Insights on Human Resource Management

Improving Gender Balance among IDB Staff

The commitment to Diversity and Inclusion is part of the IDB’s core values as an institution, and the Bank’s vision is to be as diverse as the Region it serves. Being a diverse and inclusive organization improves the Bank’s ability to attract and retain talented staff, leverage collective capabilities, create value, and deliver quality work to the benefit of clients and the Region as a whole.

There is a growing body of research pointing to the benefits of having more women in leadership positions in terms of contributing to positive bottom-line performance. The Bank also understands that ensuring a balanced representation of men and women in its own organization is a business imperative.

In 2010, the IDB committed through the IDB-9 to increasing the share of women in mid- to senior-level professional positions (staff in Grades 4 and above12) to 40 percent by 2015 (Indicator 4.5.11 in Figure D.6). Targets were also set to increase the number of women as Country Representatives and Executives to 38 percent and to increase the representation of women Vice-Presidents from zero percent to 40–60 percent by the end of 2015 (Indicator 4.5.12 in Figure D.6).

At the end of 2015, the number of women in grades 4 and above increased to 37 percent, while women made up 31 percent of Country Representatives and Executives. Although the targets were not fully met, significant progress was made in moving in the right direction. The growth rate for female employment at grade 4 and above averaged 3.8 percent between 1995 and 2010, and has increased significantly to 6.2 percent following the establishment of these targets. Historical analysis indicates that without these targets, the share of female employment in grades 4 and above would have reached only 32 percent by the end of 2015.

As the adage goes, “What gets measured gets done.” The establishment of the gender target helped shine a light on practices that could be improved to increase the representation of women.

Figure D.6
Human Resources

The strategy for increasing the number of women in senior levels focused both on external recruitment and internal growth and development to build the bench of qualified female talent within the IDB. The IDB invested in career development and work-life initiatives to better attract, support, and retain talented women. Efforts included a focus on women in the Bank-wide mentoring program, the introduction of a flexible work arrangement policy across the organization, the implementation of the Emerging Women Leaders Program and Working Mama Program, the approval of policies to provide pregnant and lactating women with greater flexibility with regard to mission travel, and options for lactating staff members to continue breastfeeding upon their return from maternity leave. Additional efforts were made to source external talent, particularly in sectors where women have been traditionally under-represented and make enhancements to the recruitment process to ensure that more women are being short-listed and interviewed for senior level roles.

The Bank has also learned that these efforts must be underpinned by an organizational culture of inclusion. Toward that end, in 2012 the IDB established the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group, a high-level entity led by the Executive Vice-President to guide the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts, conduct periodic surveys to better understand the Bank’s demographic diversity and perceptions of inclusion within the organization, and build a common awareness of key issues like unconscious bias and cultural competence.

While the Bank has made important advances in becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization, it has faced major challenges in defining appropriate indicators. Specifically, while the CRF 2012–2015 indicator captured gender, more fully capturing “diversity” presents its own challenges. Lack of data on race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation and religion, for example, continues to be a major obstacle.

Besides these internal efforts, the Bank has been formally promoting gender equality in internal and external procurement to increase the diversity of vendors and service providers contracted with IDB resources. In 2015, the Bank developed language to include in IDB requests for proposals (RFPs) and pre-qualifications aimed at encouraging women-owned and women-controlled suppliers to apply. The Bank also published RFPs on the ConnectAmericas platform as another way to reach women-owned businesses with information on the Bank’s corporate procurement opportunities.

Another initiative was the Bank-hosted event with Latin American and Caribbean heads of public procurement to share both lessons learned and challenges regarding the participation of women in different sectors, including both traditional sectors such as food and textiles and non-traditional sectors such as construction. As a result, procurement heads of Chile and the Dominican Republic requested support from the IDB Group to link more women-owned businesses to public procurement opportunities, and a technical cooperation to support this effort is currently under preparation.

Reevaluating Decentralization

Another IDB-9 commitment called for an increase in the number of professional Bank staff physically located in Country Offices to 40 percent in 2015, with the end goal of increasing responsiveness to country needs.

In 2012, the Bank carried out a comprehensive assessment on the state of its decentralization, supported by external consulting services. The assessment concluded that, given the high level of external partner satisfaction and portfolio performance and the high costs of relocating staff, there was no compelling business case to move additional professional staff from headquarters in Washington, DC to the Country Offices (except in the case of some of the private sector windows). Consequently, the percentage of professional staff (from public sector windows) based in Country Offices remained constant at 32 percent throughout the period (Indicator 4.5.13 in Figure D.6).

It was also noted that the CRF indicator (whose denominator takes into account both operational and nonoperational staff and excludes the IDB’s complementary workforce) did not fully capture the level of the Bank’s direct interaction with, and support to, country counterparts (see Box 1.1 for additional details regarding the definitions of indicators).

Interestingly, when considering both staff and complementary workforce, nearly half (46 percent) of all employees with functions that are strictly operational were located in the Country Offices as of December 31, 2015.

The 2012 assessment also found that additional work was still needed in such areas as staff mobility, career incentives, matrix governance, and operational processes in order to ensure that those employees already in the field could perform at their highest level. The Bank started to implement measures to address these issues in 2013, and although it is still too soon to evaluate the results, evidence from a second assessment carried-out in 2014 points to improved communication and coordination among staff, enhancements in performance management, and clarification of roles and responsibilities of key Country Office staff, among other efforts, all of which have contributed to overall smoother functioning of the Country Offices over the past few years.