Bloomberg News

Barker Disappointed More Women Didn’t Apply for MPC Job

June 10, 2011

(Updates with rate forecasts in fifth paragraph.)

June 10 (Bloomberg) -- Kate Barker, who helped select Ben Broadbent for the Bank of England’s rate-setting committee, said she’s “disappointed” more women didn’t apply for the post.

“I really wish we’d had more women, and I can think of women who I think would be good,” Barker, who served three terms on the Monetary Policy Committee before leaving last year, said in an interview. She said some of her time there was “just odd,” as she was often the only woman at meetings.

Broadbent, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist, voted in his first decision yesterday, when the bank left its benchmark interest rate at a record low. While lawmakers in February called on Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to appoint a woman to avoid having an all-male panel, only one applied out of 27 candidates, leaving British monetary policy decided entirely by men.

Broadbent was the “best candidate,” said Barker, who was on the interview panel that recommended him. “His background and his integrity, his approach and strength of analysis are all the kinds of things that make a really good MPC member.”

Broadbent replaced Andrew Sentance, who led a yearlong campaign to raise the interest rate from the current 0.5 percent. Investors today pushed back bets for an increase to May from April, according to forward contracts on the sterling overnight interbank average in data from Tullett Prebon Plc.

Strong Arguments

Barker said a successful policy maker must be able to argue “very, very strongly for their ideas.”

“At the moment you want someone who’s going to make a really fast start,” whereas “in the mid 2000s there were periods where life on the committee really wasn’t that exciting,” she said.

The MPC should have members with experience in financial services, industry and academia, said Barker, 53, a former chief European economist at automaker Ford Motor Co. and chief economic adviser at the Confederation of British Industry, the U.K.’s biggest business lobby. Sentance, whom Broadbent replaced, was previously chief economist at British Airways Plc.

“With Andrew and I both off the committee, you haven’t got an external member who’s got much of a background in industry,” Barker said. “But you can’t always get exactly what you want out of a particular member. We considered all these factors.”

The nine-member committee led by Mervyn King conducts its policy decisions over two days every month, and the meetings include central bank economists, a Treasury official and others to record the minutes. For three of her nine years on the panel, Barker had no female colleagues, and on occasion, all of the note-takers were male.

‘Just Odd’

“For quite a lot of the time, when I was the only woman on the committee, I was the only woman in the room,” she said. “It’s just odd to spend the whole day in a room with 13 blokes. It’s not the way the world is. Perhaps it was odd to them too.”

While Barker said she never detected prejudice, felt “belittled” or that she wasn’t being taken seriously, she said, “You’ve always got to be on the alert that you’re getting equal weight and equal treatment.”

Barker was one of four external members of the MPC from June 2001 to May 2010. Three other women have served on the panel since the bank got independence in 1997 -- DeAnne Julius, Rachel Lomax and Marian Bell.

During her nine years, Barker grappled with the run at lender Northern Rock Plc, the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and the onset of the recession.

‘Slightly Stressful’

Being the only woman “was slightly stressful, but actually the real stress of that last period was the crisis, so being the only woman in the room hardly mattered very much and it didn’t really bother me,” she said.

She attributes the paucity of women at the bank to a lag because at the time when she studied economics, few of her female contemporaries took an interest in the subject. “That’s not true anymore,” she said. Improving the balance is “a question of time.”

Barker rejected an argument by Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup Inc. and a former MPC member, who said last month the panel should have a majority of external members to counter “groupthink.”

“The point of the external members is that they shake up your thinking,” Barker said. “To say that you have to have five is to suggest that somehow the internals are incapable of having their thinking shaken up by a good reasoned challenge. That’s not the case.”

U.K. lawmakers have raised similar questions about the Financial Policy Committee, the new panel for banking stability chaired by King. Barker said she has “some sympathy” on the struggle for a balance between internal and external members.

FPC Challenges

“It’s really important, particularly since they’re going to be covering a wide range of issues where they’ll have to have a lot of technical knowledge,” she said. “Another obvious difficulty” will be “getting people on who aren’t perceived to have a conflict of interest.”

At the MPC, internal members tend to be interested in new ideas, according to Barker, including King and Deputy Governor Charles Bean.

“Charlie is always intellectually curious, the governor is intellectually curious, most of them are,” she said. “A new idea comes along, you think it has merit, people look at it, they take it on board and they incorporate it into their thinking. I’m not convinced you need five external members.”

--Editors: Fergal O’Brien, Craig Stirling

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Ryan at jryan13@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at cstirling1@bloomberg.net


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