Janet Yellen: 2 key disadvantages faced by women economists

Krystal Hu

“As arguably the most powerful woman in the world today, Janet Yellen needs no further introduction,” New York University’s business school dean said on Tuesday evening, while introducing the outgoing Fed chair.

While Yellen might be the world’s most powerful woman — and one of its most well-known economists — she told the audience that women in her field still face challenges.

“Women are not going into economics in the numbers that I think they should be,” Yellen said. Female students now account for 30.9% of economics undergraduates, according to a 2016 paper for the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

As the only female Ph.D. student in her graduating class in economics at Yale University, Yellen became the first woman to head the Fed in 2014. This week, she announced that she was resigning from the Fed board after President Donald Trump decided not to reappoint her as chair.

Research shows the percentage of female undergrads in the economics major has been around 30%. (Amanda Bayer and Cecilia Elena Rouse)

In a male-dominated field like economics, Yellen says a lack of mentorship can be a barrier to success for women. For her part, Yellen said she benefited from the mentorship of the late economist James Tobin, who taught at Yale and encouraged her throughout her career. She noted, however, that it can be difficult for women to find mentors in the field.

Outside the workplace, Yellen finds women sometimes get excluded from casual social networks where economists get inspiration for their work. “The guys go out and have a beer, and then they start talking about a topic. And by the time it’s over, they’ve got an idea and they’re writing a paper together,” she said.

In addition to Tobin, Yellen credits her success to the support of her husband. When she was teaching at UC Berkeley and got a call from the Clinton administration, her husband, economist George Akerlof, supported the career move. “I asked my spouse what do you think about moving to Washington?” Yellen said. “And he said absolutely, we’ll make it work.”

Yellen sees the economics profession as beginning to focus more on how to encourage women and minorities to become interested in the field. “The work, the research that we do will be improved because of diversity,” she said.

Krystal Hu is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter

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