A professor’s take: A role model for college women at the Federal Reserve

Tara Sinclair is an associate professor of economics and international affairs. Amy Guisinger is a Ph.D. candidate in economics and a research assistant at the Institute for International Economic Policy at the Elliott School of International Affairs.

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Janet Yellen as the Federal Reserve’s next chair is historic, marking the first time a female has headed the central bank in its 100-year history. There is no question that Yellen, currently the Fed’s vice chair, is qualified to take the helm. But the nomination also has special significance for students at GW.

Economics is a field dominated by men. Only a few countries have ever had their central banks headed by a woman. While women in the U.S. have outpaced men in educational attainment for the last 40 years, there are still fewer women than men in most quantitative fields. Here at GW, only 35 percent of our economics majors are female.

Some research suggests that the gender gap in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce could be due to a lack of female role models and gender stereotyping.  

Seeing Yellen take such an important leadership role during a critical moment for the U.S. economy is particularly inspiring. Hopefully, this nomination will motivate a new wave of female economists and female leaders around the world.

Besides providing inspiration as a female taking on what can reasonably be considered the most prominent role in the world for an economist, it is also important to recognize that Yellen’s nomination will have another effect on GW students — especially around graduation time.

The Federal Reserve has a dual mandate, which requires it to not only focus on inflation, but to also consider unemployment. Yellen’s academic history — she received a Ph.D. in economics from Yale and was a professor at Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley — shows that she is an expert in labor markets. And most of her research has focused on the causes of unemployment.

While new graduates will likely still face a weak labor market, rest assured that Yellen and the Federal Reserve will be taking an active role in decreasing unemployment.

However, the woes of the economy will not be solved overnight. Yellen and the rest of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors have their work cut out for them.

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