Pauline Mondange, a woman of conviction

Spring 1917. The war was bogged down in a bloody stalemate. Pauline Mondange, a young shorthand typist, emerged from obscurity to become the voice of Societe Generale's female employees. Here's a look at an iconic figure.

Thursday 9 June 1910. At Societe Generale's head office at 54-56 Rue de Provence in Paris' 9th arrondissement, Pauline Mondange took one last look at her copy before submitting it to the examiner with a satisfied look. Along with all of the other candidates, she had just finished basic testing in hopes of landing a job. There were mathematical calculations, of course, as well as a dictation test replete with gender and number agreements, using a varied vocabulary, that she completed without a single error. Hardly surprising for the young 25-year-old schoolteacher new to the capital. A week later, after a successful interview, she passed her medical examination. On July 1 she officially became a Group employee.

Her career speaks for itself. Born in 1885 in Mâcon (Burgundy), Pauline Mondange was the daughter of a musician and a short-order cook employed with the garrison of the 134th infantry regiment. She and her four sisters were raised among the troops. A brilliant student, she was admitted to the Collège de Louhans after graduating from primary school. In July 1903 she earned a vocational certificate and graduated from secondary school with honours. Determined to live by the fruit of her own labour, the young woman then turned to teaching, her first calling. However, that did not keep her from using her free time to cultivate her mind, especially by learning English and German. For six and a half years, she was a schoolmistress and tutor in Chalon-sur-Saône. Endowed with a strong personality, Pauline was described as a woman of character, full of energy and good cheer. In early January 1910, she came to Paris to begin a new life. She stayed with a cousin and began learning shorthand and accounting while looking for work.

When Pauline first started at Societe Generale, she was assigned to the coupon department. As months passed, she acquired expertise and professional skills that did not go unnoticed by her superiors. Various evaluation notes spoke of their high regard for her work: "Very diligent, vivacious, intelligent and focused on her work. Completely satisfactory work. To be encouraged". Each made note of her potential and dynamism. In recognition of her service, she was appointed as an ancillary worker, then as a classified employee in July 1916.

This was the turning point in her career. Pauline had a keen interest in the status of women. World War I had been raging for two years. France had been bled dry. Eight thousand Societe Generale employees, or more than half of its staff, answered the call to serve their country. Like other companies, the Group turned to women to replace the men called up for service and ensure the continuity of services. Women accounted for up to 85% of the staff in Paris. While the endless fighting continued in the country's northern and eastern regions, the economic situation became explosive in the spring of 1917. Behind the lines, civilians were not spared from hardship. They suffered from the rising cost of living, stagnating wages and food shortages. In some regions they felt the anguish of military occupation. True to her convictions, Pauline fought for Group employees as a member of the bank and stock exchange employees' union. In the banking sector, demands centred on the re-introduction of the five-and-a-half-day work week (from Monday morning until noon on Saturday), which had been temporarily suspended due to the excessive workload in branches and an increase in "cost of living" premiums.

The charismatic shorthand typist succeeded in making her voice heard before she left the Group in April 1918 and went to work in the insurance sector after a noteworthy stint as a peace activist. After mobilisation, bank management did not simply re-establish pre-war employment benefits. They increased allocations and support payments for the widows of employees killed at the front, reached out to help prisoners by sending them packages, and granted additional paid vacation time to the wives of active soldiers during their husbands' leaves. Societe Generale stood out from other institutions by establishing a labour council to study "matters of interest to employees" and to seek out "solutions that may ensure general harmony". This was a step toward the first banking industry collective bargaining agreement reached on 3 July 1936.