bank Ladies of 1979 ever learned that lesson.  What about us?  Have we?  There’s always time to learn and change.  It’s definitely worth the effort.

Copyright 2011 Transverse Park Productions LLC