(Aerial view of Tashkent in Uzbekistan / photo: iStock)

(Aerial view of Tashkent in Uzbekistan / photo: iStock)

IMF Survey: IMF Intensifying Efforts to Boost Staff Diversity, Experience

May 31, 2011

  • IMF aiming to improve diversity at senior levels
  • Female staff reject depiction of IMF workplace as hostile
  • Shafik says Fund focused on active work agenda, global recovery, plus euro zone, Middle East

The IMF aims to improve recruitment of women and staff from underrepresented regions, while broadening its hiring methods, Deputy Managing Director Nemat Shafik says.

IMF Intensifying Efforts to Boost Staff Diversity, Experience

Shafik: “We needed to look at wider diversity issues, not just nationality and gender, but also educational background and work experience” (IMF photo)


Following the resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn as Managing Director, there has been increased scrutiny of the IMF’s work environment, its treatment of women, and its code of conduct.

In an interview with the IMF’s Archana Kumar, Shafik—the IMF’s newest member of the management team—discusses the IMF and its internal work culture and what is being done to promote diversity. She also gives an overview of the IMF’s most pressing challenges at a time when the global recovery is facing headwinds from continued uncertainty in the euro area, the lack of strong job creation in advanced economies, and risks of overheating in several emerging market countries.

Nemat Shafik assumed the position of IMF Deputy Managing Director on April 11, 2011. A national of Egypt, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Shafik has a global reputation in fields ranging from emerging markets, international development, the Middle East and Africa, to the financial sector. She brings to the IMF a wealth of experience in policymaking, management, and academia.

IMF Survey online: Although you have been working at the IMF for only two months, what are your impressions of the Fund as a workplace?

Shafik: I always knew that the IMF was famous for having technically excellent staff, but I have to say they are even more impressive up close. It has been a real pleasure to work with so many talented people.

From the outside looking in, you have the impression that the IMF is a monolith with a very single-minded view of the world. When you are inside the Fund, what is really striking is how active the internal debate is. One of the most interesting things for me has been to watch the internal review process whereby policy documents and country documents are cleared, and to see how vigorous the debate is internally as different parts of the organization argue their corner. And that kind of environment of internal challenge is really something I was not expecting.

"We have committed to try to meet a target of recruiting 50 percent women at all levels going forward."

I think the third thing is the issue of the work environment for women. I know that there have been allegations that the IMF is an environment that is hostile to women. That certainly has not been my experience and that certainly has not been the experience of the about 700 women who recently wrote to The New York Times, saying that the Fund was an incredibly professional and respectful work environment that they very much enjoyed―not always perfect, but certainly not a place that is hostile.

IMF Survey online: In recent days the IMF has been under scrutiny for its record on diversity, particularly the number of women in senior managerial ranks. What is the Fund doing to address its diversity record?

Shafik: Well, in fact, the IMF met its target to get 20 percent of the senior managerial levels represented by women. So after meeting that target, I think we all agreed that that was not good enough, and a team came together and proposed a new set of targets. So we recently agreed to move toward a target of 25 to 30 percent of management positions being held by women by 2014. And in the long run, our aspiration is to reach 50-50 at the senior levels.

In order to achieve that we have committed to try to meet a target of recruiting 50 percent women at all levels going forward, and that will be an essential stepping stone to get us to where we ultimately want to be, which is to truly represent the membership and the world in which we operate.

I should also say something about the wider diversity agenda. I recently took a paper to our Board about our annual report on how we are doing on diversity, and there were three key messages that came out of that.

The first was that we have done well on women, but we could do better.

The second was there were two regions of the world where we were still quite underrepresented, and that was the Middle East and Africa, and where we are committed to doing a lot more on the recruitment side.

And the third issue was trying to reach consensus that we needed to look at wider diversity issues, not just nationality and gender, but also educational background and diversity of work experience and perspective, so that we could increase the number of different points of view that are shaping policies in the IMF.

IMF Survey online: What are the important items on the IMF’s work agenda these days?

Shafik: I would say there were four. The first is the issue about the recovery and the fact that the economic recovery is still going at two speeds. It’s not the recovery we wanted. It is not delivering jobs in the advanced countries, and there are risks of overheating in the emerging markets. So we are continuing to do a great deal of work on the issues about resolving the global imbalances and trying to get a different sort of recovery. The work that we are doing for the G-20, for example, and the mutual assessment process, the spillover reports we are doing on the major economies to better understand the interlinkages between the major economies, all of that is essential work to try and get a better global economic recovery.

"IMF teams are working closely with governments and countries like Egypt and Tunisia to try and respond to the very legitimate demands of the populations for better social outcomes."

The second key area is responding to the euro zone crisis. We recently approved a program with the government of Portugal and we have a team currently working in Greece to try and help that government cope with improving its performance. Clearly it is a huge issue for the world economy because it will have many impacts more widely, and so the IMF is very committed to try to help the euro area achieve a more sustainable recovery.

The third issue is the issue of responding to events in the Middle East. There, IMF teams are working closely with governments and countries like Egypt and Tunisia to try and respond to the very legitimate demands of the populations for better social outcomes, and designing programs which try and respond to those demands in a way that’s economically sustainable.

And then the last thing I would mention is our ongoing work with low-income countries, helping them to reduce their poverty challenges and, in the current environment, helping them to cope with the rises in commodity and energy prices, which are really hitting many of the poorest people very much. We are trying to work with low-income countries to help them design programs to cushion the impact on poor people while maintaining their economic growth rates.

Nemat Shafik was the youngest ever Vice President at the World Bank, where she was responsible for a private sector and infrastructure portfolio of investments, and was part of the senior management team of the International Finance Corporation. She was the Permanent Secretary of the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID). Prior to serving at the World Bank and DFID, she worked in Cairo as a consultant on development issues.

After graduating from high school in Alexandria, Egypt, and attending the American University in Cairo, Shafik earned degrees from the University of Massachusetts—Amherst, and the London School of Economics, and a Ph.D. in Economics from Oxford University. She was a member of the Middle East Advisory Group to the Fund. She has published widely, especially on the Middle East and North Africa, and has taught at the Wharton School of Business and Georgetown University. She speaks Arabic, English, and French.