Commentary by Eleanor Smeal When he addresses the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing next week, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn is expected to argue that women bring a necessary resource to economic strategizing. Indeed the bank is expected to take to Beijing the long-time feminist message that discrimination against women hurts financial institutions.
In 1988, the World Bank employed women in only three percent of its senior management positions. And the bank employed only eight women, out of 143 men, in its top four grades. Then-President Lewis T. Preston reported that, “With this record, we cannot claim to have tapped the largest possible population for excellence” (The Washington Post, E1, 9/10/95). At the urging of feminists and economists, the World Bank began to increase the amount of women in its upper-managerial positions.
Though undergoing a time of large downsizing, the bank did increase the number of top female executives. Now women represent eight percent of senior management positions, though the bank still has only one female vice-president and no female managing directors. In 1995, women make-up thirty percent of the professional staff and roughly twenty-three percent of advanced professional staff, up to five percent and eight percent respectively since 1988. This increase due to the World Bank’s concerted efforts to hire more women, still does not reflect true equality. The World Bank along with other institutions must continue, indeed step up, its efforts to promote women into upper-management positions.