21/09/2012 12:33 BST | Updated 21/09/2012 12:53 BST

Why High Flying City Women Won't Apply For The Bank Of England Governor Job

Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King retires next June; a number of prominent banking candidates are being touted to replace him, but not one of them is female.

Current names in the frame include Paul Tucker, the current Bank of England deputy governor, Andrew Haldane, executive director for financial stability at the bank and Lord Adair Turner, chair of the Financial Services Authority.

Former cabinet secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell is also favoured, along with former group chief executive of Barclays John Varley and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carnet.

And The Sun newspaper’s business editor Steve Hawkes has also thrown his hat in the ring – with surprisingly good odds at 33-1, according to the journalist himself.

But why are there no female candidates being touted in the press?

Rachel Lomax, a deputy governor between 2003 and 2008, ruled herself out of the running in an interview with the BBC earlier this week.

Another possible, Lady Susan Rice, sits on the board of directors and chairs the audit committee at the Bank of England, and is the managing director of Lloyds Banking Group in Scotland – yet we’ve heard nothing from her.

One former banker, with a background of more than 20 years in the industry, said the lack of female candidates could be attributed to the relatively low pay attached to the job - King pockets £305,000 - the high visibility of such a public role and the fact that talented women were being better retained in banks than ever before.

stressed woman

Women are reportedly put off applying for jobs in the public eye

The source, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Huffington Post UK: “Why would you want the BoE job? It’s public and very visible and it’s not brilliantly paid. And there are more talent management programmes at banks these days, it's more transparent than ever before.

“Also, we’re experiencing a pretty unusual time right now; we’ve had a really shit five years and the public doesn’t want someone in the job if they don’t believe they’ll give every hour of the day and whatever it takes to get the job done – and for anyone with family commitments that isn’t possible.”

The source said they firmly believed the situation would be different in five years’ time, and that during their time in the sector they never lacked for female role models, but acknowledged we are still in the early stages of seeing women on boards in the city.

In calmer fiscal times, there will be less desire to hand such an important job to someone known for their work, they continued. The job is a status job, and therefore the draw for men would be to prove they could do it better than the last governor.

But until flexible working is accepted, embraced and celebrated by men, women will always be made to feel guilty for requesting it, the source concluded.

The former banker’s points were echoed by Ines Wichert, senior psychologist for the Kenexa Institute, who has just finished a paper on women in high flying positions.

Speaking to the Huff Post UK, Wichert said the fact the BoE job is so visible will have put a lot of potential female candidates off.

“With high visibility jobs there is high risk, and people have no appetite for risk; they just want a safe pair of hands,” she said.

“Research has shown that these types of jobs have a visibility/vulnerability spiral and everyone would look more at the vulnerability side with a woman.”

Wichert also said the language used in the job description was characteristically male, and would have put off a number of women.

“The job description is extremely narrow and uses phrases such as ‘big’, ‘tough’ and ‘someone who won’t be pulled apart’ – there’s not much room for lateral thinking when considering appointments here.”


Would you say Sir Mervyn had been "big" and "tough" and "not pulled apart"?

Wichert’s report, Enabling Women's Career Progression, which studied 2,500 professionals across five countries - UK, US, Japan, Brazil and China, will be published on 25 September.

Among her findings were:

  • Working long hours in an office is not a significant predictor of career progression, but, it is related to important career-enabling factors such as seeking new opportunities, networking and the number of critical job assignments
  • UK working mothers whose spouses take on all or part of the childcare responsibilities are more likely to progress in their career than those who use any other kind of childcare
  • Women who get help with housework and childcare outside of work hours, report a higher number of promotions than women who report having to shoulder the majority of this additional burden outside of work
  • Women in the emerging economies of Brazil and China are making better progress in their careers than women in the UK, US and Japan, but they also work the most hours
  • And the ‘make or break’ years, when important career shaping events occur for men and women, are between the ages of 28-45

Andrew Newton, an author on finance and a former compliance officer, recently wrote a blog about the current gender bias in banking's top jobs.

He said there was a problem in judging performance in the banking sector as the goals were "stereotypically male".

"We have an entire economic system skewed towards competing for the biggest share, rather than delivering the broadest benefit. You can see it in our use of GDP instead of a broader measure of overall wellbeing. You can see it in the obsession with short-term corporate earnings instead of sustainable long-term profitability, and the loyalty of customers and employees," he said.

"Managers that expect women not to perform as well in these stereotypically male terms will sabotage women without any ill-will, simply by making what they think is the sensible decision of giving women the less remunerative accounts, or giving them fewer accounts because they expect their male clients to prefer dealing with men.

"Then there are the networking aspects, the habit of important discussion continuing into the men’s loos and back out again. All these moves and habits essentially rule women out of the running for senior jobs because they will never get the chance to demonstrate their equality."


How much business gets done in here?

The new minister for women and equalities Maria Miller told Huff Post UK that women will play a huge part in the country’s future growth and that the government was doing all it could to encourage firms to recognise the benefits of having women involved at senior levels.

"More needs to be done but we’re making great progress. The past year has seen the biggest ever jump in the number of women on boards which is a real achievement to be proud of,” she said.

“The Women’s Business Council has started investigating how to maximise women’s contribution to the economy; the government is helping more women to start their own business, and some of the UK's leading companies are now reporting on gender diversity.

“It is crucial that more women rise to the top and the government is working hard with business across the board to ensure they get there.”

Reassuring as that may sound, when the third most important job for the future of the British economy (behind the prime minister and the chancellor) can’t attract any female candidates, questions remain over whether enough is really being done.