No vacancy for women leaders in global banks

Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) might as well put up a sign: no vacancy.

There has not been a single woman leader of the five major multilateral development banks, in their more than fifty year history.

Banking and finance leaders gather this week, in Washington DC, for the Annual Fall meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), including the governors of the World Bank Group, the Asian, Inter-American and African Development Banks (ADB, IADB, AfDB), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

It is time to ask the MDB governors: why have women never led MDBs?

With more than $25 billion in annual loans and grants for global development causes, these banks remain a central pillar combating poverty and promoting shared prosperity. They all claim to view women’s empowerment as integral to inclusive growth and sustainable development. Research backs these views. Yet, when it comes to leading the agencies that design and fund these programs, women are missing.

If you’re going to talk the talk about gender and development, it’s time to walk the walk – nominate and elect women to lead multilateral banks.

It is time for MDBs to learn from sister agencies like the IMF – not an MDB - that women leaders do an excellent job as the current occupant has shown by example. Christine Lagarde, the IMF Managing Director, has been the Fund’s most effective leaders. Now, Ms Lagarde needs to champion this cause and prod her governors – who are the same individuals as MDB governors (for the most part) – to act.

Ms. Lagarde and other women leaders ranging from Hillary Clinton to Chancellor Merkel, from Melinda Gates to Theresa May, from Aung San Suu Kyi to Indra Nooyi need to help women leaders in finance break the MDB glass ceiling.

Women leaders should consider forming an EMILY’s List equivalent advocacy group, maybe title it EASILY – Early Advocacy and Support Is Like Yeast – to ensure that women leaders are not blindsided by seemingly old boys’ backroom deals that continue to put men in charge of MDBs. There have been many such examples, including a recent one at the World Bank, where qualified women candidates were denied an opportunity to contest for the presidency.

There is no dearth of successful women who can lead MDBs. One just needs to take a look at Mulyani Indrawati or Ngozi Okonja-Iweala, successful finance ministers and former seconds-in-command at the World Bank, or Arundhatti Bhattachary, the successful leader of India’s top bank – the State Bank of India- or Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s CEO who started her career at MDBs and the US Treasury to see that women do not need any special treatments to lead MDBs.

What women need is an equal opportunity where their merits are recognized in the same manner as men’s when it comes to contesting MDB leadership elections. Nominate women for these elections, at least have one woman candidate in the roster – if the game was fair, that would be half the roster, but that may be too much to ask for at this stage.

In addition to World Bank and regional MDBs, there are specialized MDBs like the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and sub-regional ones. These too have not had any women leaders in their entire history. This goes to show that the extent of the systemic bias against women when it comes to MDB leadership.

We must right this wrong.

Let us begin by giving women a chance to contest MDB elections as the African Development Bank did in the last election. While Ms. Duarte, the finance minister of Cape Verde, lost in the final round, the transparency of that election and quality of the presidential debates was an asset to the AfDB.

The AfDB showed that it had a vacancy that was open to all- men and women – and it was for the better. That was a teachable moment for other MDBs.

The next MDB leadership election is for IFAD –the most important financier of rural development and small-holder agriculture globally. Women are central to both, as the current IFAD President has already acknowledged.

Has the time come for a woman to lead IFAD? Maybe the Governing Council of IFAD will nominate women with proven records for IFAD’s presidency. With the December 1, 2016, deadline time is short. Major contributors like the US – the largest funder of IFAD – can take the lead by nominating qualified candidates.

There are a number of women leaders who can do an excellent job in that role- if one just takes Africa, one finds leaders like Ms Duarte who has an established record in agriculture, Gerardine Mukushime, the Minister of Agriculture of Rwanda, and Agnes Kalibata, the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Let us hope that by next year’s World Bank/IMF Fall Meetings we have at least one woman leader in the MDBs, perhaps starting with IFAD and going to the regional MDBs before the 2020 election of the World Bank.

Those claiming to work for the betterment of humanity should not be able to get away by denying leadership to humanity’s better half.

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