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Women central bankers want to act on ‘hidden barriers’ to equality

By on May 4, 2021 0

Two of Europe’s oldest women central bankers called for more decisive action to promote women’s careers in economics and improve decision-making in their institutions.

Isabel Schnabel, a member of the board of directors of the European Central Bank, told the Financial Times that she was often the only woman at meetings. The presence of another woman “makes such a big difference” to the tone of a discussion and the way decisions are made, she said, highlighting the many “hidden obstacles” to women’s careers. , such as selection processes and male dominated networks.

“If you don’t want to wait 50 years until this imbalance is resolved, there is a certain degree of affirmative action that seems inevitable,” she said.

Margarita Delgado, vice-governor of the Bank of Spain, told FT: “I do not strongly believe in quotas, but I see their advantage. [because to meet them] you have to make a plan. . . You cannot create women out of nothing. You have to have a strategy. “

The ECB was recently criticized by some media for holding a conference with only women, a move defended by Schnabel. on Twitter. On this occasion, she also supported the response of ECB President Christine Lagarde to a press conference question which, Schnabel said, “seemed to have a misogynistic connotation”.

The former University of Bonn economics professor told the FT that given the choice between a male and female candidate with the same qualifications for a post, the ECB should “implicitly” nominate the woman. While such an approach “creates some disadvantage for men”, it is justified if it helps “to restore gender balance while ensuring that the best people do the job”.

The lack of women among Europe’s main central bankers was highlighted shortly after Lagarde became the first female ECB president in 2019 when she posted on twitter a photo of herself and the other members of her board of directors, all of them male. One observer noted that there were more women hanging on the wall than women sitting around the table.

Christine Lagarde posted this photo of the ECB Governing Council in 2019 © Christine Lagarde / Twitter

Lagarde thinks that sexism is still widespread, saying last week, “there are still a lot”. She added: “I still experience it, of course. . . I see market watchers who have these vaguely dismissive and often condescending comments about what I’m doing, or what I’m wearing, or what I’m saying. “

The ECB’s interest rate setting board is made up of 19 national central bank governors and six executives. Since the creation of the central bank more than two decades ago, there has been only one woman – from Cyprus – among the 65 governors of the national central banks who have served on the board, while five out of 24 executives are women, including Lagarde and Schnabel. .

There is little the ECB can do about this because the members of its board are appointed by national governments. However, the central bank also missed internal targets to increase its share of female executives by 2019. Under Lagarde, it set new goals increase the percentage of women in management from 30% to 36% by 2026.

Chart showing male ECB staff promoted more often than female staff

The plan includes a commitment that half of most appointments must be women, requires each selection committee to be made up of at least two women, and holds senior managers accountable for meeting gender diversity goals.

“When there is a vacancy, the manager is explicitly asked to seek out qualified women, talk to those women and encourage them to apply,” said Schnabel.

The ECB also offers grants of € 10,000 per year to five students for a master’s degree in economics.

Schnabel, who joined the ECB in late 2019, said it took a long time for her to realize that sexism was a problem in economics. She noticed that something was wrong when female students were too scared to present their doctoral work due to the aggressive atmosphere created by predominantly male professors at research seminars.

“They’d say it’s something I just don’t want to do if it’s still negative comments,” Schnabel said. “Probably for me it was less of a problem, because I’m a fighter. But still, it put a lot of pressure on me and I didn’t like it.

Schnabel also noticed that several women dropped out of school after having children, adding that she was “very lucky” to get a flexible job at the Max Planck Institute after having the first two of her three children. Gender diversity is now “a subject close to my heart,” she said.

But although several European countries have introduced quotas for the number of women on company boards, Schnabel said quotas could be “problematic” in central banks.

“It’s really a matter of equal opportunities, not equal outcomes,” she said. “I would not say that it is clear that 50% [women] is the right number for each type of job. “

Delgado is one of only four women MPs to the 19 national central banks in the euro area. When she joined the Bank of Spain three decades ago, it was a very different place, she said. “It was just men in dark suits and ties who would see you as a little girl. . . It was a bit paternalistic; well, more than a little.

But in 2019, Spain’s central bank had the best gender balance among 44 of the world’s major central banks, according to think-tank Omfif.

“We have full parity between men and women on our board, and women make up around 40% of the executive board. [the equivalent of a board of directors]Said Delgado.

Like the ECB, the Bank of Spain does not have strict quotas for women’s positions – instead, it plans to set targets to address the lack of women in certain departments.

Delgado cited “a very objective recruiting system” in which all assessment is anonymous right through to the interview stages, as well as mentoring and coaching.

She acknowledges, however, that the problem persists as women do not seek promotions as often as men. “We need to clearly encourage women to access these positions,” she said. “We cannot let 50% of our talents go to waste.”

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