Not exactly above board: Central banks and gender

Patricia Charléty

From the paper “Appointments to central bank boards: does gender matter?” by Patricia Charléty (ESSEC Business School), Davide Romelli (Trinity College Dublin), and Estefania Santacreu Vasut (ESSEC Business School), published in Economics Letters, 2017.

E. Santacreu-Vasut

The presence of women on corporate boards has been extensively studied. Their presence in central banks, on the other hand, is a relatively new subject of research. The issue first came to the foreground in 2012, when a group of renowned economists signed an open letter denouncing the absence of female appointees on the European Central Bank (ECB) board.

Beyond the ECB case what do we know about female presence on central bank boards? How do central banks around the world fare in terms of gender diversity? And more importantly, can we expect improvement in the coming years?

To shed light on these issues, our research relies on the Internet Archive to track the historical evolution of the composition of central bank boards of 26 OECD countries between 2003 and 2015. We collect information on 507 central bankers. In short, we find that females are poorly represented on central bank boards, and that this unfavorable situation is unlikely to improve due to two key factors.

Outgoing male board members are rarely replaced by women

If female representation on boards is to grow, it stands to reason that women will need to replace outgoing male board members, at least when the size of the board remains stable. This isn’t something that we’re seeing today. According to our results, a female candidate is four times more likely to be appointed to the board of a central bank if she is replacing an outgoing female member. In other words, women tend to replace each other, and are unlikely to replace departing men. Typically, female appointments represent net additions to a board rather than replacements.

The higher the number of women on a board, the lower the likelihood of a female appointment

Furthermore, our results indicate that female appointments are less likely when the percentage of women on the board is already relatively high. In other words, either central banks have an implicit target regarding female presence in the board, or they face difficulties increasing the presence of females beyond a certain level.

The dynamic pattern of appointments revealed in the data implies, therefore, that if the board renewal process remains unchanged, gender diversity in central bank boards will improve slowly in the decades to come. With respect to policy, our evidence suggests that public intervention should seek to modify the recruitment and replacement procedures that are biased against women.

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