Targeting gender imbalances in economics and central banking

Isabel Schnabel of the ECB in this speech speaks about gender imbalances in economics and central banks. She draws lessons from ECB which has had large imbalances and is trying to lower them with targeted policies:

The gender imbalance in economics is a long-standing and persistent phenomenon. A growing body of academic research substantiates the claim that this gender imbalance is caused by both overt and covert barriers that limit the career progression of women. If left unaddressed, these barriers will continue to culminate in self-fulfilling expectations, perpetuating the flawed belief that women are less suited to succeeding in the profession than men.

However, the ECB’s experience clearly shows that these barriers are not insurmountable. The ECB’s announcement of an explicit diversity policy in 2010, as well as the introduction of gender targets in 2013, had a marked impact, closing the observed promotion gap between men and women. The institution has also moved towards a more balanced representation of men and women across the ECB’s organisational hierarchy. Progress has been notable, albeit slow and imperfect.

As in other academic disciplines, the gender imbalance in economics and its associated professions has deep-rooted, systemic causes. Concerted efforts to encourage women to pursue a career in the profession at an early stage, combined with concrete steps to retain and encourage those that have already started a career, are likely to bolster the share of women in the discipline.

The ECB is doing its part in pursuing ambitious initiatives that support the career progression of women within the institution. However, our internal promotion guidelines do not address the gender imbalance in economics at its root. The pool of applicants from which the ECB recruits remains lopsided in favour of men, with a very low share of female graduates in sub-fields related to our core policy areas, an issue to be tackled at universities.

The systemic nature of women’s underrepresentation implies that the ECB’s gender strategy can only be one element of broader institutional and societal changes that are needed to ensure the sustained advancement of women and to encourage diversity more generally.

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