Sisterhood Blog

Janet Yellen Smashes the Glass Ceiling

By Bryce Covert

  • Print
  • Share Share

On Monday evening, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm the nomination of Janet Yellen to become chair of the Federal Reserve, the country’s central bank. She’s expected to start the new position at the beginning of February.

Yellen carries on a tradition of Jewish Fed chairs, following Ben Bernanke, who she is replacing, and his predecessor Alan Greenspan, as well as two others in the past century. She is also supremely qualified, having spent the last three years as Bernanke’s number two at the Fed and many others working in central banking in various positions. But one thing about her is completely different than all other Fed chairs before her. She’s a woman.

That’s right: since the Federal Reserve was created 100 years ago, it has always been led by a man. The United States isn’t an outlier here, however. Just 19 of the world’s 177 central banks are run by women. That’s about 10 percent. (Women make up half of the world’s population, of course.) It’s not that women don’t have an interest in central banking. Nearly half of the Fed’s employees are women. They just haven’t risen to the top.

The deck may be stacked against them. Despite Yellen’s long history of experience and impeccable track record on making predictions, President Obama resisted nominating her for a long time, wanting his buddy Larry Summers to get the nod instead. Advisers whispered that Yellen lacked “gravitas” — a euphemism for not living up to fuzzy and impossible standards if ever there was one — and that she was overly prepared and thought independently, or in other words, was poo poohed for striving to be twice as good.

This is the subtle, and sometimes not subtle, sexism that is a part of why women still remain largely shut out of the most influential positions. In economics, the World Trade Organization has never been led by a woman, and the United States Treasury Secretary has always been male. Women make up just 4.5 percent of the CEOs at America’s largest companies. We’ve never had a woman president, and Congress has never been more than 18 percent female. As of July, just 19 countries were led by women.

This is an issue of equality, first and foremost. Women and other groups deserve proportional representation in the halls of power. But we also cheat ourselves when women are kept out of leadership. Research has found that we can chalk up as much as 20 percent of American economic growth and productivity over the past half century to removing barriers for women and minorities in the workplace. That’s because there is an “improved allocation of talent” when potential candidates aren’t just pale and male — in other words, when the pool expands, more cream will rise to the top. Yellen is a good example of this given that she is perhaps one of the most qualified Fed candidates we’ve had. More evidence that diverse leadership pays off: gender diverse corporate boards have been found time and again to outperform those that remain largely male.

Yellen will take the helm at a tough time to lead the institution, with an economy that is slowly improving yet not reaching many Americans and decisions about how quickly to wind down the Fed’s controversial stimulus program. But she’s already broken a glass ceiling, and that matters in its own right.

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress and a contributor for The Nation. She lives and writes in New York City.

Photo credit Getty Images


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: fed chair, Jewish, Janet Yellen

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.