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Susan Estrich
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Blame The Woman

Comment

It's all her fault. She made him do it. Don't blame Paul Wolfowitz, World Bank President, for his breach of ethics in negotiating a transfer and pay raise for his longtime girlfriend. Blame her.

That is, essentially, what Mr. Wolfowitz argued in his response to the highly critical report from the committee investigating his actions. She was the villain, not him. Ms. Riza was so "extremely angry and upset," that the ethics panel that reviewed the question of whether she could remain in her position, and concluded she couldn't, was afraid to confront her themselves, leaving it to him to handle the details of moving her out of her job. "Its [the ethics committee's] members did not want to deal with a very angry Ms. Riza, whose career was being damaged as a result of their decision," Wolfowitz writes in his written response to the just-released report. "It would only be human nature for them to want to steer clear of her." As for the resolution he reached, Wolfowitz argues that he was forced to grant her a $50,000 annual pay raise as part of the transfer not because he wanted to, but because her "intractable position" left him with no choice if he hoped to preempt his girlfriend from suing him.

I wish she had.

Consider the situation Ms. Riza faced. She was employed in a senior position at the World Bank. Her longtime companion is offered the job of president of the Bank, the job of being her boss. Now, you don't need to be as smart as Paul Wolfowitz to understand that there could be a problem if you take a job as your girlfriend's boss. It's almost inevitable that she will be adversely affected, that at the very least, he will have to bend over backward to avoid charges of favoritism, which in practice means an end to pay raises and promotions.

And in many institutions, precisely because of these issues, one partner must leave.

Did Mr. Wolfowitz stop to consider the likely impact on Ms. Riza before he took the job?

Did it ever occur to him that maybe he shouldn't take the position, out of consideration for his partner, who was there first and would have to pay the price?

I don't blame Mr. Wolfowitz for being ambitious. Nothing wrong with that, standing alone. But Ms. Riza was, by all accounts, ambitious, too. And what Mr. Wolfowitz describes as the "career disruption" caused by her transfer out of her job and department was clearly not part of her plan.

So Mr. Wolfowitz got his job, and the Bank's ethics committee concluded that Ms. Riza could no longer remain in hers because she would be under his supervision. The obvious question — if it's a conflict to supervise your girlfriend, why isn't it just as big a conflict to negotiate the terms of her departure — apparently never occurred to these very smart people. According to Wolfowitz, the chairman of the ethics panel told him that "due to my personal relationship with Ms. Riza, I was in the best position to persuade her to take out-placement and thereby achieve the 'pragmatic solution' the committee desired."

The "pragmatic solution" was to sacrifice Ms. Riza's career for Mr. Wolfowitz's. Of course she was "extremely angry and upset." She had every right to be. In the fairy tales, the girl falls in love with the handsome prince, and they live happily ever after. In real life, as my friend Suzanne taught me years ago, more women sleep their way to the bottom than the top any day. Add Ms. Riza to the list. But for goodness' sake, don't blame her for asking for too much as she was being pushed out the door. Blame the guy who pushed her.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.



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