RBI’s own track record has been poor with no woman Governor and 3 women Deputy Governors in 2000s
We usually associate central banks with conducting conferences around monetary policy, banking systems, financial stability and so on. How about a conference on ‘Gender and career progression’ on October 21, 2019? That too jointly by three advanced economy central banks: the Bank of England (BoE), the Federal Reserve Board and the European Central Bank (ECB).
This is a strong signal of times to come where central banks try and address a huge deficit of women employment in their respective organisations. In history of even these central banks, just two of them had one women chief (Janet Yellen at the Fed and Christine Lagarde at the ECB) whereas the BoE has had none so far.
RBI’s own track record has been poor with no woman Governor and 3 women Deputy Governors (of 61) in 2000s which was more of an exception. The SEBI Act actually mentions “Chairman” as head of the Board, ruling out women for the top position!
It is ironical that economists who talk about promoting gender inclusiveness in businesses, politics and so on have such large gender exclusivity in their own fields and organisations. This is also a Nobel Prize month and of the 950 Nobel Prizes across all categories, there are just 54 women. In the 6 prize categories, we have had 950 winners of which just 54 have been women. Within the 6 prizes, physics, economics and chemistry have an abysmal number of women laureates. Economics, which aspires to resemble physics, has just had 2 women laureates, one less than physics. Amartya Sen wrote about missing women from high sex ratios -- number of males to females -- but in economics, there is more a case of invisible women as there are hardly any numbers.
The 1-day conference was aimed at presenting findings and taking measures to bridge the diversity gaps. The conference presented papers across a wide spectrum which showed that the course correction requires multiple interventions.
The conference started with a keynote lecture from Iris Bohnet of Harvard University. The topic was Gender Diversity by Design where she showed how women are discriminated across marketing campaigns and job advertisements.
Laura Hospido (at Banco de España), Luc Laeven and Ana Lamo -- both at the ECB -- studied ECB researchers who were hired with similar salaries during 2003-17. Till 2011, there is a large wage gap between men and women within a few years of hiring. In 2011, the ECB announced a series of gender diversity policies and this gap reduces and is no longer significant.
A paper based on Australian firms showed that firms that offer inclusive human capital development opportunities help bridge the gaps. This is a proof that policies to reduce these gaps can be successful both at central bank and firm levels.
In another hard-hitting research, it is shown that papers with all female authors are 3.2 per cent are less likely to be accepted for conferences than papers with all male authors, even after controlling for a number of confounding factors. The gap is driven entirely by male referees!
There is more. According to a study on a research paper by Fed economists, in the case of co-authored papers, most researchers have co-authors of the same gender. This makes it doubly difficult for women who are anyway few in number to write papers with prominent male authors.
The discrimination goes beyond writing research papers to discussing them. In yet another paper, it was revealed that economics seminars are highly aggressive. The women speakers not just have a greater share of their seminar time taken up by audience members, but also are more likely to be asked questions that are considered hostile.
This conference may be one of the first by central banks, but a few women macroeconomists on being ignored by the profession decided to take things in their hands. In May 2018, a group of women economists organised ‘First Women in Macroeconomics Conference’, with a goal of initiating women researchers in macroeconomics and finance.
Alessandra Fogli, Senior Research Economist at the Minneapolis Fed, was a conference co-organizer and explained the rationale in an interview (https://www.minneapolisfed.org/publications/the-region/first-women-in-macro-conference). The interview pointed out that women representation across panels stood at just 20 per cent. This makes it difficult for mentoring and networking, especially when you think of the above research where co-authors are of the same gender.
Fogli argued that she is not in favour of any affirmative action (reservation policy) to promote women in economics, but more about providing equal opportunities to women. The higher representation of women in economics should not be at the cost of lowering quality in the profession.
To sum up, both the conferences explore one of the long- standing problem of exclusion of women in economics. Since the 2008 crisis, field of economics and central banking have been criticised for lack of diversity. Apart from the women issue, there are criticisms that in economics, there is discrimination against colour, race, community and so on.
The similar group think led to sinking of economies where people who make policies were those with similar backgrounds with consent. One way to prevent this group think is to have teams which push more diverse ideas and promote dissent against the majoritarian view.
The central banks -- and some other main organisations -- can bring about changes by not just employing but promoting women in the workforce. This, in turn, will act as a strong signal for the younger generation who will look up to these role models and look forward to taking up economics as a future profession.
Currently, in each of the three economic institutions – the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the World Bank and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) – we have a woman as a chief economist, which is seen as a big surprise. Hopefully, over time, appointing women to these top positions becomes a normal thing and not as surprising as it is seen today.
(Amol Agrawal is faculty at Ahmedabad University. Views are personal.)
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