August 15, 2022

In Her First Week at the I.M.F., a New Leader Stresses Diversity and Respect

On Tuesday, she met at the fund’s headquarters in Washington with employees still shaken by the abrupt resignation of her predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, after he was charged with the sexual assault of a hotel maid. On Friday, she holds her first board meeting to consider another round of emergency financing for Greece.

“I thought it was necessary to come back to D.C. very promptly simply because there are so many issues to address,” Ms. Lagarde said by way of introduction at her first official news conference. “It cannot wait for another summer holiday. Here I am, and for good.”

When Ms. Lagarde last met with reporters here, during the fund’s annual spring meetings, she made a point of speaking mostly in French. On Wednesday, settling into her new international role, she spoke in English even when addressed in French.

She mostly dodged questions about Greece, saying that she would not prefigure Friday’s meeting, but she did provide a measure of her thinking on the fund’s mission and priorities.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a member of the Socialist Party in France, expanded the fund’s focus on financial stability to include broader goals like reduced unemployment. He argued that the benefits of prosperity did not necessarily flow to the broader populace.

Ms. Lagarde, by contrast, is a political conservative. She said that she needed time to study the fund’s policies before offering her own opinions. But she sounded a note of caution, saying that she supported a move toward “comprehensive” measures of efficacy, but that the fund “should not become a specialized boutique to reduce unemployment.”

The fund was created by the United States and its allies after World War II as a lender of last resort for troubled governments. Since that time it has always been run by a European, though the United States maintains effective control.

Ms. Lagarde campaigned to replace Mr. Strauss-Kahn largely on the strength of Europe’s determination to maintain that leadership. But her victory required the support of emerging economies, who want to play a larger role. Ms. Lagarde indicated Wednesday that she was likely to expand the number of her deputies to four from three to make room for the elevation of a Chinese official at the fund, Min Zhu.

Ms. Lagarde also said during her campaign that a female executive would be an advantage for the fund, reducing what she described as the testosterone level.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn was allowed to remain atop the fund after the disclosure of an affair in 2008 with a subordinate, a decision that some considered a mistake.

A number of women have come forward in recent months to describe the fund as a problematic workplace, where some superiors felt free to press subordinates for dates and little effort was made to prevent or to punish sexual harassment. Officials at the fund have disputed their characterizations, and a group of several hundred female employees signed a public letter defending the fund as a workplace.

On Wednesday, Ms. Lagarde said that increasing the diversity of the fund’s staff would be a priority. “Together with diversity comes respect for everybody,” Ms. Lagarde said, “and it’s been the case in the past that people have been respected and I will make sure that they continue to be respected no matter what their differences are.”

The fund has made a number of recent changes to improve its workplace culture, including instituting a more restrictive policy on relationships with subordinates. Ms. Lagarde’s contract includes a new injunction, “You shall strive to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” And Ms. Lagarde noted Wednesday that she would soon attend a new ethics program now required for all employees.

She will make $467,940 in her new job, plus a stipend of $83,760, all of it untaxed.

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