Successful women leaders abound, but women in public finance are rare
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Michelle bachelet. Christine Lagarde. Jacinda Ardern. You have heard the stories about their effective leadership. So why are there so few female leaders? Why in particular do we have such a predilection for denying women the highest seats in power who hold the national purse strings?
If women are still, in 2021, significantly under-represented in the leaders of countries around the world, then the representation gap is particularly acute in public finance bodies, such as ministries of finance and government offices. national audits that report on the use of public funds. According to new data from UN Women and the International Organization’s Supreme Audit Institutions Development Initiative, respectively, only 11 percent of countries have financial portfolios owned by women and less than a third of all heads of national control offices are women.
Yet women are overrepresented in major well-governed countries. Examples abound of countries led by women who were more successful in the initial management of the COVID pandemic: New Zealand, Germany and Taiwan are just a few. Indeed, women are often confronted with a glass cliff – they are more likely to be entrusted with the reins as a “repairer” in the event of a crisis. Why? A Harvard Business Review Study found that women were ranked higher in interpersonal skills – such as communicating effectively, inspiring others and showing empathy – the leadership skills that are ranked most important when times are tough.
Women leaders are also listening to the intersectional dimension challenges their fellow citizens are confronted and these considerations inform their decision-making and the design of more gender-sensitive policies and budgets.
For example, the Indonesian Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani Indrawati has been a strong advocate in addressing the disproportionate impacts women face under COVID. The Indonesian government is working with the struggle of the Indonesian people to fight against registration gaps that prevented women in low-income neighborhoods from receiving COVID assistance. Women at the head of national audit offices, such as those Jamaica and Costa Rica, are also leading the way in controlling the use of COVID relief funds.
If we know that women are good or arguably better leaders at this critical time, then what is preventing us from choosing more of them, especially in institutions critical to responsible and inclusive recovery, such as finance ministries and audit institutions?
There are no easy answers, but we can start by dismantling entrenched stereotypes. We need to challenge outdated and symbolic approaches to representation that classify women into specific leadership roles. In a series of workshops our organizations hosted with representatives from finance ministries, auditors, and leaders of nonprofit public finance organizations, we heard examples of women being considered for public roles and less. solicited for their technical expertise.
At the same time, we must tackle the norms that perpetuate the prejudices that women do not excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There are more and more evidence that discrimination based on sex is rife in the field of economics. This has a direct impact on the leadership pipeline. Women feel less encouraged to stay in economics and other math-related fields early in their education and profession and, as a result, there is less retention of female talent that can be prepared for leadership. .
Courageous women who hold on face many obstacles that limit their advancement. Yet data gaps limit our understanding of these barriers. To do things well in public financial institutions, we need to collect more data on recruitment and promotion policies, provide capacity development opportunities and create mentoring and coaching opportunities for women. It is important to note that the tone must be set at the top – the leaders of these institutions must make it clear that these issues are a priority.
We also know that all organizations, including public financial institutions, need to address measures that support the redistribution of unpaid care work. We need to stop taking women’s dual tasks for granted if we are truly to level the playing field for women to advance in the workplace.
As we seek a more sustainable and inclusive post-COVID recovery, we know we are best served when we make room for female leadership, especially in public finance roles where the need is dire. It is about fairness and justice. But it’s also about breaking down the structures, norms and stereotypes that stand in the way of getting the best leaders we deserve.
Malado Kaba is a member of the board of directors of the International Budget Partnership and a former Minister of the Economy and Finance of Guinea. Einar Gørrissen is Director General of the Development Initiative of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI).