Friday, May 20, 2011

Women at I.M.F. Find Themselves Vulnerable

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, the lender of last resort for governments that need money and, under the leadership of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, an emerging force in the regulation of the global economy.

But with Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s arrest earlier this week and indictment on Thursday on charges that he tried to rape a New York hotel housekeeper, a spotlight has been cast on the culture of the institution. And questions have been revived about a 2008 episode in which the I.M.F. decided that Mr. Strauss-Kahn had not broken any rules in sleeping with a female employee.

What may draw even more attention to the culture of the fund is the revelation of an affair involving a potential successor to Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who resigned as managing director on Wednesday. Kemal Dervis of Turkey had a liaison while working at the World Bank years ago with a woman who now works at the I.M.F., according to a person with direct knowledge of the relationship.

Interviews and documents paint a picture of the fund as an institution whose sexual norms and customs are markedly different from those of Washington, leaving its female employees vulnerable to harassment. The laws of the United States do not apply inside its walls, and until earlier this month the I.M.F.’s own rules contained an unusual provision that some experts and former officials say has encouraged managers to pursue the women who work for them: “Intimate personal relationships between supervisors and subordinates do not, in themselves, constitute harassment.”

“It’s sort of like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’; the rules are more like guidelines,” said Carmen M. Reinhart, a prominent female economist who served as the I.M.F.’s deputy director for research from 2001 to 2003. “That sets the stage, I think, for more risk-taking.”

In 2007, officials at the fund declined to investigate a complaint by an administrative assistant who had slept with her supervisor, and who charged that he had given her poor performance reviews to pressure her to continue the relationship. Officials told the woman that the supervisor planned to retire soon, and therefore there was no point in investigating the charges, according to findings by the I.M.F.’s internal court.

The official, who is not named in the records, told investigators that he also had a sexual relationship with a second employee, and that he did not believe he had acted improperly.

In another case, a young woman who has since left the I.M.F. said that in 2009, a senior manager in her department started sending her increasingly explicit e-mails seeking a relationship. She complained to her boss, who did not take any action.

“They said they took it seriously, but two minutes later they were turning around and acting like everything was O.K. to the person who had done it to me,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she still works in the international development community. “He wasn’t punished. Not at all.”

Virginia R. Canter, who joined the I.M.F. last year with responsibility for investigating harassment claims, said the institution recently took a series of strong steps to protect employees. A new code of conduct adopted on May 6 specifies that intimate relationships with subordinates “are likely to result in conflicts of interest” and must be disclosed to the proper authorities.

DSK is a pig and yet one of the more progressive chiefs the IMF has seen since its inception. What are the chances of getting just as big a pig and a more regressive, less helpful chief in the turnover? Are there ANY progressive, humanistic, decent bankers in the world? ANY?

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