679 Women at the IMF Protest New York Times Coverage

"We feel insulted by your description of our workplace," they write in a letter

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On Friday, The New York Times published a scathing report titled "At I.M.F., Men on Prowl and Women on Guard," depicting the International Monetary Fund as hostile to women and "ruled by alpha male economists." The article said some women avoid wearing skirts in fear of drawing attention and that "sexual norms" left women "vulnerable to harassment."

Now, a group of 679 women at the IMF have signed and sent a letter to the Times saying the newspaper grossly misrepresented the organization, according to an IMF spokesman. "We--a group of women at the IMF ranging from administrative assistants to department heads--do not recognize the picture of the IMF painted in your article," reads the letter. "We feel insulted by your description of our workplace." The letter accuses the Times of cherry-picking a small number of incidents at the organization, which has a total staff of 2,421 employees, to make the entire institution look bad. The letter continues:

The organization we know is characterized instead, as our ethics adviser recently said, by “dedication to professional excellence and ethical integrity.”

No, it is not perfect. We know that some of our female colleagues have been subjected to unwanted advances. We feel for them, we support them and we will fight for their right to be heard and protected. But these cases, unfortunately, occur in any place where human beings work together.

The I.M.F. recognizes the importance of respect for women in both its policies and practices. It has long had strict policies on sexual harassment; some of us worked to make them come about.

Contrary to your article, there is nothing unusual about recognizing that close personal relationships in the workplace do not automatically involve harassment. On May 6 — ironically, just shortly before the spotlight swung to these matters — the I.M.F. adopted strong reporting requirements to ensure that any ensuing conflicts of interest are addressed and resolved. That policy revision also strengthens protection against retaliation.

"The signatories are not saying that the IMF is perfect," said William Murray, an IMF spokesman. "They are saying that the New York Times story was offensive and a seriously distorted view of working conditions at the Fund." A small group of female economists who meet routinely and informally to chat about work-related issues first drafted the letter, Murray said. As word spread around the organization, the number of signatories ballooned to represent 28 percent of the entire IMF staff and 64 percent of the women at the organization. The Atlantic Wire inquired with the editor of the piece, Len Apcar, and a spokeswoman but we have not yet heard back. Update: "We stand by our story," said Eileen Murphy, vice president of corporate communications at the Times, in an e-mail conversation.

The Times article, written by Binyamin Appelbaum and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, ran on the front page of Friday's paper. It says it relied on "interviews and documents," which portrayed the fund as an institution "markedly different from those of Washington" where "romances often flourish" and "lines are sometimes crossed." It also featured statements from a former IMF employee, Carmen Reinhart, who said "it's sort of like 'Pirates of the Caribbean'; The rules are more like guidelines." Another former employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Times a senior manager would send her explicit emails seeking a relationship. She notified her boss but the employee "wasn’t punished. Not at all.”

The page one piece got a fair amount of attention when it was published, including a pickup from CBS News saying the IMF has "hazy sexual norms, leading to an unusually high number of intra-office romances and endemic sexual harassment and misconduct," as it cited the Times article. Foreign Policy also cited the article, with the banner headline "International Male Frathouse?" and American Spectator ran with the headline "The IMF: Lawless Cosmopolitanism." The article was also cited in The Atlantic Wire in conjunction with coverage of previous complaints about its former head Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The IMF is currently searching for a new managing director following the resignation of Strauss-Kahn on Wednesday. Strauss-Kahn faces an indictment on sexual assault charges, an incident which followed a 2008 complaint against Strauss-Kahn related to his brief affair with Piroska Nagy, an IMF economist. In the complaint, Nagy said Strauss-Kahn "abused his position" to force her into a relationship. Though she warned that he was "ill-equipped" to work with women, the IMF dropped its internal probe of Strauss-Kahn concluding that the relationship was "consensual."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.