“Some women avoid wearing skirts for fear of attracting unwanted attention. Others trade whispered tips about overly forward bosses. A 2008 internal review found few restraints on the conduct of senior managers, concluding that ‘the absence of public ethics scandals seems to be more a consequence of luck than good planning and action.’ ”
“This is life at the International Monetary Fund,” according to a front-page story in today’s New York Times . “A sharp-elbowed place ruled by alpha male economists” where just six of the 30 senior executives are women, only 21.5 percent of all managers are women compared with 32 percent at the World Bank and 26 percent at the United Nations secretariat.
The more I read about the IMF’s “sexual norms and customs,” the angrier I got. That it took a rape allegation against IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn to get upper management at this important and influential organization to openly and self-critically discuss a culture that leaves “female employees vulnerable to harassment,” is shamefully unacceptable.
One woman told the Times that she got poor job performance reviews after refusing to continue sleeping with a supervisor, the same supervisor who “told investigators that he also had a sexual relationship with a second employee, and that he did not believe he had acted improperly.” Another employee said a manager in her department harassed her with increasingly sexually explicit emails. She complained to superiors but says: “He wasn’t punished. Not at all.”
Even Piroska M. Nagy, the Hungarian economist who had a consensual relationship with Strauss-Kahn, which led to an internal investigation by the IMF and a public apology from Strauss-Kahn, complained that she felt pressured into getting involved with him. In a letter to investigators she wrote that she was “damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.”
“There is this implicit culture that this wasn’t really seen as something that the fund is going to worry about, and I think that’s what bothered women.” said Susan Schadler, a former deputy director of the European department who spent 32 years at the fund.
It was DSK’s relationship with Nagy that led the IMF to adopt a new code of conduct on May 6, requiring that intimate relationships with subordinates be disclosed and warning they “are likely to result in conflicts of interest.”
Virginia R. Canter, who joined the IMF last year and is responsible for investigating harassment claims, told the Times the new policy was among a series of strong steps to protect employees. Would it not have been more effective to ban these relationships, or at the very least require that subordinates involved with supervisors be moved to a different department and report to a different supervisor? How about a zero-tolerance policy that says if you harass an employee who rejects your advances you will be fired, period.
Now we learn that one of the leading candidates for Strauss-Kahn’s job is Kemal Dervis of Turkey who had “a liaison” with a woman who now works at the IMF when he worked at the World Bank.
How do they get any work done at these institutions what with all the trysts and affairs and the resulting emotional and professional repercussions?
“Culturally, there are a lot of people thrown together,” Susan Schadler, the former director, told the Times . “There’s a lot of scope for misunderstanding, misreading signals. I think that’s a particular vulnerability for the fund.”
She makes a valid point but what’s also apparent is that at the IMF and similar institutions dominated by these so-called “alpha-males” there is a widespread and seemingly congenital sense of entitlement among powerful men who see women colleagues, whether willing to engage in intimate relationships or not, as theirs for the taking. The United Nations and the World Bank have also had their problems. This mentality can and sometimes does have an insidious effect on how male employees across the board, from the mailroom to the boardroom, view and treat women colleagues.
That said, the women who feel coerced into relationships with male supervisors need to understand that the best way to change this culture of entitlement is not to engage in it. If they feel harassed they should complain, and forcefully. If they are ignored they should go public, seek legal redress, or find a new job.