Can Quotas For Women Break A Central Bank's Glass Ceiling?

There's just one place the European Central Bank's gender requirements won't apply...

The European Central Bank, a gentlemen's club indeed
The European Central Bank, a gentlemen's club indeed
Andrea Rexer and Markus Zydra

FRANKFURT – The world of Bundesbank has long been dominated by men, with only one woman managing to reach the executive board of Germany's central bank since its founding more than five decades ago. Similarly, the European Central Bank (ECB) has appointed just two women to its supervisory board that was established in 1998.

Today, the ECB board, which sets all major policy on the euro, consists of 23 men — and not a single woman. It doesn’t look any better in the lower positions of the European Central Bank: Among the 14 chief executives in Frankfurt’s Euro Tower, there are only two women.

But this is set to change. The ECB wants to become more feminine, introducing a new quota for women to fill additional managerial vacancies — though it won't apply to the executive board. “By the end of 2019, we aim to have 35% of qualified women in middle management positions and 28% of women in senior management positions,” the German director of the ECB, Jörg Asmussen, told Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Doing so would double the number of women in managerial posts — right now, the number of women at middle and senior executive positions has stagnated at 17% and 14%, respectively. Though the Central Bank had made this decision a while ago, it is only now being made public.

No lack of female applicants

The women’s quota for managerial positions is the European Central Bank’s second attempt in recent weeks to improve its image and to open up for modernization. In late July the ECB had announced that it is set to publish the records of its council meetings, so that the wider public will find it easier to follow their decisions.

While overall, the ECB employs a more or less equal number of men and women, the gender roles in the upper management are unevenly spread. And indeed, it is almost only men who are calling the shots. This is why Asmussen believes that a number of things have to change in the Central Bank: “A paradigm shift among leaders in the ECB is essential to its success,” the ECB director says.

Make no mistake, in recent years there has been no lack of female applicants, and a number of women with career ambitions inside the ECB say they have faced discrimination. As such, Asmussen is optimistic that the ECB can achieve its self-imposed goals in the next six years, since there would be “sufficient highly qualified women” within the institution. He sees the introduction of a new banking supervision division with many new top jobs as one place top female leaders may end up.

Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell of Austria is one of the few women who has made it to the top in the world of central banks. She is one of only two woman, along with her Finnish counterpart Sirkka Hämäläinen to have risen to be a member of the board of the ECB, serving from 2003 to 2011. She also believes that bosses are responsible when it comes to women in managerial positions: “It is essential to support women at an early stage and that senior executives clearly defend the advancement of women.” But she also indicates that the overall staff turnover in central banks is low, which is why it would take time for more women to rise to top positions.

Until now, many have been of the opinion that the situation in the past was partly the fault of the women themselves. “The experience shows that female candidates appear more reluctant and modest in job interviews and presentations,” said Stephen Keuning, the ECB's chief executive for personnel, budget and organization. Based on this, the ECB has introduced a volunteer-based mentoring program aimed at helping women to climb the institution's professional ladder.

Keuning is responsible for promoting diversity at the ECB. Diversity means variety, and these days, modern corporations fill their vacancies with people from various countries to achieve a plurality of knowledge. The ECB is not in short supply of international staff. But word has it that the timidity of many female applications is a result of male-dominated levels of decision making.

Best and brightest

But Keuning doesn’t believe that this is the heart of the matter and says that the selection panel of the ECB always consists of at least one or two female members.

But even with a women’s quota, the board of the ECB will not be able to change the constellation at the very top. This is because it is the politicians’ task to nominate both the directors of the ECB and the central bank's national bosses. The member-states of the Eurozone nominate candidates for the board, who must then be confirmed by the European Parliament. “When it comes to filling jobs in top-level management, the nationality of the applicants weighs higher than their gender,” says Tumpel-Gugerell. “Yet the charter clearly states that it must be about the best minds — and women are also part of that.”

In the most recent nomination of a director for the ECB, women yet again failed to claim a seat, causing great resentment within the European Parliament, which managed to delay the nomination of Luxembourg-born Yves Mersch. Still, in the end, they were not able to prevent his appointment.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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