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Women Are Hard to Find at Top Echelons of Global Central Banks

(Bloomberg) -- Women holding management positions are still a rare breed at some major central banks.

While former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen broke new ground as the first female holder of that post, analysis of the world’s most prominent developed-economy monetary institutions underlines just how unusual her tenure has been in such male-dominated bureaucracies. The proportion of women in management at those central banks ranges from 50.9 percent in Sweden to 3.4 percent in Japan – often significantly below the national female employment rate.

Women Are Hard to Find at Top Echelons of Global Central Banks

How women are treated at work and whether they face undue roadblocks has taken on particular prominence of late, though central banks have so far avoided the spotlight of sexual harassment occurring in the entertainment and technology industries. While the economics profession hasn’t encountered much of a public reckoning, the experience women in the field face was brought to the fore by a paper last year investigating sexist language on a jobs website.

One reason for women being underrepresented is that fewer become economists. That’s in part because they’re less likely to study the subject and more likely to abandon it, Donna Ginther, a professor at the University of Kansas, said in an interview.

The gender imbalance matters “because women have a different perspective on the economy,” Ginther said, with female economists often studying “the human side of things” and men typically focusing on the theoretical. “So if the decision makers are all dealing with the abstract, they may not understand the human cost of some of their choices, for example.”

To be sure, the central banks are a heterogeneous bunch. They’re the product of their respective country’s culture, differ in management structures and don’t all disclose the same amount of detail. Some central banks, such as New Zealand, list only senior management, others include lower echelons as well. What’s available via the institutions’ websites or other publicly reported data may therefore not give a full picture.

The Bank of Japan says that women hold 9.6 percent of senior positions and 18.9 percent of career posts, while about 30 percent of new hires for the latter jobs go women. The BOJ declined to comment on the Bloomberg analysis of the lists of managers available on the central bank’s website.

Women Are Hard to Find at Top Echelons of Global Central Banks

There are also initiatives to improve diversity. Sweden’s Riksbank has a requirement that half the posts at any level be held by women.

While the ECB aims to have to have women in 35 percent of management positions by 2019, as of late last year the ratio was just 27 percent. To meet that goal, it announced changes to its recruitment procedures on Thursday. 

“We’ve got to do some work here,” ECB President Mario Draghi said. It will feature more women on recruiting panels because “often there are unconscious biases that play a role,” he said. 

A spokesman for the Reserve Bank of New Zealand said the development of women for senior roles is being supported through mentoring, flexible work policies and leadership training. As of last June, its gender split for managers, team leaders and senior positions of influence was 80-20 percent in favor of men.

The Bank of England aims to have 35 percent of senior posts held by women by 2020 – up from 20 percent in 2014 and 30 percent in 2017. In Canada, the central bank has 33 percent women in senior roles, when accounting for personnel on secondment, a spokeswoman said. It wants a team that’s representative of the general public, in part because diversity of thought is crucial for making the right policy decisions, she said.

Women Are Hard to Find at Top Echelons of Global Central Banks

The Fed, the ECB and the BOE are scheduled to hold a joint conference on culture, that will focus on gender and career progression in May.

Still, for central banks, who are beginning to embark on the uncharted path of policy normalization after a decade of unconventional stimulus, a lack of diversity may be particularly problematic because at times they’re criticized for being unelected bureaucracies that have enormous power to shape people’s lives. One way to mitigate that cloistered image may be to ensure the institution represents the society it serves in socio-cultural terms.

Women Are Hard to Find at Top Echelons of Global Central Banks

Accountability partly “comes from the fact that people can somehow recognize themselves in the group of people who make decisions – I don’t think we can recognize ourselves in a merely all-male group,” said Charles Wyplosz, a professor at Geneva’s Graduate Institute. “The next bunch of people who will have to raise interest rates – which will be painful for a number of people – they need to trust this is for a good cause.”

To contact the authors of this story: Catherine Bosley in Zurich at cbosley1@bloomberg.net, Andre Tartar in New York at atartar@bloomberg.net, Lucy Meakin in London at lmeakin1@bloomberg.net.

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