Gender Equality: ECB to Double Number of Women in Top Roles

Rebuilding the ECB: The bank's new headquarters are under construction in Frankfurt. Zoom
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Rebuilding the ECB: The bank's new headquarters are under construction in Frankfurt.

The European Central Bank has announced plans to introduce gender quotas for top levels of management. It's a much needed move, and one that could have a wider effect on the banking industry as a whole.

It was always so -- money makes the world go round, and men make the money go round. Global banking is a male-dominated world, even in countries where the past few decades have seen great strides taken towards gender equality. In order to change that, major institutions need to take the lead in redressing the imbalance.

Step forward the European Central Bank (ECB). Its director, Jörg Asmussen, told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) on Thursday that the bank is to introduce quotas for women in middle and senior management positions. By the end of 2019, it is hoped that 35 percent of the former and 28 percent of the latter will be "qualified women", Asmussen said -- up from the current level of 17 and 14 percent respectively. The gender split among the ECB's workforce is actually fairly even, the Süddeutsche wrote, but it's the men who call the shots at the top of the food chain.

The ECB's board made the decision some time ago, although it is only being announced now. The implementation of this ambitious goal would require a major rethink at the central bank, Asmussen added, and critical to its success would be a "change of mentality for the current leadership" in the ECB.

The talent is there, Asmussen said. There are "sufficient well-qualified women" at the ECB, and many new top-level jobs will be created when it takes over the task of European banking oversight next year -- the perfect opportunity to enact the reforms, Asmussen told the newspaper.

They are reforms that are much-needed: On the ECB council, which plays a major role in deciding the fate of the euro, there are currently 23 men and exactly zero women. Things don't look much better at the level below, where women fill only two out of 14 director positions.

Women Too 'Reserved and Modest'

So far, the general opinion at the ECB has been that women are themselves partly to blame for the situation, the Süddeutsche writes, with the bank's personnel manager Stephan Keuning saying: "Experience shows that female candidates are more reserved and modest in job interviews and presentations." For this reason, the ECB has implemented a mentoring program to help female candidates as they work their way up the ladder.

Austrian Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell is one of just two women to have ever reached the highest levels at the ECB, serving on the board from 2003 to 2011. She told the Süddeutsche: "It is crucial that we promote women early enough and that top management clearly and openly advocates women."

If the new policy works, it could spark similar efforts in banks elsewhere. As guardian of the euro, the ECB is one of the world's most important banking institutions. Setting an example on gender equality could have a positive effect both on both smashing the glass ceilings faced by women in the financial industry, and on the quality of the individuals holding those jobs.

The Frankfurt-based ECB could also do wonders for its host country. The Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, has seen just a single woman on its board in the 56 years of its existence. A law creating legally binding gender quotas for supervisory boards of German companies, meanwhile, was rejected by Germany's parliament in April.

Doubts remain, however, about whether the ambitious goals can be met given the nature of the ECB as an extra-national body representing countries with different national interests. When it comes to appointing ECB directors, and national central bank heads on the council, politics is what matters. The euro-zone member countries suggest candidates for the board which the European parliament must agree to.

"When filling top positions at the ECB, nationality is put before gender," Tumpel-Gugerell added. "The statute says, however, that it is about going for the best minds. This also includes women."

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danm 08/29/2013
Why not hire and promote people on the basis or merit? I think this sends and insulting message to women. It tells them that they are incapable of success on their own merits and must resort to political distortion of the free markets. As a man with a mother and sisters I resent this condescending treatment of women.
2. optional
danm 08/29/2013
Given the ECB's horrible record to date, they may really want to focus a little more on performance and a little less on politically driven window dressing. This remind me a little of some old German king who was fascinated by height and had an entire regiment of abnormally tall soldiers. Why should gender, nationality, height, hair color or eye color be a deciding factor in something so important. Stop being cute, hire good people and live up to your responsiblity.
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