The Woman Who Picks BOE Policy Makers Says It's Not About Gender

(Bloomberg) -- One of the key officials involved in choosing Bank of England policy makers has pushed back against criticism that the central bank has too few women at the top.

The U.K. Treasury Chief Economic Adviser Clare Lombardelli said the committee that oversees her department and the BOE was “right to question and push and challenge” on the make up of the central bank’s policy committees, but the focus on gender is overblown.

The Woman Who Picks BOE Policy Makers Says It's Not About Gender

“Diversity is not just about gender,” she said. “You can pack it full of women with a similar background to the sort of people that are already on there and it would still think in a very similar way.”

Accusations of “groupthink” and a lack of diversity at its senior levels have dogged the BOE in recent years, despite ambitious targets and vocal support for greater variety by Governor Mark Carney. Appointments to policy committees are made by the government, rather than internally, and the Treasury Committee last month renewed criticism of the lack of women in such roles.

“The thing that’s most important to me is the diversity of thought and that’s about different experiences, different approaches, different backgrounds,” Lombardelli said. “I do get slightly frustrated when the focus is just a gender one, though I’m not denying there is a problem.”

Both the nine-member Monetary Policy Committee and its 13-strong financial stability counterpart currently have just one woman. One of Lombardelli’s first jobs upon starting her role was as part of the three-person interview panel that in May selected Jonathan Haskel as an external member of the MPC over four female candidates.

The Woman Who Picks BOE Policy Makers Says It's Not About Gender

That pick prompted lawmakers to question whether diversity, and in particular gender balance, is given enough priority in the recruitment process -- something that may come under even greater scrutiny as the Chancellor begins a high-profile search for a successor to Carney when he leaves next year.

“There are lots of very, very capable female economists that could sit on the MPC and do a really stellar job,” she said. “But we will appoint women because they are the best candidate. We will not appoint them because they are women.”

BOE Chief Economist Andy Haldane weighed in on the debate last week, writing in the Financial Times that organizations have too narrow a definition of what makes the “best person for the job” and so tend to choose candidates similar to their existing staff.

For Lombardelli, tasked with selecting the right people to guide the British economy as it faces the unprecedented upheaval of exiting the European Union, the issue is also one of credibility.

“It’s about what would they bring to the committee and what is the approach that they take to the subject matter and understanding issues and the economy that they are setting interest rates for. Everyone needs to be appointed for their ability and you don’t want people to be questioning that.”

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