In Conversation with Caroline Abel, Catia Tomasetti, Jorgovanka Tabaković, and Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus: Reflections on a Successful Career in Central Banking

January 18, 2022

Across the globe, central banks and other regulatory agencies face a persistent and significant gender gap in leadership. Today, the number of women serving as Governor—the most senior position—at a Central Bank totals only 14, illustrating a clear need for greater diversity in leadership.

In Part I of this Q&A, Women’s World Banking spoke with four female Governors from the Central Banks of Malaysia, San Marino, Serbia, and Seychelles to discuss the barriers keeping women from advancing in their careers, the key qualities needed to succeed at the helm of a Central Bank, the role of women leaders in advocating for workplace inclusivity, and the struggle of maintaining work-life balance.

About the Governors:

Caroline Abel has served as Governor of the Central Bank of Seychelles since March 2012. She is the first woman in Seychelles appointed to this position.

Catia Tomasetti has served as President of the Central Bank of San Marino since May 2018. She is the first female to have been appointed to this position by The Great and General Council (the Parliament of the Republic of San Marino).

Jorgovanka Tabaković has served as Governor of the National Bank of Serbia since August 2012. She is the second woman to hold this position and has served longer than any predecessor, male or female, in the past 95 years.

Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus has served as Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia (the Central Bank of Malaysia) since July 2018, having previously served as Deputy Governor. She is the second woman to hold this position.

Q: There are only 14 female Central Bank Governors in the world. Why do you think there are so few?

President Tomasetti: There are a few reasons why women may not be advancing to the top ranks as quickly as men are. One is a lack of role models. Without more women paving the way, those entering the field may find the path more challenging to navigate or may not even know there is one. Seeing other women in senior-level roles in the financial services industry creates a ripple effect, motivating other women to join.

Governor Abel: I would not say that there are one or two reasons that this is the case. I think this is very dependent on the society where we are. When I look at our own experience at the Central Bank of Seychelles and look at the issues that women face, I think society needs to put in place more flexibility for women to thrive and move up [in their careers]. There’s a lot of responsibility on you as a professional, so for women this is tough, because if you have children, you have to make sure that there is a support system around you that will help.

Governor Nor Shamsiah: There are a myriad of factors that explain this, and I do not want to oversimplify things, especially to make generalizations. However, what I can say about my own observation about things in Malaysia is that women tend to assume the lion’s share of family care and housework. At the same time, the stage when staff are considered for larger and more senior roles comes when family responsibilities will likely be most pronounced. These are some factors that hinder the progression of women to senior roles in organizations.

Q: In your opinion, what leadership traits are needed to succeed at the top level of a Central Bank?

Governor Abel: Keeping relationships is an important aspect. When you are in a leadership role at the top, you can feel alone, especially when you have to make decisions that might not be accepted by the majority. You will be in the minority, so you need to know how to navigate, and get insights that maybe you have not contemplated.

Governor Tabaković: I accepted the Governor’s role as a duty to do good and useful things for the country and for our citizens. I am trying to prove that it is possible to be responsible and just. The life principle of those who wish to do good must be “I did it,” not “I wanted to do it”—results, not excuses.

President Tomasetti: I feel strongly that the greatest quality any leader can have is vision: the ability to see the big picture of where the Central Bank is headed, what it’s capable of, and what it will take to get there. Equally as important is the ability to convey that vision to others and get them excited about it.

Governor Nor Shamsiah: It is important for a good leader to be able to deliver results through others. This involves creating an enabling environment so that our people are able to perform at their best. This isn’t only just about spending time putting in place policies and frameworks for the organization, but also in the small things, like saying “thank you.” This also means providing a clear vision and direction for the organization.

Q: In your view, do female Governors drive a greater focus on inclusive policy design or practices?

Governor Tabaković: I believe it is crucial to have both men and women at the table when making important decisions, because this broadens perspectives and diversifies talents and competencies. Women bring new skills to the workplace; they put greater focus on transparency and ethics, and this increases trust in policymakers and strengthens the framework for inclusive economic policies. Working together on achieving our shared goals is the only way to produce results and to foster dynamic and inclusive growth.

Governor Nor Shamsiah: My priority in leading the Central Bank is to try to do things in as inclusive a manner as possible, not just in striving to provide support to women, but also to ensure that whatever we do—be it deciding on policy or otherwise—fully harnesses the power of diversity, be it diversity of perspectives, life experiences, ideas, or ways of solving problems. After all, gender diversity is only one aspect of diversity.

Governor Abel: The pandemic also showed us that individuals who are not in the formal sector of the economy were hard hit, and we needed to have systems to make sure that they were supported. I think our world now recognizes that we need to have inclusive policies and women at the forefront to make sure that these policies are actually implemented. And I’ve seen a lot of countries, especially in Africa, where women are at the very forefront of getting inclusive policies implemented.

Q: How do you manage work-life balance?

Governor Nor Shamsiah: My job requires me to be always “on,” and so what I have is effectively “work-life integration” and not so much “work-life balance.” I do try to block off and protect some time in my busy schedule for myself and my family. 

Governor Tabaković: To me, the position of Governor will never be a mere function. This is my life. My fellow Governors will understand what I mean when I say that the work of a Governor is never done, just as the financial markets never sleep. Time is the only precious thing that is truly ours, and to me it is the most precious, which is why I try not to waste it foolishly.

Governor Abel: I would say during the week it’s quite tough to have one, but I make sure that I spend time with my family over the weekend because I also recognize the contribution that they made for me to be where I am today and their acceptance of the role I have taken and what comes with it.

President Tomasetti: My job isn’t just a means of making money, but a key part of my lifestyle. I have spent a significant part of my adult life trying to establish work-life balance, and no matter how hard I tried, one (usually work) took over the other. People think that I’m a stronger woman because I achieve all my goals in my job. They have no idea how much my husband has proven to be my strength throughout the years.


We are grateful for the support of the core funder of our 2021 Leadership & Diversity Programs, the Credit Suisse Foundation.