Treasury and modish ideological agendas

You might have thought that there were real and important issues for The Treasury to be generating research and advice on.   Things like, for example, the decades-long productivity underperformance and the associated widening gap between New Zealand and Australia.  Or a housing and urban land market which renders what should be a basic –  the ability to buy one’s own house –  out of reach for so many New Zealanders.    Or even just preparing for the next recession.   Analytical capability is a scarce resource, and time used for one thing can’t be used for others.

But instead…..

In a post last night about various papers presented at the recent New Zealand Association of Economists conference, Eric Crampton alerted his readers last night to a contribution from Treasury’s chief economist (and Deputy Secretary) Tim Ng and one of his staff.

I did not attend Treasury’s session in which they noted Treasury’s diversity and inclusion programme which saw the scrubbing of the word “analysis” from Treasury’s recruitment ads as overly male-coded. Those interested in priorities at Treasury might wish to read the paper.

And so I did.   I’m not sure I could recommend anyone else do so, except to shed light on what seems to have become of a once-capable rigorous high-performing institution.   We’ll see later the background to the “overly male-coded” stuff, but –  in fairness to Treasury –  the first Treasury job advert I clicked on did still look for

  • Critical thinking, analytical ability and learning agility
  • An ability to drive discussion and provide critical analysis

[UPDATE: As Eric notes in a comment below, he has now amended his reference to “analysis”.]

There is no standard disclaimer on the paper, suggesting that we should take it as very much an institutional view (perhaps not surprisingly, when one of the authors is a member of the senior management of The Treasury).

The Ng/Morrissey paper has several sections.  The first relates to what the authors describe as “women’s (in)visibility within mainstream economic theoretical approaches, in particular, with respect to the conception of ‘rational man’.

A well-known trope in economics (and in critiques of economics and of economists) is that of the rational individual, one who is self-interested and seeks to maximise their own welfare, and who is consistently rational in the sense of diligently and correctly applying the calculus of constrained optimisation using complete information. Sometimes this actor is explicitly referred to as a man (especially in writings earlier than the mid-20th century – no doubt at least partly reflecting the linguistic conventions of the time). At other times, it has been argued that this is implicit in the way in which the scope of the subject is defined for the purposes of research or pedagogy.

In my years of formal economics study –  some decades ago now –  I don’t recall any aspect of economic analysis ever being framed in terms that focused on men, or male involvement in the market.  Since I focused mainly on macroeconomic and monetary areas, perhaps it was different in other sub-disciplines, but I doubt it.    And if standard simplifying assumptions –  as much about tractability as anything – about rationality are a common feature in models, those assumptions are not, actively or implicitly, focused on male perspectives.   They are a proposition that people will use the information they have, that they will pursue the best interests of themselves, their families, or other things they care about.  None of which should be terribly controversial.

But Ng and Morrissey seem to think something terribly important is missing.

We look at the degree to which mainstream theory adequately captures the value of the roles typically undertaken by women, especially unpaid care work, and examines how alternative models, such as those based on the mother/child relationship, could improve economic understanding and policy advice in contemporary developed economies.

They go on

There is a consensus from a number of notable authors that the new paradigm would have the mother / child relationship at its heart as this provides a more accurate depiction of fundamental human interaction.

Both Orloff (2009) and Strassman (1993) identified human’s dependency in infancy and old age, and often in between, as unchosen but present. By identifying dependency as natural they resist the negativity now associated with the term. Folbre (1991) considers how this negativity came about and suggests that women’s dependency was created as a fact through discourse, in the vocabulary used in the political and economic census, which tied non-earning women to earning or moneyed males.

Held (1990) makes her case by identifying the inherent dependency within the relationship between the mothering person and the child, and based on her observation of children as ‘necessarily dependent’, she puts this need at the centre of human interaction. Hartsock (1983) makes a similar argument in asserting mother/ infant as the prototypical human interaction. The importance of this relationship is discussed by Fineman (1995) who suggests the classic economic focus on the sexual relationship neuters the mother from her child.

I struggle to see how any this –  even if it has any substantive merit –  has any relevance to the sort of work, and advice, The Treasury should be providing.  But no doubt it goes down well with the Ministry for Women.

The authors do offer some thoughts on the potential relevance. They begin thus

The implications of the above for policy depend to some extent on the degree to which gender roles and preferences are socially constructed (rather than innate). If the latter, then policy settings (e.g. labour market regulation) have a role not only in recognising different gender roles and preferences, but also in possibly reinforcing or leaning against gender roles that contribute to gender inequality. A more comprehensive microeconomic and measurement approach that incorporates care work would support better analysis of policy settings to promote better gender equality over the longer run.

But even this is almost content-free.    Whether things are socially constructed (society having evolved the way it did for reasons that presumably had survival value) or innate, what role is it of The Treasury to be trying to impose its vision on how people organise their lives?    What, after all, does “gender equality” mean –  beyond individual equality of opportunity, before the law – if there are indeed innate differences (on average) between men and women?

It is a very heavy-handed feminist analysis

A number of feminist theorists have noted the value of paid employment for women. It has been suggested as being ‘constitutive of citizenship, community, and even personal identity’ (Schultz, 2000:1886). It has also been proposed to be a vehicle for participation in society and entitlement to social insurance rights (Lister, 2002:521). Of course paid work also has benefit to women in terms of poverty alleviation (Lawton and Thompson, 2013; Ben-Galim et al, 2014; Thompson and Ben-Galim, 2014).

Whereas I’m quite sure my grandmothers (and even my mother) would not have seen paid employment as a positive for them (or for their families).  Both would have seen it as constraining their ability to be heavily involved in church and community activities.  Nor, in today’s terms, is there any recognition of the fact that many families would prefer one parent (often the mother) to be able to stay at home fulltime with young children, but find that a near-impossible choice to make given the dysfunction that is the housing market.   (And, as a voluntary stay-at-home parent –  albeit male –  I don’t feel remotely disenfranchised or devalued as a result of that household choice.)

Four pages of the paper is devoted to a rather strained attempt to demonstrate the potential value of a gendered lens on macroeconomics  (Ng is a macroeconomist, indeed a former Reserve Bank colleague of mine).    Some charts show basically no difference between the cyclical behaviour of male and female unemployment rates, but the authors are undeterred

Of course, this descriptive commentary is just that – we are not attempting here to make strong empirical claims about gender differences relevant to the cyclical labour market behaviour. Instead the idea is to simply to illustrate, with a bit of introspection, the directions in which policy thinking – macroeconomic in this case – could be enriched if a gender lens is taken, exploring the possible links between behaviour within the household regarding participating in the labour market vs. other activities, and the possibly gendered impacts of macroeconomic phenomena on employment, which is an important contextual factor for within-household decisions. A public policy which aspires to be relevant to different groups in society, including different genders, and cognisant of the possibly different impacts of policy on those groups, could be strengthened by taking more of this kind of approach.

For all the blather –  and without denying that it can be interesting to understand differences in how different population groups (male and female, old and young, European and Maori, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and pagan, and so on) behave –  there is, it seems, nothing there.

Having failed to demonstrate a problem –  except perhaps an agenda to pursue –  the authors push on to look at the participation of women in the economics discipline.  This. it appears, is key (to what, one might ask?)

Education is our critical starting point. Those who study economics will later be those who practise economics, those who work in policy making, and those who undertake economic research. In order to ensure diverse perspectives are represented within that work, particularly with respect to gender and other distributional consequences of economic policy, it is important to have diversity within those who study economics. As this paper specifically focuses on gender, we will consider the position of women in economic education, in particular. Such a focus is supported by New Zealand’s international obligations through the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

When authors have to invoke CEDAW (twice in two paragraphs) and UN SDGs you know they are on substantively weak ground.

As the authors demonstrate, numbers of people studying economics have been in decline (not just in New Zealand).  That probably should be of concern, at least to agencies wanting to employ economists.   The authors present numbers suggesting that, at least at high school level, the drop has been particularly concentrated among girls (personally –  and I have both a son and a daughter doing high school economics at present –  that seems a wise choice on the girls’ part, so mind-numbing (and non-economic) is much of what is taught as economics at high school).

At an advanced tertiary level, it seems that perhaps a third of the economics students are female (in 2014, 31.4 per cent of economics doctorates were awarded to women).  Ng and Morrissey don’t like this at all.

What is our impressionistic conclusion about these patterns in participation in economics education by gender? There appears to be a “pipeline” problem with both genders, and some evidence that the proportion of women is falling – a double whammy in terms of the female economist pipeline in particular. Evidence is accumulating on a number of smoking guns relating to the way in which economics itself is taught and perceived, how leaders in the field are presented, and questions about the social construction of our identity as economists. It appears that a lot of work is needed on several fronts to improve the female pipeline into the profession.

But what, specifically, is the problem?  They don’t say?  Do they have a problem with the fact that 97.5 per cent of speech langugage pathologists are women or that 98.3 per cent of automotive service technicians and mechanics are male (US data for 2016)?   Can they, for example, point to areas where The Treasury’s analysis and advice has been deficient because female students have chosen –  and over decades now it has been pure choice –  not to study economics?   They make no effort to do so in the paper.  The consistent undertone appears to be that Treasury (and economists) make policy, when in fact politicians make the big choices (and, as it happens, in New Zealand three of our last five Prime Ministers have been female).

Ng and Morrissey go on to a new section of the paper

This section reports some experience with a programme to increase gender diversity in an economic and financial Ministry, the New Zealand Treasury.

They perhaps don’t help their case by suggesting that the current head of the International Monetary Fund is an economist, when in fact she is a lawyer and politician.

Treasury is certainly at the forefront of politically-correct blather

In the context of the now well-established literature on the benefits of diversity for the quality of decision making, as well as an obligation to be a good employer, the Treasury has for some time had an active and comprehensive diversity and inclusion (D&I) programme. The discussion in Section 2 about the (non-)role of women in mainstream economic models and approaches, and the consequences of the potential “blind spots” this might imply for policy development, reinforces the importance of gender diversity in a Ministry focused on economics and finance such as the Treasury. Meanwhile, the gender imbalance in the economist pipeline discussed in Section 3 underlines why the Treasury cannot be complacent about this issue.

In fact, this stuff carries over to the Treasury Annual Report

The Secretary to the Treasury co-leads the diversity and inclusion work stream in Better Public Services 2.0 and is a Diversity Champion for the Global Women’s Champions for Change initiative.

Too bad he isn’t a champion of analytical excellence, or of fixing New Zealand’s deep-seated economic problems (but then, not being a New Zealander, he doesn’t have much motivation to care).

Consistent with all this, they run quasi-quotas.  They would probably object to the numbers being called quotas, but when you report your target near the front of your Annual Report, it must put a great deal of pressure on individual managers to hire to the quota, not to ability to do the job.

tsy quotas

Franly, citizens should be more worried about the proportions of people who are top-notch economic and policy analysts, not their skin colour or sex.

But not, apparently, at Treasury.  Here is Ng and Morrissey again

As the data above suggest, a clear issue is the lack of women in senior leadership positions, and part of the response includes obligations on managers to have regular career discussions with all staff on a regular basis and for succession planning to more systematically address possible sources of disadvantage for women. Within-grade gender pay gaps are regularly examined and the target of eliminating any such gaps explicitly included as a criterion in annual remuneration reviews. The parental leave and flexible working policies are regularly reviewed to check for gendered impacts.

But still with no attempt whatever to suggest how any of this has adversely affected Treasury’s policy advice.    Surely that should be the most important test?

It is also clear that The Treasury is dead-keen on the flawed concept of unconscious bias (here for some problems with the Australian public service experience), and the associated training/indoctrination.

Application of emerging insights from studies of unconscious bias have been quite influential in this work, and point to certain interventions and relatively simple changes in HR processes that may help to address some of these biases. For this paper, we took the opportunity to explore in some detail the Treasury’s recent use of a tool, Kat Matfield’s Gender Decoder, which provides an easy way of assessing the potentially different impacts on prospective male and female applicants of language used in job advertisements. The Treasury now has about two years of experience with using this tool as a way of reducing unintended gendered impacts on pools of job applicants

What of this tool?

The Gender Decoder is available on the web at This tool is based on the findings of Gaucher et al. (2011) which provide evidence that certain words in job ads appeal differently to each gender, which may be a channel to exacerbate existing gender imbalances by profession, especially in traditionally male-dominated occupations. The theoretical mechanism is essentially that words connoting individualism and agency (“leadership”, “ambitious”, “challenging”), or that reflect stereotyped male traits, tend to appeal more to male applicants, while words connoting communalism or that reflect stereotyped female traits appeal more to female applicants.

They attempt some analysis of Treasury’s experience with the tool  (emphasis added)

To look at gendered language in Treasury job ads in general and the possible impact of the use of this tool, we sampled 40 job ads posted by male and female hiring managers, 20 before and 20 after the introduction of the use of the tool in March 2016 as a recommended practice in Treasury recruitment.

Looking at the pre-2016 ads, it is notable that male and female hiring managers tended to code their ads towards their own gender, with male managers in particular tending to use strongly “masculine” language. Post 2016, male managers showed roughly balanced gender coding in their ads, while female managers showed a dominance of masculine-coded ads. The preponderance of strong gender coding increased after the introduction of the use of the tool, the opposite to what one would expect if the tool alerted managers to unintended or unnecessary gendered language in ads and if the managers wanted to attract gender-balanced pools of applicants (as they are encouraged to do by Treasury policy).

So those were “quotas” again, in that final sentence?  I’d hope Treasury managers, male and female, wanted the best pool of applicants, based on ability to do the job, not based on some institutional gender quota approach (that seems to disregard the fact –  demonstrated earlier in the paper –  that at least among economists, there will only be half as many women as men in the overall pool to atract applications from).

The authors reflect

Faced with this somewhat surprising result…..we looked at the nature of the jobs advertised themselves, and this exercise suggested to us some limits to the effect that scrubbing job ads of unintended gendered language can have on the gender split of applicants, including for economics jobs. The masculine-coded ads tended to be for jobs in the analytical functions of the Treasury, and “analysis” is coded as a masculine word by the Gender Decoder. Treasury also routinely presents itself as “ambitious” and a “leader” – another masculine-coded word – in the area of economic policy. The feminine-coded ads tended to be for “support” and corporate jobs, with an emphasis on “collaboration” – both feminine-coded words.

Dear, oh dear.  Treasury management has for some time been using an HR tool that treats “analysis” as some nasty male word.    Perhaps this paragraph should lead Ng and his senior management colleagues to rethink, and to wonder whether zeal and ideological presuppositions have not been not been outstripping evidence and analysis?

The Ng and Morrissey paper concludes this way

This paper has reviewed the position of women in economic theory, economics education and economics practice. We argued that the role of women and care work is insufficiently incorporated into mainstream economic models and approaches, and illustrated how a more gender-sensitive approach could enrich a particularly gender-blind sub-discipline – macroeconomics. We then documented the lack of a deep pipeline of women entering the profession, and the gender imbalance at senior levels in our own economic Ministry.


We conclude that the position of women in all three areas of economics is unsatisfactory. While the quality of management and decision making in general has been shown to benefit from diversity in general, in the delivery of quality economic policy advice that benefits all New Zealanders, it is particularly important that a diversity of perspectives is represented.

As a profession we have lots of work to do.

Eric Crampton has previously challenged  as “wishful thinking” (or worse) the Secretary to the Treasury’s repeated insistence on the substantive benefits from “diversity” (population diversity, rather than diversity of view).  Other recent New Zealand research has challenged that proposition too.

The Treasury seems to have become committed to the modish view that how one analyses an issue depends on where one comes from (at least race and sex, although presumably their logic applies to age, religion, birthplace, and all the other trendy identity markers).  As an institution, they now have a huge distance to go, lots of work to do, to restore a reputation for analytical excellence.  Between their institutional weaknesses and the lack of demand for excellence from our politicians, it is no wonder our serious economic problems aren’t seriously addressed.  Pursuing modish causes, no doubt ones in favour with the government of the day, is easier I guess.

The former Minister of Finance, Bill English, had many weak points in his political record.  Among them was his decision a few years ago to support the reappointment of Gabs Makhlouf as Secretary to the Treasury (when, within the law, he’d have been quite within his rights to have asked SSC to find someone who might actually restore the quality of Treasury we once had).    We are the poorer for that degradation of what was once a strong, robust, and analytically-driven institution.  Politicians make policy, and a good Treasury can’t force them to make good policy, but a poor Treasury gives them all the excuses they need to avoid tackling the real issues (while revelling in the feel-good content-lite nature of the coming Wellbeing Budget).

In the meantime, one has to wonder about the opportunity cost of the Ng/Morrissey paper.  Time spent writing it, is (taxpayers’) time that could have been used for tackling some real issues.




34 thoughts on “Treasury and modish ideological agendas

  1. Similar thoughts went through my head on reading the paper. I chuckled at the now-obligatory Sen cite.

    I did update my post minorly since your blockquote: on re-reading the piece, I can’t tell whether they scrubbed the word analyst in the first place and then thought better of it, or whether they didn’t scrub it. I’ve updated accordingly. But it is perhaps not coincidental that the 2017-18 recruitment cohorts were abysmal if you think that they should be hiring economists.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh – it’s also fun that while the annual report stats on gender and ethnicity seem rather complete, their stats on the proportion of staff with training in economics are woeful. In my OIA on it, they didn’t know the field of specialisation of 4 of their 8 PhD-holders. But I guess they know their ethnic background and gender.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Making any comment is tantamount to taking this seriously. It does give us an opportunity for a laugh. I’m thinking about Helen Clark or Jacinda Ardern being frightened from applying if the words “leadership”, “ambitious”, “challenging” were used in an advert. My quiet neice Alys would find them magnetic but then every job she had for the first half of her career involved her being promoted over the male who initially employed her. At my home we have two adult males and one granddaughter in nappies while the two adult women go out and earn. The trouble with this kind of rubbish is there are so many exceptions that the categories become meaningless.

    I searched to find someting to disagree with and found two. Firstly there ought to be a law against showing any split by ethnicity or at least making certain it never adds up to 100%. If the Treasury real does allocate its staff into unique ethnicities then it is being racist and ought to be reported to our race relations commissioner.

    My second issue is with your statement: ” but then, not being a New Zealander, he doesn’t have much motivation to care “. With so many New Zealanders happy to emigrate you cannot assume they have a greater motivation than a foreigner. My own experience having worked in UK, PNG & NZ is I felt far more strongly motivated to be doing the best I could for PNG than I did for Britain or New Zealand. Often foreigners are more motivated to prove their worth (of course the examples of Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin may not be ideal). Where patriotism does have significance is at lower levels; if Novopay had be written in NZ as it should have been then the humble coders would have died of embarassment before allowing such a rubbish system go live.

    It is unlikely the Treasury authors (BTW presumably Morrissey is female?) will be reading the comments but just in case they are I have a suggestion for them. The word ‘Treasury’ clearly denotes a male activity. For example using Google to get a definition “”a place or building where treasure is stored. ‘Henry VII had kept the peace and filled his treasury’ “”.
    Fortunately their is a suitably female replacement. I look forward to reading on the government website “The New Zealand Purse is the central public service department of New Zealand charged with advising the Government on economic policy, assisting with improving the performance of New Zealand’s economy, and managing financial resources.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Had Makhlouf been an immigrant I’d have entirely agreed with you. He came on a work visa late in his career, was granted NZ citizenship under the Peter Thiel “exceptional” rule just so he could be made Secretary (there were thin pickings), and it seems likely he’ll go back to the UK in retirement.

      Yes Morrissey is female. I try not to focus on individual junior staff when I’m critical of papers from govt agencies.

      [UPDATE: A reader advises that Morrissey is more experienced than I had realised. My point, however, was that in commenting on papers from public service agencies, particularly when being critical, I try not to highlight people below senior management levels, since (a) the senior people have responsibiility for the contents, and (b) less senior people usually have no effective opportunity to respond.]

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re gonna hate this gents but I am afraid the gender stuff rings kinda true to me. As a young girl I was always fascinated by politics and economics – I remember in 1984 as an 8 year old following the election with Muldoon, Lange, Jones and Betham intensely. I was fascinated by the differences between Soviet and western economies and social systems. I loved political economy. I was fully aware of the Cold War. Of Rogernomics and Ruthenasia. I was very aware for a young child. I did a form 3 social studies project on the deregulation of broadcasting.

    But when I went to university something about the macho culture of the political science and economics departments put off a introverted, quiet studious girl who wasn’t quick to assert her opinions and preferred to carefully consider things. So I took refuge in languages and literature which had a more humble, caring atmosphere. Big mistake which I regret deeply now cause I was very good at maths and science at high school and would have done much better to go into economics and maybe policy.

    The macho, adverserial culture is off-putting. I know you probably say its my fault for not being tough enough. But you see as a young girl – when these decisions are made – emotional security matters. I didn’t follow my true interests because I felt uncomfortable – I felt like a small, quiet, feminine girl didn’t belong.

    I can only speak for my own experience. But it was real enough to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting. I have absolutely no memory of the culture for my BSc being remotely either macho or adversarial, it was rather nerdy You might have felt conspicuous in my 1st year maths class with over 100 young men and maybe five women. But I expect things have changed since 1968.

      From what you say the problem is at university not job adverts after university. My niece mentioned in a previous comment is precisely described as ‘small, quiet, feminine’ but she left school at 16; obtained her accountancy qualifications extramurally and has been very successful ever since. I think the basis of her success in male dominated finance has been a combination of her brains with a self-confidence which was apparent before she was 3. When we met a month ago she told me having made enough money now she only took fixed length contract jobs where she had a serious challenge because otherwise she would get bored. My point being removing the words ‘challenging’ and ‘leadership’ from adverts would be counter-productive for her.


      • Whereas I vividly recall one (wholly male) honours economics course, which turned into a year-long fairly vigorous debate (mainly between me and the lecturer) about (monetary aspects of) British economic policy in the early 80s (this was 1983).


      • Novice, you do demonstrate the main giant problem with women making decisions.

        1. You’re gonna hate this gents
        2. something about the macho culture
        3. I loved political economy
        4. which had a more humble, caring atmosphere
        5. Big mistake which I regret deeply
        6. macho, adverserial culture is off-putting
        7. I felt uncomfortable – I felt like a small, quiet, feminine girl didn’t belong

        Within a very small paragraph you have proven the emotional decision, conflict and self doubt that goes on and on with most women. This is not a gender issue. This is a self esteem issue and now women want to force onto the world this sort of decision making emotional conflicts.

        If any male thought in this manner they would do exactly as you have done. Try and disappear and then blame the rest of society. Your problem is that is that you are fixated that it is the fault of someone else. It is the fault of something else.

        I encounter this sort of blame someone else and you have the complete solution for your problem in training staff all my working life. Stop blaming someone or something else and you will achieve more in your life career because success is about self development and it is easier to change yourself than to change a group culture.


    • Actually, your comments do resonate with me. But on the university side of things, they only take one so far in understanding what has happened to numbers of women studying economics. Quite probably, a relatively aggressive male style of debating etc would have pervaded law schools in the past, and yet these days a majority of law students are female (and, who knows, at the margin the likely resulting style change may now deter some males from doing law?)

      In terms of institutions, the sort of things you talk about (especially eg the style of debate which was often “robust” to say the least) was clearly something of an issue at the Reserve Bank in days gone by (80s and 90s), and seemed to contribute to a number of able young women self-selecting a move to another agency with a somewhat different culture (eg Treasury). The culture was improved in that specific area (altho some would probably still argue that in consequence the contest of ideas/facts is less strong than it was), but the Bank is still a place where the upper levels of policy/economics role are as (numerically) male-dominated as they were 30 years ago. I think preferences/interests are part of that specific story (to the extent women do economics, there is a more of a tendency to gravitate to sub-disciplines other than macro and finance, and there were only a handful of female applicants to be Governor, but the outcomes still should be a bit troubling. I don’t think it affects policy choices/outcomes – the claim of the ng/morrissey paper – but it doesn’t make it a non-issue.

      (And, as I said to another commenter, in my experience of both institutions, the Treasury has long performed better in this area than the RB.)

      Liked by 1 person

    • What I find is the main issue with women is their over reliance on emotional decision making ie womens intuition which is more wrong than right. Men tend to make decisions based on logic which allows them to be more persuasive than “I feel that is the right way”. 9 times out of 10, this is the basis of an argument with women. Nothing to do with gender bias.


      • GGS: strange; I find precisely the opposite. Men make decisions with gut feel and women usually make decisions with more care and logical justification. Maybe it just the men and the women we have met.


      • Well, if you examine the small paragraph written by Novice. It is laden with emotional self doubt. The decisions she has made throughout her career has been emotional. If it was careful analysis, she would have weighed the pros and cons and made a decision on that basis rather than ” I feel this and I feel that and I make the wrong decision and now I feel regret????” How is that careful analysis?


      • Most men go with their gut after weighing up the pros and the cons. If they are of equal weighting in pros and cons then if a decision has to be made then you go with your gut and get it done. It is more a intelligent guess. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly do not say men make the right decisions but it is usually a considered decision even if there are some pros and cons missing in the decision.

        It is like the male dominated NZ economists that just can’t factor in 10 million cows in their productivity equations and relegating the NZ economy towards a highly government subsidised Primary industry bent at the expense of incubation subsidies in manufacturing in NZ.


  5. The thing I find sad about this is I think it tends to trivialize the cultural issues with workplaces that actually impede female equality and progression, alleging that obscure terminology adjustments will solve what are actually big cultural issues. And issues where there is empirical evidence supporting a real tangible solution!

    Most schools today rightly teach young women to challenge stereotypes and believe in themselves, not try to dampen down terminology to make them feel more comfortable trying to fit in.

    Changing everyday accepted (inoffensive) words isn’t going to have a big impact from our current starting point which is pretty poor. We need to see leadership and culture change top down. I think NZ is actually behind the rest of the world in this and we aren’t well served by distractions from the core leadership and culture issues. Just look at the Russell McVeagh scandal; who has been held accountable for this? And compare this vs the number of high profile US exec’s that have been axed in the wake of #metoo.

    Shareholders and stakeholders of organizations need to take stronger action top down to remove gender biases and bad culture embedded in organizations. Set examples, change poor exec leaders and effect change.

    I actually like Treasury’s focus on balanced gender executive leadership as this is empirically proven to improve organizational performance in private companies. Women are at least as talented as men and leaders lead and change culture, so no surprises there.

    However it needs to be more than just a quota approach, boards can’t abdicate responsibility to ensure a healthy culture.

    And the reality in NZ is pretty poor. I suspect we have all worked in organizations where blokey, crass, offensive behaviour is led from the top.
    Where leadership seeks to pay lip service to “equality” through pet projects or token appointments, and then tells offensive jokes at office parties expecting all staff to respond with obligatory chuckles. The consequence is inevitably highly talented women leaving once they can no longer stand the culture or are passed over for promotion once too often (often because perceived as a threat by senior males/CEOs who prefer token gestures they can manage).

    If Treasury wants to put its money where its mouth is, Maklouf should resign and a new Secretary should be appointed. And make it unbiased. In fact I would say let’s specifically seek out the most talented female economist leader available globally and no expense spared to hire. Guaranteed such a person would change culture positively and I would also be pretty confident a qualified female leader would actually be completely focused on core mission of best practice economic analysis and value add to improve NZ economic performance, not token gestures that a bloke is inevitably going to pursue…


      • I’ve referenced that meta study frequently. The point, and also in my (earlier) post below is about EXEC leadership, not governance/boards.


    • Just on your last two paragraphs, actually (in ref to Matt’s link below) the “blokiest” senior manager I ever had much to do with – fortunately not working for directly – was Adrian Orr.

      But on Tsy (and the RB), in my observation over 30+ years, I really don’t think any issues are
      “Where leadership seeks to pay lip service to “equality” through pet projects or token appointments, and then tells offensive jokes at office parties expecting all staff to respond with obligatory chuckles.”, let alone Russell McVeagh stuff. And, at least relative to the Bank, when I worked there Tsy was a place that was good at providing flexible work arrangements, had strong female managers etc etc. I’d be surprised if that has changed, which is partly why I struggle to think Makhlouf is responding to real issues, rather than being driven off stats and implicit quotas.

      On your final para, isn’t there a tension: you call for an “unbiased” selection, and yet also talk of seeking out a female economist? I’d strongly oppose the latter route, for two reasons (actually three): filling any specific role based on sex is wronf (and almost certainly illegal); senior roles like this should be filled by NZers (as they would be in almost any other country), and the priority should be lifting the analysis, not meeting quotas. A really good person, of either sex, would do that. A person chosen to fit gender agendas – of either gender – is unlikely to have got where they are by being a fearless leader of high quality analysts and policy advisers.


      • Was more thinking aloud in the last para about what might make a statement and break the glass ceiling. Agree a unbiased search is preferable but if Tsy or RBNZ is fully committed to making a statement then I’d say start at the top (as this is where change starts), don’t put in old dinosaurs that will make token gestures. And I’d imagine there are great candidates around as others have mentioned.
        And at least then we would have a hypothesis tested so it would be put up time!


      • There has been a story doing the rounds for a while that Peter Hughes might be keen to appoint a female secretary to the treasury, to be able to say it had been done. There was one particular female govt dept ceo mentioned. From all i’ve heard (and the little i’ve seen) it would not be a move that would be likely to lift treasury’s policy performance.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Wrong, it is usually not a gender bias issue. It is a self esteem issue and more women have this problem which mentally they just can’t get past that hurdle and then they blame the rest of society.


  6. “” balanced gender executive leadership as this is empirically proven to improve organizational performance in private companies””. How does this evidence reconcile with comparisons between one country and another? I have the impression that Japan has a male dominated corporate culture but their private compnies have competed well with the rest of the world during my lifetime. The most dramatically successful private businesses in recent years are found in Silicon valley which is famously male dominated. With no evidence other than a lifetime working in various businesses I suspect whatever empirical evidence has been collected will indicate a marginal performance improvement probably within the margins of error.
    So Treasury should be searching for the best people and should expect about half of them to be female; they should do so because it is the right thing to do but don’t expect it to make much difference.

    On the other hand working in a PNG trading company I noticed the chief buyer for childrens and ladies clothing was an elderly male Australian and his assistants were mainly male non-graduate Melanesians; they were not successful. There are jobs where a woman has an advantage.


    • The research evidence is:
      1. Absolutely no evidence that gender diversity on boards makes a jot of difference to company performance (Wharton meta study a year or so ago)
      2. Meaningful evidence that diversity in senior EXEC roles improves company performance by a meaningful amount (McKinsey study recently refreshed)

      Unfortunately in NZ the McKinsey study is used to justify board gender diversity. I put this down to a mix of incompetence, illiteracy and laziness (ie people just read the headlines not the studies).

      I would expect public agencies to get the same impact for exec change.

      It all comes down to leadership and shining a light on bad behaviour and culture to change it. Boards also need to be more active on this, ensuring male CEO diversity actions aren’t just a Smokescreen.

      To Matt’s point below, the RBNZ board should support exec diversity but not just accept the Guvnors word or stats; they should get to know what the culture is and require good metrics – how many women were passed over for training or promotion? What are the churn rates for women vs men by Level? Interview senior female leavers (without the CEO present) to understand reasons to leave.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You may have seen this a few months back?:

    The ideological takeover seems complete. And it seems it has been won without our most highly paid professional economists asking why a gender imbalance might legitimately exist (experience, hours worked, preferences etc.) and whether these factors might account for much of the disparity.

    (i) If there is some internal statistical analysis proving the underlying presumption of systemic bias in their hiring and pay policies, can they produce it?

    (ii) Is there some reason to believe the economics profession should necessarily be 50/50 – why should it when university enrollments don’t suggest that?

    (iii) With the use of quotas are they wanting to now enforce equality of outcome? If so, this would seem to be a big (and contentious) leap from equality of opportunity.

    Before presuming bias, and introducing quotas in hiring and pay policies – which will necessarily introduce bias where none may currently exist – I would hope they could answer these three questions.

    In the paper today “NZTA to change ‘line men’ signs to ‘line crew’ ” – fair enough, but I wonder if they will be pushing for gender balance in the “line crews”. Suspect not.


    • Thanks. I hadn’t seen that article or those comments. I find them pretty troubling, for some of the sorts of reasons you suggest, although as I noted in a comment a few months ago

      “I agree that sex is not, and should not be, a relevant criterion in the selection of a Governor. But I also recognise that in a powerful public sector institution, with a high public profile and pervasive impact, in this era it isn’t necessarily inappropriate that questions should be asked to understand why, after 84 years there has never been a women appointed to a policy or operational senior management position (Governors, or heads of economics, financial markets, macrofinanancial stability, prudential regulation, or even notes and coins). For years, I defended those outcomes as mostly reflecting preferences (far more men end up doing macro and finance – and far more women do health and social economics etc), and I still think there is something to that story, but I’m no longer convinced it is enough of an explanation – substantively or politically. After all, Janet Yellen has just stepped down, and the RBA has two pretty impressive female Assistant Governors.”

      The Bank’s belated disclosure of the numbers of female applicants for Governor is interesting: such a small proportion in an entirely self-selecting sample. Whatever else it speaks to, it does suggest a pretty small pool of people with the experience/preferences to even apply. The short-list progression numbers are too small to be meaningful, but for what it is worth, a smaller proportion of female applicants got to the long shortlist than the male ones. And the Board – doing the selection – was, at the time, 50% female.

      The Bank/Treasury contrast is interesting. In the two years I spent at Tsy, now a while ago, I was struck by the much higher proportion of women in economics/policy roles, but also by the way the institutional culture/policies were more actively accommodating to people (mostly women) interested in part-time or job-sharing roles. It was the only time in my working life when I went to meetings where sometimes I was the only male (altho these typically weren’t meetings on macro or finance issues). The Bank’s attitudes were different – mostly for the worse – but culture change is also self-reinforcing (when one sees something different work, it encourages both management and staff to be more confident that it is a viable model)>

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I can just imagine a female economics grad looking for work. Having an idea that working for the Treasury would be a significant string in her bow (maybe?) she keeps an eye out for job openings there. One comes up, she looks at it eagerly. Mournfully she passes up the opportunity – looks like they want a bloke. they used ‘analysis’ to describe the process of looking at a problem and weighing up the pros and cons of various solutions. “If only they had used “scrutinize” I might have had a chance” she wails to her mother. “there, there” her mother Germaine says soothingly. “Someday something will come up.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Women – instinct. Men – logic. Ergo, men more rational, more effective at economics. Look, I was just being honest about the way I felt that I would never “fit in” socially at a tender age to a very male-dominated world.That had nothing to do with my ability to understand the way GDP is calculated or how to derive an LM curve. I suspect men have many emotional turmoils such as this – it’s just somehow okay for women to admit them. Men keep them under wraps and suppress them as that is what is required of them often to the point of self-destruction and violence. Perhaps things are different now but I was brought up in a family in the 1980s with an older conservative father who openly said with great aplomb that women didn’t need to be educated properly cause they had babies and my academic nature -such as being good at maths – was seen as nice but a frivolous curiosity of no consequence. I was encouraged in other more traditional directions. This kind of thing has an impact on ones “self-esteem” (a concept I sort of loathe because part of the problem with the world is that people have all together too much self-esteem these days) that is beyond your immediate control. Of course now I can deal with that and go against it – but at 19 when you make life choices about careers it is harder. LIfe is a mix of societal coercion combined with autonomous decision-making. The mixed messages we give young women every day about what it is to be a successful woman are a stream of contradictions that are difficult to navigate and engender self-doubt. Hypersexualisation of young girls for one. I encourage you to read some feminist writers to understand this ambivalent uneasy existence better. Yes we are different to men, but we are not what history so far has encouraged us to be – hence our general dissatisfaction. One day we’ll find some kind of authentic existence that doesn’t chaff on the skin like the current messy compromise.


    • So small influences when you are young can deflect the your life’s path. Changes to wordings in job advertisements will not correct mistakes made earlier in life.

      Your point about mixed messages leading to self-doubt is supported by an american academic study titled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness”.
      It is 48 pages and I’ve only skimmed it.

      From the introduction “”By many measures the progress of women over recent decades has been extraordinary: the gender wage gap has partly closed; educational attainment has risen and is now surpassing that of men; women have gained an unprecedented level of control over fertility; technological change in the form of new domestic appliances has freed women from domestic drudgery; and women’s freedoms within both the family and market sphere have expanded.”” ……….. “”Given these shifts of rights and bargaining power from men to women over the past 35 years, holding all else equal, we might expect to see a concurrent shift in happiness toward women and away from men. Yet we document in this paper that measures of women’s subjective well-being have fallen both absolutely and relatively to that of men.””

      and jumping to the conclusion: “”The increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood of believing that one’s life is not measuring up. Similarly, women may now compare their lives to a broader group, including men, and find their lives more likely to come up short in this assessment””


    • Thanks for your further comments, which make a lot of sense to me (including the observation about (excess) self-esteem). I guess what is also important to recognise is that there are wide distributions of interest/ability/personality across both aggregate groups (“men” and “women”), and lots of overlap (eg on average men run faster than women, but I’m sure most women could run faster than me). On economics study in decades past, I was reflecting that my mother was studying honours/masters economics at university in the late 1940s when, as she used to observe, most of her classmates were ex-servicemen (and she herself was the pretty reserved product of a Baptist family).

      If there is an (on average) difference between men and women in interest in studying economics I suspect it has much to do between a taste for intellectual abstractions and a taste for the concrete/specific/relational. At very least, it would be consistent with the way in which macroeconomics tends to be more male-dominated than many other sub-disciplines.


    • Frankly I don’t think you have actually missed much by not being an economist. My ex-wife studied and completed a Bachelors degree in Economics. In NZ she worked for a Fund Manager as a senior Financial Analyst. It was hard work but it was challenging and she got the opportunity to meet and interview some of the most senior chief executives of Public Companies at the time. I was just one of many accountants in Fletcher Challenge Properties division. My pay was more than double hers with a company vehicle on top and I had only half her skills in the financial area. Women in similar accountants jobs had a similar pay but they were difficult to work with. For some reason they overcompensated for their self-esteem issue and then developed a big chip on their shoulders.

      But I did encourage her to change to accountancy as Fletcher was paying the Office Manager and various accounting clerks her equivalent pay and she did so, to start again from the bottom and re-studied and completed a Chartered Accountants. She is now a Financial Controller earning $150k plus. It took 7 years part time study and she started off in Credit Control.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s