Is there discrimination at the World Bank? I had no notion of this until my African colleagues made me aware. Reading over the information provided to me, I was shocked at the dreadfully low number of black employees and job candidates. Here’s a statement by the World Bank’s own Team Racial Equality in 1998:

“[R]ace-based discrimination is present in our institution, and the problem of discrimination, where it exists, is evidenced in management’s hiring and promotion decisions, attitudes and behaviors. The discrimination, especially against black African staff and other staff of African origin, translates into a denial of opportunity and inequitable treatment on the basis of the color of their skin. This problem is serious indeed. It lowers the effectiveness and productivity of Bank Group staff. It undermines staff morale and performance. It seriously impairs our credibility and image as a leading global institution. It prevents us from tapping fully the best of all the global resources available to us, undermining our competitiveness. Furthermore, any form of racial or cultural discrimination within the Bank’s staff is inconsistent with our proclaimed mandate to play a leading role in fostering social and economic development in the global society, particularly in partnership with poorer nations.”

Retired Washington Post columnist William Raspberry wrote about this problem 30 years ago in an article titled, “Blacks and Whites at the World Bank.” (Washington Post 8 November 1978: A15). A report by the Government Accountability Project refers to Raspberry’s column and makes this statement concerning World Bank discrimination and exclusion:

“Black employees were underrepresented in the higher levels of the Bank. Moreover, black staff members believed that decisions regarding promotion were often discriminatory, according to Raspberry. Since that time, the Bank has conducted numerous studies that confirmed the incidence of race-based discrimination within the institution.”

Most recently, interviews conducted by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) with well-informed sources revealed that, in 2008, only four black Americans held professional positions among a headquarters staff of over 3,500 professionals (more than 1,000 of whom are U.S. nationals). This figure represents a significant proportional decline even from the abysmal levels reported by Raspberry 30 years ago.

Global consciousness demands right actions. We cannot pontificate to corrupt Third World governments while we ignore our own sins of bigotry and low expectations.

A solution to this problem exists, yet we cannot expect the World Bank to change its discriminatory culture without a powerful and organized demand. We need everyone accountable and at the table. We are meeting with disgruntled employees, former employees and rejected job candidates in order to rectify past wrongs and ensure better futures. In our current post-racial society, this should be easy: helping folk who have the right credentials but the “wrong” skin color.

Generating diversity policies without enforcement mechanisms that are taken seriously assures a thriving culture of discrimination. The Civil Rights Movement has taught us that culture and law (policy) do not always move in tandem. There must be constant vigilance to ensure culture meets the intent of the law.