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Woman on the Rise: Janet Yellen

The New Chair is the First Woman to Lead the Federal Reserve


Since being appointed in October of 2013, Janet Yellen has become the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve, commonly known as the Fed. Yellen previously served as Vice Chair of the Fed before replacing longtime Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke.

Janet Yellen has had a long and illustrious life and career. Yellen, a native of New York, was born in 1946.  She did her undergraduate studies at Brown University, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1967 and then went on to Yale University, where she received her Ph.D. in economics 1971. Yellen has taught economics at both Harvard and UC Berkeley, in addition to working for the White House Council of Economic Advisers under the Clinton administration and serving as the President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 2004-2010. She is married to Nobel Prize-winning economist, George Akerlof (Source).


What is Yellen’s connection to women’s issues?

Janet Yellen has been quietly breaking glass ceilings for decades. Although this was far from easy, Yellen has conquered academia and the government sector, despite encountering skepticism and sexism at every turn. The Washington Post interviewed Meghnad Desai, an economist who worked with Yellen in the 1970s, who noted that, “A woman has to persist and prove more than once that she’s as good as anybody else…I never thought that the world would finally recognize and reward her the way that it has. She has punched her way to the top by sheer ability.”

She is also joining other women, such as France’s Christine Lagarde, in high profile positions in economics, ushering what some are calling a “new era for women in finance.” Considering the rise of women in high profile positions, Lagarde has noted that, “There is a clear potential that is being tapped, and I hope it will continue to be tapped…But I think it requires constant vigilance.”

Yellen’s long career rejects the notion that older women are not viable job candidates. In an op-ed for Time.com entitled, “Janet Yellen is the Future of Powerful Women,” Liza Mundy argues that the 67 year old Yellen is example of the new possibilities for older professional women and their careers: “Already two years past the traditional retirement age, Yellen will embark on her next and weightiest chapter, taking on the job of head of the nation’s central banking system. In contrast, her immediate predecessor, Ben Bernanke, was in his 50s when he assumed the post. Yellen’s later-in-life ascension raises the possibility that women’s careers have a different trajectory than men’s traditionally do—but also that women may be defining a new career trajectory for everybody.” Nevertheless, Yellen’s academic pedigree and high profile job experience do set her apart from many other women in the workforce and it may be premature to connect the trajectory of her career to the arc of women more generally.

Finally, her economic philosophy reflects a concern for women’s issues. Talking Points Memo reports that, “Yellen has also consistently shown a higher regard for the relationship between global economic policy and individual people. She has for decades analyzed unemployment and wage trends, particularly post-recession. She is deeply cognizant of the impact of the gender gap in economics PhD programs, and she has chosen to write about issues that single mothers face. Leaders like Yellen who understand the impact of the economy on people’s lives and who also set monetary policy are rare to find.”

Only time will tell how women’s issues will influence or be influenced by Janet Yellen’s tenure as chair of the Federal Reserve. However, her appointment marks an interesting and exciting chapter in women’s leadership.

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