Boosting Growth Through Diversity in Financial Leadership
Remarks for an IMF/IFC Seminar
IMF First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton
April 13, 2019
Good afternoon. I know this is a busy day for everyone, so I’m grateful you
could join us for today’s seminar on Gender Diversity Dividends in Finance.
It was very important to me to come here to contribute to a discussion of
this consequential issue.
Gender in finance has macroeconomic, moral and ethical implications
extending across national borders, cultural chasms, and class divides. It
affects women all over the world—from executives in boardrooms to women who
seek education, access to financial services, and employment opportunities.
A few statistics offer a glimpse of the problem with access to financial
· Of the 1.7 billion people unbanked globally, nearly one billion of them
· Lower access to bank credit robs women of opportunities to educate their
children, start businesses, or tide over hard times.
· Across the world, fewer than 20 percent of bank and supervisory board
members are women. I am sorry to say the IMF is no exception – on our
Executive Board of 24 chairs, we only have 2 women, and while I am pleased
to say we look forward to welcoming a third female Executive Director in a
few weeks, we should do much better. It’s interesting to note that many
low- and middle-income countries actually do better than advanced economies
in having women in those leadership positions.
· And it will not surprise you when I report that, only 2 percent of bank
CEOs worldwide are women.
There is now considerable evidence of what this inequality means. Recent
IMF research shows that increasing financial inclusion, of both women and
men, lifts economic growth. That research also shows that having more women
in leadership positions leads to greater financial stability, lower levels
of non-performing loans, and higher profits. Banks with a higher share of
women on their boards were more stable in 2008, when the Global Financial
One reason for this performance is clear: greater diversity means more
diverse views, which helps avoid group-think and leads to better
So why don’t financial institutions put more women in these top roles?
Here, too, I don’t think the explanation is going to surprise you. Women
continue to face conscious and unconscious bias—cultural, religious, or
just the propensity of men to hire people who are like themselves. In
addition, studies have found that women are held to a higher standard of
performance—with women of color facing even bigger obstacles.
Given all these challenges, it may be that the women who persevere tend to
be among the most talented and skilled executives to make it to the top. I
have the privilege of working for IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde,
and liaise closely with the World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva, so I can
attest to this!
There is one more dimension to this issue; an ugly dimension: harassment
and violence against women. At the economic level, it is very costly in
terms of health and services, reduced productivity and lost opportunities.
At the organizational level, sexual harassment cuts to the very soul of an
institution, a lesson we learned in the case of our former Managing
Director. And at the personal level, it is a sad fact of everyday life.
Fortunately, women have forced this issue into the open—where it should
be—through the #MeToo movement.
I speak for everyone at the Fund when I say that we must confront sexual
harassment and stop it.
With all of that in mind, I found it disheartening to read recently about
the results of a survey conducted by the American Economic Association. A
shockingly large number of women economists reported being victims of
sexual assault. This is criminal behavior we are talking about.
In addition, nearly half of women economists said they avoid speaking at
conferences for fear of harassment or “disrespectful treatment.” This is
Finally, this survey reported that 70 percent felt that male colleagues’
work was taken more seriously than their own. This must end.
Many young women aspire to join our institutions from graduate
programs, but the behavior they face during their studies and early
careers drives too many away from our field. That drains our
intellectual capital. I applaud the AEA for putting in place sanctions
against harassment and hope every economist will take a stand.
As you know, at both the World Bank and the IMF our chief economists are
women. At the Fund, we have almost reached our 2020 goal of 30 percent of
management positions filled by women – almost tripling the ratio from 10
years ago. I am proud of this progress. It will help to make our world a
In conclusion, let me leave you with one last thought. As we work to
empower women in the global economy, as we strive to make more room for
them in the boardroom, let us not forget that the fight for equality and
dignity should begin right here, where we live and work. Thank you for
IMF Communications Department
Phone: +1 202 623-7100Email: MEDIA@IMF.org