A quick glance at the nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee, the body that guides the UK’s economy, and you can already begin to see the problem.
This is the body that influences important aspects of the economy, such as the interest rates, through their monthly votes, yet they look nothing like many of the people they represent and whose lives they greatly influence.
Current governor Mark Carney is the 120th governor in what has been a continuous line of white men who have led the Bank. While women easily make up half of the UK’s population, they are grossly under-represented. They make up a paltry one ninth of the Monetary Policy Committee. There’s also not a single black, Asian or minority ethnic group (BAME) member in the committee.
Therefore, it is quite clear that the Bank seems to have a diversity issue. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said last month that the Bank was still a long way way off its diversity targets for the coming year and that there was “little evidence the gap was closing quickly enough.”
In January, the Bank appointed two women to its financial policy committee, Banking Standards Board Chair Dame Colette Bowe and Virgin Money boss Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia. The Bank’s search for a new governor kicked off earlier this week and many hope that it could herald the start of a new era with a woman at its helm for the first time in history.
Joanna Place, the Bank’s chief operating officer, spoke of the Bank’s efforts in diversity. “In terms of diversity and inclusion, we have done a lot more than just gender and ethnicity. We have a number of staff networks. We have inclusive events. We have a wellbeing policy. We have done a cognitive diversity survey. We have started to look at social mobility,” she said.
Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who also chairs the business select committee and who was an economist at the Bank before turning to politics, also commented on the issue and said that it was time the Bank took action. “We’ve had two women prime ministers and yet have had no women chancellors or Bank governors,” she said. The former economist also added that the Bank needed to do more to train and promote talented women within the organization.
“The sad truth is that the Bank has not done enough to recruit, train and promote talented women. More needs to be done to bring forward a generation of women economists who can be considered for the top job,” she further added.
However, others do not share the view that the problem ultimately lies with the Bank. Wendy Carlin, a professor of economics at the University College London, points out that the real issue is with the economics profession itself and not the Bank of England.
“If you google economists,” she says, “you’ll get a great number of pictures of economists in suits holding up a financial chart. Those impressions are self-reproducing. If people only see men in suits then they don’t think it’s for them.” She further made the point that women make up just over a third of the total undergraduate economics students in the UK.
According to the professor, these statistics repeat themselves in other parts of the world like the US and Australia. She is currently leading an international project dubbed the CORE project which seeks to change the way economics is taught and thereby, broaden its appeal.
Prof Carlin added that “We’re being much clearer that economics is about addressing the problems we face. Yes, it’s about financial stability but it’s also about inequality, the environmental future and work,” But she also cautions that work at this academic level will take quite some time to filter through to the real world. She said “It’s crucial to widen the pool [of job candidates] as far as possible, but you’ve got to get people into the pool in the first place and that’s what we’re working on,”
Dr. Margaret Heffernan, an author and former chief executive of five different businesses made the point recently that the lack of women in the sector has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy and that since the profession is predominantly male, it tends to “promote and nurture male students.”
But Dr. Hefferman also said “Economics can be very excluding of women, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes intentionally. People with privilege don’t happily give it up.”
A recent survey conducted by the American Economic Association of more than 9,200 economists suggested that there are deep-rooted issues as well. Nearly a third of female economists polled said that they had felt discriminated in one way or the other as compared to 12% of their male counterparts. Women, the study suggests, felt that they were treated especially unfairly.
Recruitment firm Saphire Partners is carrying out the search for the new governor. The fact that it is run by five female partners and has described itself as “advocates for women in business” does bring a glimmer of hope that the next governor of the Bank of England could be a woman.