Women in Sovereign Entities

By Sefi Shliselberg

In the course of a long career in the global financial services industry, I met with executives from central banks, public pension funds and other sovereign financial entities -- government-owned or government-controlled investment funds, and government entities in charge of finances, economic policy and financial regulation. It seemed that the women in the sector formed a small geographically dispersed minority in the traditional male-dominated sector, and that, as a result, it was critical for them to have their own network with which to connect and support each other.  

Recognizing this unmet need, I founded Women in Sovereign Entities (WSE), the first organization devoted to women in the sovereign financial sector. Our mission is to provide a forum for their connection and affiliation, for sharing best practices and for supporting their leadership and development.

Women are significantly under-represented in the sector, holding less than 20% of senior leadership roles across the G20 countries[1]. Moreover, progress has been slow, with the rate of growth of women’s leadership in the public sector averaging 1%-2% per annum in these countries[2].

There is a strong business case for achieving greater gender balance in public sector leadership. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found greater political instability in countries where women’s participation and access to the public sphere is restricted[3]. Diversity plays an important role in problem solving and critical analysis[4]. Creating an inclusive environment where divergent views are shared and considered has been shown to lead to enhanced group performance.[5]  The Independent Evaluation Office of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its report on the “IMF Performance in the Run Up to the Financial and Economic Crisis,” recommended the promotion of greater diversity and warned against “groupthink” and failure to take into account cognitive biases.[6]

By providing leadership development programs specifically designed for sovereign women that address, in a positive way, the specific biases these women face[7], and by highlighting women’s presence and progress in the sector, WSE aims to help advance their leadership.  

WSE also provides a unique nexus across countries and sovereign entities to facilitate their communication and collaboration, as well as to enhance overall understanding of the sector. The sovereign sector, which accounts for over $29 trillion in assets and reserves, has significant influence over global financial markets and plays a critical role in the formulation and implementation of monetary policy. The increasing complexity and interconnectedness of global financial markets has made it vital for the different sovereign entities – including central banks, ministries of finance, sovereign funds and multi-lateral financial institutions – to communicate and collaborate. WSE creates a forum for women to learn more about, and discuss critical issues and developments affecting the global sovereign sector.

By supporting sovereign women’s leadership and enhancing understanding of the sector, WSE will help them strengthen their domestic policy frameworks and institutions leading to better public policy, and create a more high-performing global financial landscape.  

According to Lord Mervyn King, Former Governor of the Bank of England, and WSE Advisory Board Member, “WSE recognizes the key role women, who are under-represented at many sovereign entities, play in the sector. Increasingly, women leaders, like Janet Yellen [Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System], Gill Marcus [ninth Governor of the South African Reserve Bank], Charlotte Hogg [Chief Operating Officer of the Bank of England] – to name but a few – are taking a seat at the table.”

We invite leading public and private sector institutions, and individuals who share our passion for increasing gender diversity to join us in advancing sovereign women’s leadership, and enhancing understanding of the sector by getting involved. Please contact me at sefi@theWSE.org to learn more about how you can support our efforts and help make a profound difference.

Sefi Shliselberg is the Founder and President of Women in Sovereign Entities (WSE). She is also a marketing and new business development consultant in the global financial services and consulting industries. She was a guest lecturer on sovereign wealth funds at the Executive MBA Program of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and a judge at the Annual Social Venture Competition at NYU Stern School of Business. Previously as a Director at Deutsche Bank, she drove the Transaction Banking Group’s sovereign wealth fund initiative. Through her interactions with sovereign executives, she identified an unmet need among sovereign women for connection and affiliation, and founded WSE. Her passion for supporting women’s growth and development led to her involvement in Stern Women in Business Alumnae Council, NYU Women’s Initiative and Barnard Entrepreneurs’ Network. Prior to Deutsche Bank, Sefi was a Senior Vice President at Moody’s Investors Service. She holds an MBA degree from Stern School of Business and a bachelor's degree from Barnard College, Columbia University.

[1] “Worldwide Women Public Sector Leaders Index 2014”, EY; http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/EY_-_Worldwide_Women_Public_Sector_Leaders_Index_2014/$FILE/EY_Worldwide_Index_of_Women_22Oct14.pdf

[2] ibid.

[3] The OECD Paris 2-4 April 2014 session notes titled, “Global Forum on Public Governance, Women’s Leadership in Public Life: Fostering Diversity for Inclusive Growth”, reported that some of the specific barriers to women’s progression often relate to the following factors:  Work-life balance and double-burden syndrome; Senior management appointment systems; Career preferences; Level of confidence and developmental opportunities; Career breaks; and Gendered culture of leadership. See http://thewse.org/images/gf2014-session-notes-140331104612-phpapp01.pdf

[4] “Diversity & Inclusion”, the International Monetary Fund, 2011; http://www.imf.org/external/np/div/2011/index.pdf

[5] ibid.

[6] “IMF Performance in the Run-Up to the Financial and Economic Crisis” , The Independent Evaluation Office of the IMF, 2011;  http://www.ieo-imf.org/ieo/files/completedevaluations/Crisis-%20Main%20Report%20%28without%20Moises%20Signature%29.pdf

[7] op. cit.

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This article appears in: 2015 Catalyst, Issue 2: Rising Women, Rising World