Inside the IMF's Hookup Culture

The institution is rife with questionable intra-office romances, apparently

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The IMF is facing stiff criticism today for its lax sexual norms and intra-office romances in wake of the indictment of its former chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. This morning, The New York Times swung first with a report on the various forms of sexual misconduct endemic at the institution. The place is filled with alpha male economists, writes the Times. To avoid attention, women don't wear skirts. "Romances often flourish" on overseas business trips and women face pressures not to jilt superiors who make advances. "The absence of public ethics scandals seems to be more a consequence of luck than good planning and action," acknowledged a 2008 internal review of the IMF's senior managers. In 2007, the IMF didn't investigate a complaint from a female employee that her boss was using performance reviews as a stick to keep her in a relationship with him. "Officials told the woman that the supervisor planned to retire soon, and therefore there was no point in investigating the charges," writes the Times.

It gets worse. The complaints IMF economist Piroska Nagy filed against Strauss-Kahn in 2008 have been published in the past week by multiple publications. Looking through the Bloomberg writeup, for example, shows she accuses Strauss-Kahn of using his senior position to force her into a relationship. "I believe that Mr. Strauss-Kahn abused his position in the manner in which he got to me," she wrote. "I provided you the details of how he summoned me on several occasions and came to make inappropriate suggestions to ... I did not know how to handle this; as I told you I felt that I was ‘damned if I did and damned if I didn't." While she praised his leadership skills, she warned that "he is a man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command."

The Times says part of the problem is the language of the organization's sexual harassment policy. "The laws of the United States do not apply inside its walls, and until earlier this month the I.M.F.'s own rules contained an unusual provision [that some say] has encouraged managers to pursue the women who work for them: 'Intimate personal relationships between supervisors and subordinates do not, in themselves, constitute harassment.'"

According to Lauren Leader-Chivee at Forbes, this policy needs to change and the IMF needs to get serious about revamping its work culture. "When a less-than-airtight or differentially enforced policy leaves it up to the manager to decide which situations warrant punishment, women are condemned to putting up or shutting up," she writes. The IMF might instead follow "some forward-thinking American companies" lead by "implement[ing] strict policies that punish the senior executive and protect the subordinate."

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