Mon, Dec 01, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Women take a central role at the Bank of Thailand

In the battle of the sexes at central banks, Thai women — like their colleagues at several other Southeast Asian institutions — hold a host of senior positions. Women are much rarer at higher levels in central banks in the developed world

By Suttinee Yuvejwattana  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Tania Chou

Janet Yellen’s appointment as US Federal Reserve chair this year was hailed as another step toward gender equality. How about a central bank where women outnumber men?

This is the Bank of Thailand (BOT), which runs monetary policy in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy and has 31 women among its 60 top executives. Thailand named its first female central bank governor in 2006 and its first female assistant governor back in 1966.

The secret of the bank’s success in gender equality starts at the lowest level and goes back decades.

Tarisa Watanagase, governor from 2006 to 2010, was a beneficiary of a scholarship program to study economics abroad that began in 1960. Of the 85 interns accepted for the Bank of Thailand’s three-month summer program this year, 58 were women.

“My dad said the BOT would be my best option because it had the best opportunities for women,” said Roong Mallikamas, who joined the bank in 1995 after completing a doctorate in economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In October, she became head of the bank’s macroeconomic and monetary policy department.

The half-century policy of hiring and promoting women has given the Thai institution a head start over more powerful central banks in developed nations. The US Federal Reserve has two women, including Yellen, on its board and two female presidents out of 12 among the regional Fed banks. The Bank of Japan has one woman on its nine-member policy board, while the European Central Bank has one woman on its six-member executive board and two on its 24-seat governing council.

The Bank of England (BOE) named a second woman to its nine-member Monetary Policy Committee this year. Before their appointments, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said that a gender imbalance previously was “striking” and the BOE needs to nurture female economists “through the ranks.”

Of the 3,617 employees at the Bank of Thailand, 54 percent are women.

Having women in senior roles in central banks “is important to have a diversity of opinion,” said Caroline Freund, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former World Bank economist.

“Otherwise there is a danger of ‘groupthink,’ where they may miss important risks because they all come from the same backgrounds, hold the same priors, and examine the same data,” she said.

Tarisa, who has a doctorate in economics from the University of Washington, was responsible for devising and implementing financial sector and supervisory reforms after the 1997 crisis, and modernized the nation’s payment system. She imposed capital controls in 2006 to rein in a surging baht and fight flows.

“Women have played an important role in the Thai central bank for more than half a century now, becoming role models and drawing more women to the central bank,” said Pongsak Luangaram, who teaches monetary policy at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and wrote a book on the Bank of Thailand. “It came to be regarded as a prestigious place to work, and began to attract the cream of economics graduates.”

Chulalongkorn University, where diplomas are still presented by the royal family, says 69 percent of students enrolled in its English-language undergraduate program in economics this year are women.

At the central bank, more women than men hold doctorates — 52 percent, up from 36 percent in 2004.

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