World Bank Seeks Diverse U.S. Employees

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by Ronald Roach

WASHINGTON — Few organizations have as racially and culturally diverse a work force as the organizations that make up the World Bank Group. Of its 13,000 employees, nearly 60 percent of whom are located in downtown Washington, D.C., and the rest scattered across 160 offices around the globe, nearly every nation in the world is represented in the World Bank work force.

This past fall the World Bank launched a new chapter in its long-running diversity and inclusion efforts by inaugurating the US Minorities Working Group. The working group, which comprises World Bank officials and representatives from U.S. minority-serving organizations, has been meeting in Washington to devise strategies to spread awareness about the bank’s mission and to develop initiatives to increase African-American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian-American exposure to, as well as employment at, the World Bank.

While much of the World Bank employee base comes to the bank group’s institutions as midcareer professionals and holds short-term appointments, bank officials have indicated that they want to include more minority Americans among the core of young professionals they hire as long-term staffers. Through “the Young Professionals program, or what we call the YP program,” the World Bank has typically hired candidates with Ph.D.s and master’s degrees with three to five years of postgraduate experience, says Juliana Oyegun, chief diversity officer of the World Bank Group.

“When it comes to the replenishment of the (World Bank’s) core work force, we’re prepared, (in regards to) African-Americans and U.S. minorities in general, to make some adjustments bearing in mind how diversity is handled in the U.S.,” Oyegun says. “I think the jobs that we will try to focus on are for people who are finishing graduate school in this country. They’ll be jobs that support our operation — finance, accounting, human resources and general services.”

Serving within the US Minorities Working Group are professionals with ties to minority-serving institutions, such as Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women, and Dr. Leonard Haynes, former executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The working group has 12 external members and 16 World Bank officials serving as internal members. Oyegun says the working group’s external members have critical expertise for helping the bank develop marketing campaigns that will inform students as well as faculty and administrators at minority-serving institutions about the World Bank’s work and operations.

“For us, the first thing is that we’re going to have to do this marketing drive and talk to career counselors in all these universities,” Oyegun says. “I think if we can get our breakthroughs (in operations), that might give us the quantum in the work force that has been missing rather than obsessing about what you can’t find.”

Haynes, a senior adviser at the U.S. Education Department, says the effort to involve U.S. minorities in international affairs has long been a tough task. With few minorities in the pipeline for graduate economic and finance programs and other relevant majors such as foreign languages, organizations that seek such expertise chase students from a small talent pool, according to Haynes.

“In general, the pool that we’d have to go after is maybe not where it ought to be but if we get the information out there on what’s necessary to participate maybe we can get that pool ratcheted up,” Haynes says. “Because if young people know early on what the requirements are then we can get them geared into those areas.”

Reflecting the World

While few organizations can claim the six decade-plus track record of recruiting globally for talent as the World Bank Group, bank officials report that the group has adopted highly deliberate and transparent diversity and inclusion policies largely within the past two decades. The five institutions in the group are the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Development Association, the International Finance Corporation, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency and the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

The World Bank Group (WBG) is best known for the work of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the oldest and largest division of the bank that was originally established in 1944. Although it initially focused on Europe’s reconstruction in World War II’s aftermath, the bank through the IBRD broadly “aims to reduce poverty in middle-income and credit-worthy poorer countries by promoting sustainable development, through loans, guarantees, and nonlending services.” The World Bank is owned by 186 member countries.

While certainly more diverse than most multinational corporations and the national governments of many developed nations, the WBG historically fell short in hiring and promoting women and individuals from developing nations, according to officials. It wasn’t until the 1970s that deliberate outreach efforts helped the bank expand the geographical diversity of its employees. Efforts to hire and promote women to management positions have been undertaken for a number of years, but most notably have gained momentum under World Bank President Robert Zoellick.

“There was at least some effort to get more representation from Africa, in particular. The hardest thing was to get professionals from African backgrounds. But I don’t think they ever watered down the standards to achieve these regional balancing objectives,” says Dr. Pieter Bottelier, senior adjunct economics professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and former World Bank senior official.

With 43 percent of its managers coming from developing nations, a World Bank goal, the IBRD leads among the WBG institutions, according to the WBG Office of Diversity Programs. While women account for 30 percent of the bank’s managers, the World Bank under a mandate by Zoellick is striving to have women make up 50 percent of managers by the end of 2012.

“I think we’ve done quite remarkably well in many ways. If you had come to the World Bank 20 years ago you would have probably been in a meeting with (mostly) men, mostly from developed wealthier countries and very few people who come from the developing countries,” says Hasan A. Tuluy, vice president for human resources at the World Bank. “You had much fewer women in positions of leadership.”

Officials point to the last three World Bank presidents for making diversity and inclusion a high priority for the WBG divisions. The bank has also tied diversity to the decentralization of its operations and has increased the number of professionals working in country offices.

“Eighty percent of Zoellick’s senior appointments have been what we would call diverse. That would mostly be women individuals from developing nations,” Tuluy says.

“(Zoellick) is excellent on diversity. He’s pushed the gender parity issue, which took everybody by surprise,” Oyegun says. “It’s quite mind-boggling. But he’s pushed it.”

Oyegun cites former World Bank President James Wolfensohn for making “the first commitment on racial equality back in 1998.” Representation of professionals from Sub-Saharan African nations and other regions with developing nations has increased among World Bank employees. Oyegun says that she expects strategies that were used to expand geographical representation of bank employees to help with the US Minorities effort.

“Because we needed to expand the university base and also the country base we sent a few teams out every other year or so from the Young Professionals program unit,” Oyegun says. “We sent them out to do a bit of reconnaissance, network building, and outreach. It’s more about explaining what the bank is about and developing long-term relationships.”

Oumar Seydi, director of human resources at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), says the efforts going forward to recruit U.S. minorities to the World Bank will depend on establishing relationships with minority organizations, such as the National Black MBA Association, whose members are either students or graduates of programs from which the World Bank recruits. Seydi, who is a member of the US Minorities Working Group, reports that the IFC’s equivalent of the Young Professionals program had reached 27 percent last year in hires of Sub-Saharan African/Caribbean-origin professionals, exceeding almost three times the 10 percent goal the World Bank has established.

Seydi says the IFC has met the diversity goals in its Young Professionals equivalent program by having the flexibility of hiring MBA graduates for IFC finance hires and by having the relationships with schools and relevant organizations.

“We are very focused in terms of where we’re going. We went to Howard University last year,” Seydi said. “We’ve also been very active in supporting the events that are being sponsored by the National Black MBA Association.”

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