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Can female board members help make banks more robust?


Recruiting a greater proportion of women onto boards may lead to more stable banking institutions, a new report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggests.

Institutions with a higher proportion of female board directors appeared to have a greater "distance to distress," defined as the amount of buffers that banks have against shocks to earnings, according to the IMF.

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"Women's financial exclusion limits the growth-promoting potential of finance and it may also prove costly in terms of lower financial stability," the report, published on Tuesday, said.

"Several empirical specifications show that, on average, stability is significantly higher in banks with a higher fraction of women in the board of directors," the authors state later.

The IMF report, called "Financial inclusion: Can it meet multiple macroeconomic goals?" said that across most of the world, less than 20 percent of directors on banks' boards were female—although the number has risen sharply since 2001.

Moreover, only 15 out of roughly 800 banks across 72 countries had female chief executives in 2013, according to the report authors.

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"In both banks and supervisory institution decision-making boards, the share of women is low. Such low shares could have an impact on the risk-taking behavior of banks, on the quality of bank supervision, and ultimately on financial stability outcomes," said the report.

The authors said that the low proportion of females in boards was not because women were not inclined to work in finance. Quite the opposite—the authors said that 50 percent of business and social science graduates and 30 percent of economics graduates were female in the U.K. and U.S.—the two countries with the biggest banking sectors.

Interestingly, in 2015, low-income countries appeared to have more women (23 percent) on the boards of bank supervisory and regulatory agencies than the advanced or emerging regions.

The report also discussed how financial inclusion—including of women—helped macroeconomic indicators like GDP growth, as companies and households had better access to multiple banking services.

Conversely, If women had difficulty accessing financial resources to help their families, this could have a knock on effect not only towards them but their country's financial systems and economy as a whole.

"I'm always supportive of any measures that will actually help reduce the gender gap," the IMF's managing director, Christine Lagarde told CNBC this April, adding that growth could be increase by reducing this gender inequality.

Earlier, in February, Lagarde said that increasing women's economic participation might result in higher growth and that data showed that cracking down on discrimination towards women resulted in increased participation by females in the labor force.

—By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her on Twitter @AlexGibbsy.