Women Lacking in Race for the ECB's Top Job? Ask EU Leaders Why

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Europe’s leaders will have no-one to blame but themselves if they can’t find a female candidate to even consider for the presidency of the European Central Bank.

The euro area’s politicians haven’t named a woman to the 25-member Governing Council in half a decade -- and not for lack of opportunity. In the past year alone, 13 men have been appointed to the panel of Executive Board members and national central bank governors.

As the conventional route to the top of the ECB is to serve as a national governor first, those selections effectively exclude any women from a shot at the job. It’s no surprise that all the leading candidates cited by economists as possible successors to President Mario Draghi are current or former members of the Governing Council -- and male.

Women Lacking in Race for the ECB's Top Job? Ask EU Leaders Why

“The ECB presidency has particularly high requirements,” said Ricardo Garcia, chief euro-zone economist at UBS Global Wealth Management. “The problem is that the sample that you have, where you pick those candidates from, is already dominated by male candidates. So by definition your alternative options, if you want to have a woman, are extremely limited.”

Women Lacking in Race for the ECB's Top Job? Ask EU Leaders Why

Executive Board member Benoit Coeure, himself a contender to replace Draghi, highlighted the problem a year ago, saying that anything the institution might do to foster diversity at lower levels “cannot substitute for more resolute action by European leaders.”

His call went unheeded. At the time, the Governing Council had two female members and was awaiting a series of personnel decisions. With the March exit of Cypriot Governor Chrystalla Georghadji, replaced by a man, Executive Board member Sabine Lautenschlaeger is the sole woman left.

Women Lacking in Race for the ECB's Top Job? Ask EU Leaders Why

Governments recently committed to taking gender balance into account when picking the top roles at the ECB, European Commission and the Council, which all come due this year. Leaders aim to start the nomination process at a summit on May 28 with the hope that appointments can be finalized in June after this month’s European Parliament elections.

Still, no known female candidate is poised to be proposed for the ECB. International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde has said she isn’t interested. Some potential alternatives, such as Bundesbank Vice President Claudia Buch or Bank of France Deputy Governor Sylvie Goulard, would essentially need to leapfrog more senior colleagues who may themselves be pushed for the job.

Hetal Mehta, an economist at Legal & General Investment Management, says Buch could feature as a possible “dark horse” candidate , though she still sees the chances of success as low.

The gender imbalance among ECB policy makers has long been an embarrassment to the institution, particularly as some of its counterparts have achieved greater diversity at the top. They include the U.S. Federal Reserve, where Janet Yellen was chair until early last year, and the Bank of Russia, led by Elvira Nabiullina. Malaysia named Shamsiah Yunus as governor in 2018.

Women Lacking in Race for the ECB's Top Job? Ask EU Leaders Why

But as Coeure highlighted, there’s little the ECB itself can do about the gender of its policy makers -- even as the institution claims progress in redressing the balance among its staff. Almost 30 percent of management positions are now held by women, closing in on a goal of 35 percent.

“Everything in the Governing Council is set by the heads of state,” said UBS’s Garcia. “You could have 100 percent of women in the ECB tower in Frankfurt and end up with a male majority in the Governing Council.”

Women Lacking in Race for the ECB's Top Job? Ask EU Leaders Why

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