Christine Lagarde put her gender at the centre of her campaign.
"I stand here as a woman, hoping to add to the diversity and balance of this institution," she said in the statement she prepared for her interview with the International Monetary Fund's executive board last week.
But if Ms. Lagarde is serious about boosting the number of women at the IMF, she has her work cut out for her. The fund's annual diversity report for 2010 showed that only 20 per cent of managers were women, an improvement from previous years that nonetheless left the IMF well behind its sister institution, the World Bank, where women hold 36 per cent of management jobs.
The fund already has set a goal to raise the proportion of women in management to at least 25 per cent by 2014. Going forward, it says it will aspire to hire as many women as it does men. That will be a radical shift: Only a quarter of the fund's economists are women.
But Ms. Lagarde will have a tough time attracting more women to the IMF because there are many good reasons to seek employment elsewhere.
Some governments in developing countries will refuse to take advice from women because of cultural attitudes, said Bessma Momani, a Canadian scholar who specializes in the governance of the IMF.
Then there's the issue of pay. There was a time when the IMF was an employer of choice, offering relatively high salaries. But that's no longer the case, as the relatively few women who become economists can obtain equally good or better salaries on Wall Street or in academia, Prof. Momani said.
"She's going to find it very difficult to recruit," said Prof. Momani, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo and a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation who studies the IMF. "Women don't want aspire for careers at the IMF because the lifestyle isn't that good and the pay is no better than they can get elsewhere."
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