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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has shortlisted two candidates to become its next managing director: French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Governor of the Bank of Mexico Agustin Carstens. The IMF was recently rocked with scandal when the former head, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was arrested in New York and accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid. In his wake, Christine Lagarde has become the frontrunner for the top spot at the IMF. If elected, she would be the first woman to lead the influential economic institution. But what would it mean to have a woman head the IMF?
In the world of politics, finance, and global economics, Christine Lagarde is a rock star – there’s no other way to put it. At 55, she has broken through many “glass ceilings”. She became the first female chairman of the renowned international law firm Baker & McKenzie and later found success as France’s Trade Minister in 2005. In 2007, she was the first woman appointed as French Finance Minister. And a really good finance minister at that. Two years later, the Financial Times voted her the best finance minister in Europe. On top of all that, Lagarde’s straight-talking, up-front, and confident attitude only adds to her appeal. Whew. She is one impressive and busy lady.
Clearly, Lagarde is qualified for the top job at the IMF, but does the fact that she’s a woman affect her chances? You bet it does. It is an unfortunate and reprehensible fact that, as women, our gender is often (negatively) factored into our performance or abilities. But in this case, being a woman will likely work in Lagarde’s favor. With the Strauss-Kahn sexual assault hanging over the institution like a dark cloud, the IMF will be eager to distance itself from him and put the scandal behind it. What better way to prove they don’t endorse Strauss-Kahn’s behavior than to pick a woman as his successor? Despite what could be good intentions, if Lagarde is ultimately elected for this reason, it’s still tokenism and not what we should strive for as women in male dominated fields.
Regardless of why, if Lagarde is elected, she insists that, as a woman, she will bring “a new dimension” to the IMF. She is well known for speaking her mind, and she won’t stop now. Lagarde has blamed the 2008 global financial crisis partly on the male-dominated, testosterone-fuelled culture at global banks. She has also spoken out against Strauss-Kahn and his alleged crimes against women. If Lagarde is at the helm, the IMF is in for some changes.