Few Women in the Room at BOJ Meetings Runs Counter to Abe Pledge

BOJ's Shirai Leaves All Options Open On 'High' Uncertainty

Sayuri Shirai.

Photographer: Junko Kimura/Bloomberg
  • Minutes of sessions show men also dominate at BOK, ECB and BOE
  • Federal Reserve has higher number of women participants

Amid the details of monetary policy votes, one fact emerges from the records of recent meetings at major central banks including the Bank of Japan: Few women are in the room.

According to the minutes of the BOJ’s policy meeting Jan. 28 and 29, only one woman -- board member Sayuri Shirai, who is leaving after this month -- was among 29 attendees, including the governor, board members and participants from the government. At that meeting, the central bank of the world’s third-largest economy took the radical step of adopting a negative interest rate. The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has made advancement of women a tenet of his prescription for reviving Japan’s economy.

At the Bank of Korea’s policy meeting on Feb. 16, there was one woman, deputy governor Suh Young Kyung, among 22 officials for Asia’s fourth-largest economy -- including the governor, the rest of the board and senior officials, according to the meeting’s minutes.

Minutes of the European Central Bank’s Jan. 20-21 meeting show few women participated. Of the 25 policy makers on the Governing Council, only two are female -- Sabine Lautenschlaeger and Cypriot governor Chrystalla Georghadji.

An ECB spokesman said the central bank increased the proportion of women in management-level positions to 24 percent in middle management and 19 percent in senior management positions at the end of 2015.

Fed Meeting

The U.S. Federal Reserve has significantly more women participants at its rate-setting meetings than the BOJ, BOK or ECB. Of the 76 participants including board members, officials and staff who attended one or both days of the Jan. 26-27 meeting, 18 -- or 24 percent -- were women, the minutes show.

The Fed’s list of women participants includes Chair Janet Yellen, Governor Lael Brainard and regional Fed bank presidents Esther George and Loretta Mester. Among other women in attendance were Michelle Smith, director of the Office of Board Members, and Nellie Liang, director of the Office of Financial Stability Policy and Research, one of the newest research units in the Fed that helps policy makers spot risks across the financial system.

Bank of England

The Bank of England doesn’t release a full list of participants the way the BOJ, BOK and Fed do. The minutes of its March 16 meeting list 11 people present -- nine Monetary Policy Committee members, the Treasury representative and an observer from the oversight committee. Two were women -- Nemat Shafik, the deputy governor responsible for markets and banking, and Kristin Forbes, an external MPC member.

At the BOE, this represents gender progress. Since Governor Mark Carney joined in 2013, two women have been added to the MPC -- they were the first female members since 2010. When he joined, Carney bemoaned the lack of women, saying in an interview on BBC Radio 4 that “it is anomalous, it’s striking.”

In London this week, speaking at the launch of a government-backed review of women in finance, Carney said there is an “encouraging direction of travel but much more does need to be done” on diversity. He said for too long representation of senior women in finance has lagged other parts of the economy.

Losing Only Woman

The BOJ, meanwhile, is about to lose its only female board member when her term expires March 31. Abe earlier this month opted against giving Shirai another term and nominated a man to take the post on the nine-member board.

The BOJ lags behind other central banks in the representation of women on its board. Since the structure was changed in 1998, one of the nine seats has been filled by a woman, and Shirai was the third female member.

Recent figures show the BOJ has made no progress in increasing the proportion of women in management positions in the past two years. Women held 4 percent of management posts in 2015, which was unchanged from 2013, according to a comparison of a statement released earlier this month and one from 2014.

The central bank, in the statements, said it aims to boost the ratio of women managers to 5 percent in 2018 and 10 percent in 2023.

“We are increasing female workers but it takes some time to have more women at senior levels,” Marie Ogawa, director of the diversity and inclusion group at the BOJ, said earlier this month. “We will keep making efforts to achieve the targets.”

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