SYDNEY – When Patricia Appss teenager was looking for career advice about becoming an economist, the professor of public economics at Sydney University advised her daughter to study law instead.
Its a boys culture, Apps said. If you look at economics from the prospective students point of view, you see women dont succeed.
The gender gap in Australian economics is reflected at commercial lenders, the Treasury and at the Reserve Bank of Australia, where Assistant Governor Michele Bullock is the sole woman among its top eight officials, and just three in 10 managers are female. That lags behind the representation from Asia to the United States: Half of the Thai central banks 58 executives and 44 percent of Federal Reserve board officials and managers are women, data from the institutions show.
Failure to fully use the hidden resource of women costs Australias $1.5 trillion economy as much as 13 percent in lost annual production, Goldman Sachs analysts estimate. The glass ceiling for economists belies a nation where men are outperformed in most fields of higher education and where the prime minister, head of state and mayor of the biggest city are female.
The apparent lack of women in economics in Australia is not actually saying something about women, its saying something about economics in Australia, said Luci Ellis, head of financial stability at the RBA, in a discussion on female representation with Bullock and Alexandra Heath at the bank. When we travel in Southeast Asia, theres a lot more women in senior roles in central banks.
At the Treasury, which rivals the RBA as the nations premier economic institution, women account for less than a quarter of senior executives.
For organizations like the Reserve Bank, like the federal Treasury, optimum performance comes from diverse teams, and thats about both men and women, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said in an interview. We clearly havent got that at the minute.
At three of the four biggest banks, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank, only a few economists are female. At the fourth, Westpac Banking, there are none, even as Chief Executive Officer Gail Patricia Kelly helps lead a campaign for more women on government boards.
Ganesh Chandrasekar, general manager of human resources at Westpac, said the lender in November reached a goal of 40 percent of all senior leadership roles held by women, ahead of its 2014 target. He said the chief economist at St. George Bank, a subsidiary of Westpac, is a woman.
The higher proportion of women in the Thai central bank, where the previous governor, Tarisa Watanagase, is female, is reflected across much of Southeast Asia.
The RBA says its hiring of women partly reflects the unequal proportion of economics graduates with honors degrees or higher. That ratio is further diminished as commercial banks poach the RBAs female recruits to narrow their own gender imbalances, according to Bullock, assistant governor responsible for the central banks note division.
Ive observed over the years many, many very good women in this institution, she said. But boy theyre highly sought after out there.
Competition for the small pool of female economists to try to even up employment ratios is prevalent throughout the industry, said Annette Beacher, head of Asia-Pacific research for TD Securities. In the last 12 months Ive been approached for a job where the unofficial job specification is we need to be seen to be hiring a woman, she said.