Gender Equality at IFIs: Promote as I Say, Not as I Do?

Multilateral Development Banks say that diversity matters to development. “True development, across economic, social, political, and cultural spheres, is only possible if societies do not limit opportunities based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability status, gender identity or sexual orientation,” declares the Inter-American Development Bank’s Gender and Diversity Sector Framework. “It is critical for the region to eliminate… gender disparities and ensure that women are included in decision-making at private and public levels and have equal rights and access to resources,” proclaims the Asian Development Bank. But how do these institutions perform when it comes to their own staff do they lead by example? Sadly, looking at gender equality in particular, the picture is still mixed.

Today we launch a paper that reports on human resources statistics from seven major international financial institutions: the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the European Investment Bank (EIB), collectively responsible for more than a quarter trillion dollars of lending in 2022.

Those hoping that IFIs would have eliminated their own gender disparities will be disappointed.  While women make up almost 70 percent of the administrative support grades at IFIs, they represent only about 35 percent of managerial grades. Not one IFI has achieved gender parity across managerial ranks. Senior management positions are less diverse again, with the proportion ranging from six percent at the IsDB to around 40 percent at the World Bank and EBRD. And while the World Bank looks comparatively good on that comparison, it is worth noting this is 2022 data. In 2023, the percentage of women in World Bank senior management dropped to 22 percent (from four to two out of nine)–a sign that gains can be very fragile. When it comes to boards (appointed by shareholders rather than by the institutions themselves) the situation is even worse: fewer than one in five IFI board members are women.

The picture is more positive at the professional level, where many IFIs are close or even beyond parity. (Even here, however, there are troubling signs with women being less likely than men to be promoted out of the entry-level professional ranks into the feeder grades for management.) Things are also improving in the upper ranks: looking at the World Bank, the IDB, and the ADB, the share of women in any management position almost doubled over the past two decades, from just under 20 percent at these three IFIs in the year 2000 to just under 40 percent in 2023. The share of women in senior management grew from around 5 percent to around 30 percent in the same period. 

How do these three IFIs look in comparison to other international bodies, national governments, and the private sector? The answer is: not too different. Significant under-representation at higher levels is the norm across the world’s public sector employers, the private sector, and international boards and senior management, with the picture looking a little better amongst managers and professional staff. But IFI board representation is even less gender balanced than many central banks, leading corporations, or upper legislatures worldwide. And it is also worth noting that compared to a 17 percent average across the boards of the World Bank, the IDB, and the ADB, 24 percent of Permanent Representatives at the UN General Assembly were women along with more than one third of WTO General Council members.

At the senior management level, IFIs do look more gender equal when compared to occupants of financial services c-suites, government ministers worldwide and new directors of private companies. But they are lagging compared to the UN system, where 51 percent of Under Secretary Generals and 41 percent of Assistant Secretary Generals are women. And at the management level as a whole, IFIs fall behind the UN and the public sector average worldwide.

Do IFIs lead by example, then? The short answer is ‘maybe a little.’ They really do appear to outperform private and public sector comparators at the senior management level, if under-performing at the level of politically appointed positions, and falling behind comparators including the UN family.  But things are getting better, with significant improvement in gender equality over the past two decades. If that improvement continues, and trickles up to the most senior levels, perhaps one day IFIs can confidently assert they are walking their talk on the importance of gender equality.



CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.

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