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A Bank of England perspective on gender diversity: past, present and future

Summary:
Lea Peterson, ED of Human Resources at Bank of England tracks the history of gender diversity at Bank of England. It is ironical that one of the first decisions of BoE took was to choose a woman as the seal of the bank. Yet, it took a few centuries to increase women participation at the central bank: I hope you’ll indulge me if I start with a bit of history. The Bank of England, which celebrated its 325th anniversary last year, has a rich history and heritage. And that provides a fascinating take on the evolution of gender diversity in the workplace through the years. In 1694, when the Bank was founded, one of the very first decisions taken by the Bank’s Court of Directors(its governing board) was to make a woman – Britannia – the new institution’s corporate seal. The Bank of England

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Lea Peterson, ED of Human Resources at Bank of England tracks the history of gender diversity at Bank of England.

It is ironical that one of the first decisions of BoE took was to choose a woman as the seal of the bank. Yet, it took a few centuries to increase women participation at the central bank:

I hope you’ll indulge me if I start with a bit of history. The Bank of England, which celebrated its 325th anniversary last year, has a rich history and heritage. And that provides a fascinating take on the evolution of gender diversity in the workplace through the years.

In 1694, when the Bank was founded, one of the very first decisions taken by the Bank’s Court of Directors(its governing board) was to make a woman – Britannia – the new institution’s corporate seal.

The Bank of England was among the first institutions in the City to employ women, although it took a further  200 years for that to happen. In 1894, the Bank appointed Janet Hogarth – who had a first-class degree from Oxbridge – to set up a small women’s unit charged with the menial role of note-sorting that was normally reserved for boys in their late teens. A small number of other female appointments followed Ms Hogarth’s albeit under strictly prescribed rules such as compulsory resignations upon marriage.

How did it feel to be the first woman employed by the Bank – indeed one of the first women employed in the City? This is what Ms Hogarth wrote:

‘When I first went to went to the Bank of England in 1894, . . . . women in ordinary Banks were unheard of, and their introduction to the Bank of England, of all places, caused a mild sensation, not to mention a series of tiresome jokes about ‘old’ and ‘young’ ladies of Threadneedle Street. How tired one got of trying to smile at them!’

Janet Hogarth might have been the first woman in history to wince inwardly at workplace banter in the City. She wasn’t by any means the last.

Fast forward, and women in the Bank, and indeed in the City, became much less of a sensation. But gender stereotypes of course persisted. Those stereotypes were clearly in evidence in this archive shot of the Bank in 1955 (see Annex). The female typists. The male bosses checking in on their work.

And, as was also the case with the City more broadly at that time, a resounding absence of ethnic diversity. The intersectionality between gender and race is something I will come back to in a moment. Time ticked on. In the 1990s we had the first female Chief Cashier signing our bank notes – we’ve had two more since – and the first female member of the Bank’s Court.

In the Noughties, we had our first female Deputy Governor in Rachel Lomax. And while we’ve not yet had a female Governor, when I look at the great female talent we’re nurturing in the Bank – and indeed the great female talent that is being nurtured right across banking and finance – I’m confident that the day will not be too long in coming.

Things changed with Mark Carney:

For those of us within the Bank, the pace of change on gender diversity accelerated notably from 2013 with the appointment of Mark Carney as Governor. The Governor made diversity a central pillar of our strategy at the Bank, and led from the front with a very clear commitment to making progress. We were proud hosts, for example, of the launch of the Women in Finance Charter at the Bank’s Threadneedle Street headquarters, a hugely important HM Treasury initiative which has put gender diversity firmly on the boardroom agenda.

……

Since 2013, the proportion of women in senior management roles has almost doubled from 17% to a little above 30%. On our executive committee, which sits just below Deputy Governor level and is responsible for day to day management of the organisation, we are split pretty much 50/50 men and women. We’ve also seen our gender pay gap begin to narrow as progression of women into more senior ranks improves – our mean gender pay gap dropped by a percentage point to 20.2% last year.

Amol Agrawal
I am currently pursuing my PhD in economics. I have work-ex of nearly 10 years with most of those years spent figuring economic research in Mumbai’s financial sector.

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