How a Stan State Alumna’s Love of Learning Led Her to Break a Glass Ceiling in the Northern California Banking Industry
July 09, 2024

“Yes” is a word that has served Marlene Stante well. 

Saying yes led to a year of volunteer work in Africa after she graduated from Modesto Junior College. 

Saying yes kicked off her nearly five-decade career in banking while she was still a student at Stanislaus State. 

And saying yes allowed her to climb the corporate ladder, eventually breaking the glass ceiling at Bank of America by becoming its first woman regional vice president. 

“I was always a person who said yes because I was hungry to learn,” said Stante, a Turlock native and Stan State alumna (’72) who retired in 2018 and now volunteers in her hometown’s  philanthropic community, including serving on the University’s Foundation Board of Directors and as a co-lead of “The Next Chapter” campaign that raised more than $1 million to support the J. Burton Vasché Library. 

“If an opportunity sounded interesting and exciting, and I would learn something new and valuable from it, I would say yes.” 

Stante’s love of learning and her personable, outgoing nature were her keys to a successful banking career that took her from Bakersfield, through the Central Valley to Napa and into the Bay Area as an employee of Bank of America, Union Safe Deposit Bank and Bank of the West. 

Along the way, she attended the prestigious Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington, graduating from the three-year program in 2000. 

Stante’s professional journey in banking started in 1971 while she was still a Stan State student working on a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She was making a deposit in a Bank of America branch when a friend who worked there asked if she’d like a summer job as a teller. 

Marlene Stante standing in front of the J. Burton Vasche Library at Stanislaus State

She said yes. Once she started, she quickly found that the job suited her well because banking isn’t just about money, it’s also about people. 

“I have always loved people, and I loved the study of people, which is sociology,” she said. “So, even though I was not sure what career I wanted to go into after graduation, I always knew I wanted to do something with people.” 

When she resumed her studies in the fall, she continued working for the bank in the Turlock, Hilmar and Modesto branches. Her work schedule dovetailed perfectly with her class schedule, and as she neared graduation, her job put her in the right place at the right time for her next career move. 

“It just so happened that a group of women were suing another large bank for discrimination for not promoting women,” she said. “This was when women were starting to break through the glass ceiling in banking. Well, Bank of America stepped up, and senior management came to me and asked if I’d like to go into a management training program. I said yes.” 

The year-long program included hands-on challenges while Stante moved through various banking positions. It prepared her for her extensive career where, by her description, she “held almost every position within a branch.” 

Over the next 30 years, she worked in a variety of managerial positions in Bank of America branches and regional offices, moving about a dozen times to take on new challenges. 

“I was always interested in doing something different. That’s how I was with B of A,” she said. “Whenever they would come to me and say, ‘Marlene, would you be interested in going here or there,’ I’d always say, ‘yes.’ I was single and could go anywhere and do anything.” 

Much to her surprise, her ability to move in pursuit of her goals didn’t change after she met and married her husband, Cameron. He understood that her career required frequent moves and adjusted his own career to accommodate hers. He went from working for the U.S. Forest Service to teaching math and science in high schools so that he could follow her career. 

“This was back in the ’80s, when things were usually much different. My husband was actually moving to follow me and my career, not the other way around,” Stante said with amazement in her voice. “Wow. It didn’t usually work that way.” 

“I was always a person who said yes, because I was hungry to learn. If an opportunity sounded interesting and exciting, like I would learn something new and valuable from it, I would say yes.”

-Marlene Stante (’72), Stanislaus State Foundation Board Member  

Stante can identify a handful of pivotal challenges in her career that proved her abilities and earned her promotions. One of them happened on May 2, 1983, when she was working in the regional office in Fresno. A 6.7 magnitude, 45-second earthquake struck Coalinga, destroying buildings and forcing the shutdown of many businesses, including the Bank of America branch. 

“I was sent to Coalinga to get the branch up and running again. My role was to work with staff, keying in on their needs and fears. We even had a psychologist come in and speak with them,” she said. "Due to the earthquake, communications with the branch were severely disrupted, but I was able to set up a process to speak to the regional office four times a day.” 

The branch was closed for about a week, and Stante spent that time working diligently to restore branch operations.  

“I was there, coordinating things for the bank and doing all sorts of things for our staff. I learned a lot from that experience,” she said. “About two months later, the U.S. House of Representatives contacted the bank because a report was being prepared on the earthquake and its effects. I was interviewed and quoted in the report about what happened with businesses and banking, what people had and didn’t have access to, and how long it took to get things fixed.” 

It was an important highlight of Stante’s career that further cemented her reputation as an adept, reliable manager who worked well with people and knew how to handle complex challenges, even in a crisis. 

The turning point that led her to become the first woman promoted to regional vice president at Bank of America came a few years later when she read the book “How to Work a Room,” by Susan RoAne. 

“I read that book and said, ‘I’m going to apply this,’ because when you are in business, your career is all about networking,” she said.  

She tested her newfound skills at a Chamber of Commerce event in Bishop. 

“I worked that room, and afterwards, when we went out to dinner, people from that event were sending bottles of wine to our table and stopping by to say, ‘It was great to meet you, Marlene,’” she said. “I was with my executive, my manager and my branch manager, and the executive looked at me and said, ‘Did you know these people before you came tonight?’ I said, ‘No, I just met them all tonight.’”  

Not long after that, she was offered a promotion. Of course, she said yes. 

“I was asked if I would like to go to Napa as the regional vice president. The very first woman to be a regional vice president at B of A,” she said proudly.  

Marlene Stante

The promotion reflected that Stante was becoming a leader, not just a manager. 

“Manager is just a title, but a leader is someone people want to follow,” she said. “A career is much more successful once you learn to become a leader.” 

In 2001, Stante decided to leave Bank of America and move back to Turlock with her husband and son, so she could live near her mother and spend time in her hometown. After taking some time off, she took a position with Union Safe Deposit Bank, which was eventually purchased by Bank of the West. 

During her career, Stante received many awards. In 1989, she was honored with Bank of America’s Presidents Eagle Award for accomplishments during the bank’s first in-state purchase of other financial institutions. At Bank of the West in 2012, she received the Sixth Annual Presidents Club Award, called the RGB Go West Award, which recognized her as the top employee of the bank based on a vote by the Presidents Club. In 2017, she received Bank of the West’s One Team Award, which was a bank-wide recognition. 

For much of her career, especially before the 2000s, she found the upper ranks of banking to be male dominated but said it didn’t intimidate her. She said she always felt comfortable working and competing with men and found she earned respect when she spoke her mind and stood up for herself. 

“I was in a meeting once where these men were using filthy language, then they kept turning to me to say, ‘excuse me’ or ‘I’m sorry,’” she said. “I finally said, ‘Just stop. Either stop using that language or stop apologizing for it. I don’t like it, I don’t think it’s necessary, but if you are going to continue to do it, please don’t keep apologizing to me.’ I must tell you, it shut them up.”  

Stante credited her childhood for her ease working in a male-dominated atmosphere. 

“I grew up with brothers. I grew up playing in the street,” she said. “I grew up with competition, sports and standing up to challenges.” 

Stante’s advice for Stan State students is to take advantage of opportunities that align with their career goals well before graduation. 

“Do things while you are still in school, whether it is for the summer or while you attend classes,” she said. “Then, when you graduate, you already have a few things on your resume that you have done, and you have something to talk about in an interview.” 

For Warriors who are graduating and entering the workforce, she suggests they take chances and stay open to new possibilities while they work in their careers. 

“Don’t be afraid to try something new, learn from it, figure out how to apply it to your abilities and get different exposure,” she said. “Not every job needs to be a promotion. Look for something that will enhance your skills and allow you to learn more about different subjects.” 

In other words, don’t be afraid to say yes.