As Tumblr's "Boys Clubs" proves on a regular basis, most of the world's powerful groups — whether that's Obama's Cape Cod golf partners, the world's top-earning DJs, the most influential chefs, the International Olympic Committee, etc., — are made up of men (and often older, white men).
Likewise, economic organizations, big banks and policy-making bodies are not even close to the almost 50/50 gender split among younger employees that's now seen in medicine and other professions — let alone women in financial leadership positions.
But one of those powerful groups, the Federal Reserve, is (probably) about to be run by a lady. Janet Yellen, who has been working just under Ben Bernanke at the Fed as vice chairwoman, is about to step into that position, as long as she is approved by the Senate.
It's roundly agreed among top economists that she should be. She's "gotten the big calls right," as Justin Wolfers of the Brookings Institution writes on Bloomberg. And John Cassidy at the New Yorker writes, "by dint of her intelligence, her technical expertise, her judgment, her creativity, her work ethic, and her willingness to coöperate with people rather than elbow them aside, she has risen to the top of the one of the most demanding professions there is." She been a favorite for the job since Bernanke announced he would be stepping down.
And while one day (hopefully in the near future), a woman taking a powerful position such as leading the Fed will be unremarkable, it still is very newsworthy today. Yellen will be the first woman to head the Fed, and the first woman to lead a central bank in a big Western nation. Only Christine Lagarde, who's the director of the International Monetary Fund, comes close as a woman in such a high-ranking position.
Who we see in power matters, and the more we see women taking powerful positions, the better for all women. Why? Well, it's hard to say, or even think, women "just aren't good at math" when the chief economist of a major country is a woman. (They aren't, by the way, even though women will believe that they are naturally crummy at math if that's said enough.) And there are subtler messages that are absorbed when a woman is seen on the news for something other than being beautiful or a victim. When women are seen as men are, apart from their sexuality (their looks or lack thereof, their reproductive status, their body parts), they become valued for who they are, instead of what gender they are. And that's good for everyone.
Or, as Wolfers wrote in his column, after he finished praising Yellen as a great choice, “Tonight, I feel reassured that my daughter’s economic future is in good hands. I also plan to tell her that she, too, can grow up to become the most powerful economist in the world.”
The same is obviously true for little girls everywhere. They can (and will) see it with their own eyes as they grow up. They may not be told that they can be whoever they want to be, but they will actually see it.
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