France’s Christine Legarde Set to head IMF creating another ‘first’ for Women

One of the world’s best economists and France’s Minister of Economics, Finance, and Industry–Christine Legarde–will likely be the newly appointed head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).   Thankfully, the U.S. joined with other members of the IMF board to approve Legarde which virtually assures her appointment.  Legarde will be the first woman to head the IMF.  She is widely regarded as the best Finance minister in the Eurozone.  She will inherit an IMF still reeling from the sex scandal surrounding Dominique Strauss-Kahn as well as an IMF dealing with the Greek sovereign debt meltdown. The IMF is an important development vehicle for many of the world’s struggling economies.  It has been controversial in the past since it has been seen to implement ideological as well as development strategies.

Lagarde’s presence itself as the first female head of the IMF will go a long way toward reinvigorating any demoralization of the staff. Granted, Lagarde is poised to earn the job because she’s the most qualified and best positioned to help the organization deal with its pressing economic crises. And while putting an extremely successful woman atop the IMF certainly won’t erase the Strauss-Kahn scandal or stop every unwanted advance, it should go a long way toward reminding the IMF’s staffers how much the organization values gender equality and won’t tolerate such behavior at any level. At the very least, having someone in charge who doesn’t have the reputation of being a womanizer is surely a good thing.

It’s unclear how much the internal culture at IMF actually needs fixing. A May New York Times story laid out an image of the IMF as a place “in which romances often flourish—and lines are sometimes crossed,” and where a pressured, “sharp-elbowed” place left complaints of harassment unanswered and where “rules are more like guidelines.” Some 676 women in the organization filed a response to the story, saying they were insulted by the way their workplace was depicted.

Still, Lagarde herself says the organization will need to “take pains to show the outside world” that it is a leader in ethical behavior.  And she acknowledges that staff morale will need some mending following the august organization’s embarrassing time in the spotlight.

Legarde has a formidable intellect and is well-known for her straight and tough talk.  Finance and economics are areas dominated by men with swagger.  She has succeeded in ways that many men have not.

Ms Lagarde was appointed France’s Trade Minister in 2005 and under her watch, French exports reached record levels.

In 2007 she became finance minister, the first woman to hold this post not just in France but in any of the G8 major industrial countries.

Never afraid of speaking her mind, she has blamed the 2008 worldwide financial crisis partly on the male-dominated, testosterone-fuelled culture at global banks.

One of France’s most popular right-wing politicians, in 2009 she came second in a poll carried out by broadcaster RTL and newspaper Le Parisien on the country’s favourite personalities, beaten only by singer and actor Johnny Hallyday.

But her popularity has stretched beyond French shores and she is viewed with high regard in the international arena.

In 2009, the Financial Times voted her the best finance minister in Europe.

She has won international respect for promoting France’s negotiating clout in key forums like the G20, for which France currently holds the presidency.

She has also received plaudits for the key role she played in approving a bail-out mechanism to aid struggling members of the eurozone last May.

Lagarde has played a large role in the many challenges facing the Eurozone since the U.S. financial market meltdown.  Unlike the U.S. which has basically coddled the very executives whose risky behavior and bad business practices have gone largely unpunished, Largarde has worked hard to reform the system to avoid a repeat.  She not only has to herd French politicians but also create consensus among the other members of the EU community.

Lagarde has won praise for steering France through the financial crisis, notably by dispensing $48 billion in aid to French banks, which are repaying the money with interest after stabilizing themselves. She also fought successfully to provide corporate tax relief, aid to small businesses, and tax credits to stimulate research. “None of those things would have happened without Christine Lagarde,” says Frédéric Gonand, an economics professor at Paris-Dauphine University who recently stepped down after four years as Lagarde’s chief economic adviser. “She placed her own mark on economic policy.” A May poll by Ipsos for the magazine Le Point put her approval rating at 51 percent, far above her boss Sarkozy’s 37 percent.

Still, France has fallen behind Germany in making the kinds of changes that could give the economy a serious boost, such as reducing government bureaucracy and labor market restrictions. The need to carry out policies dictated by Sarkozy has also put her in awkward situations at times. In 2009 she had to defend his plan to invest $51 billion in research and development and other projects at a time when France was under attack by other euro zone countries for running a 7.5 percent budget deficit, far above the 3 percent that member countries had agreed on. And despite her role in negotiating the euro rescue package, the terms of that deal, such as automatic sanctions against aid recipients if they didn’t meet agreed-upon targets, were dictated largely by Germany. “France’s game seemed to be, ‘Let’s stick to the Germans as closely as possible,'” says Philip Whyte, a senior research fellow at the London-based Centre for European Reform. “She’s a great facilitator and chair, but she’s probably not in the absolute center of influence.”

I actually can’t tell you how excited I am about this development.  As I’ve said before, she’s been a great success in France.  This shows she can once again bust through a major glass ceiling that’s been there for ages for women in my profession.


7 Comments on “France’s Christine Legarde Set to head IMF creating another ‘first’ for Women”

  1. Pilgrim says:

    It’s providential that she, not that other guy, the rapist-what’s-his-name, gets the post.

  2. Woman Voter says:

    OK, then, she is well respected and I wish her all the best. Did you notice she loaned the banks the money and they are paying it back! Why aren’t our banks paying back their BAILOUTS? Why why were they allowed to give themselves multi-million bonuses?

    Good Luck Christine Legarde!

  3. Adrienne in CA says:

    I remember her from the documentary Inside Job.

  4. Minkoff Minx says:

    Oh, that is good news.
    Thanks for putting this up on the FP Kat, I had hope you would have said something about it.