Esther George of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, from left, John Williams of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Jerome Powell of the U.S. Federal Reserve. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

How Women Got a Seat at Fed’s Jackson Hole Under Esther George

(Bloomberg) -- Since 1972, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s annual symposium has gathered distinguished titans of academia to chew over the toughest economic questions of the day.

Up until about 2010, those sage presenters were largely -- often exclusively -- men.

How Women Got a Seat at Fed’s Jackson Hole Under Esther George

Esther George, who took the reins at the regional Fed bank in 2011, has changed that. She’s brought more gender-diverse programs to the gathering in Jackson Hole, and this year, seven of 21 speakers and leaders on the conference program are women. She also gathers female conference participants informally during the conference. They used to meet around a table in a restaurant at the hotel where they symposium takes place; these days, the group is big enough that it gathers on the outdoor patio.

“All of the issues that we talk about affecting the economy benefit from bringing a wide range of perspectives,” George told Bloomberg’s Kathleen Hays in a television interview ahead of this year’s conference. “That includes bringing more women into that debate.”

How Women Got a Seat at Fed’s Jackson Hole Under Esther George

Kristin Forbes, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and former Bank of England policy maker, chaired the conference on Friday, and will be followed on Saturday by Lisa Cook, a Michigan State University economist. In addition to George herself, women on the program include University of California-San Diego’s Valerie Ramey, Northwestern University’s Janice Eberly, and MIT’s Antoinette Schoar. Claudia Buch, vice president of Germany’s central bank, delivers remarks Saturday.

Of the meeting’s 125 attendees, 24 of them are women.

On one hand, the gap suggests room for further progress. On the other, actual parity would be tough to achieve. The economic profession is gender-lopsided from the starting blocks. Nationwide, there are about three males for every female economics major (scaled by each gender’s overall enrollment, since women are more likely to go to college), based on research by Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin.

Women are also a minority in U.S. central bank leadership, though there’s been progress relative to the heavily-male committees of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

George is one of two female presidents at the Fed’s 12 regional banks. The San Francisco Fed is still looking for a new head and there’s a chance the job could go to a woman -- research Director Mary Daly is often cited as a top contender. There is one woman on the Fed’s Board of Governors in Washington, Lael Brainard, and another -- Michelle Bowman -- has been nominated but still awaits Senate confirmation.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.