European & International News

First woman appointed head of the International Monetary Fund

[Brussels, 01 July 2011] France’s finance minister, Christine Lagarde, has been appointed head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). She is the first woman to hold this post, in a sector which is heavily gendered. According to the EWL’s 2009 Statement Women, the Financial and Economic Crisis - the Urgency of a Gender Perspective, ’not one governor of the central banks of the EU Member States is a woman. Only one of the six members of the executive board of the governing council of the European Central Bank is a woman.’

Lagarde, 55, takes up the position of chief of the IMF following the resignation of her compatriot Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who quit after his arrest last month on charges of alleged sexual assault.

In the light of the recent discussions on women in decision-making positions, MEPs have welcomed the appointment of Christine Lagarde as the first woman to head the IMF.

Lagarde’s appointment will reduce the proportion of women in the French overnment to 29 per cent, far short of the gender parity that President Sarkozy pledged during his election campaign. At the same time, the top job at the IMF will be a step toward reducing the gender imbalance there. According to the annual diversity report for 2010, a mere 20 per cent of the IMF managers are women, number that places the IMF well behind the World Bank which employs 36 per cent women in management positions. [1]

European context

The appointment of Lagarde comes at a time when the EU elaborates on introducing quotas for women on boards of publicly listed companies. The European internal market and services commissioner Michel Barnier has suggested mandatory quota dictating the number of female bank board. This is an issue that Vice President Reding has also addressed in launching a "Women on the Board Pledge for Europe" and declaring herself ready to take further action at EU level if self-regulation fails.

Data shows that the lack of progress for women in power and decision-making is most worrying in the financial and economic sphere. As stated above, there was no woman head of a central bank in Europe in 2004 or in 2009. In addition, Barnier believes, quotas could help to counterbalance the "group thinking" that is blamed for increasing the effect of the financial crisis. In an interview for the Guardian Barnier expressed his belief that more diversity on boards of banks and other financial institutions, and in particular more women, will contribute not only to better gender equality, but also to better corporate governance. Statistically significant studies show that companies with a higher proportion of women on their management committees are also companies that outperform their sector in terms of return on equity, operating result and stock price growth. [2].

Related articles:

[1International Monetary Fund, Diversity report 2010. Available at: http://www.imf.org/external/np/div/2010/index.pdf

[2McKinsey & Company (2007). Women Matter: Gender diversity, a corporate performance driver. Available at: http://www.europeanpwn.net/files/mckinsey_2007_gender_matters.pdf

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