Lobby for Janet Yellen to be Head of Fed As Strike for Parity in Women’s Power
President Obama could take a major step toward advancing women’s equality by appointing Janet Yellen to be Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. But it appears that he may blow it.The National Organization of Women has begun a grassroots campaign demanding that the President name Yellen, who would be the first woman to head the Fed. This is a cause around which all women should mobilize in a very vocal and visible way.Not only is Yellen highly qualified for the job but her main opponent, Larry Summers, is notorious for the sexism he displayed while he was president of Harvard.Moreover, women should be outraged by the subtle, sexist “whispering campaign” that has emerged against Yellen. Ezra Klein reports in his blog in The Washington Post that he heard the same pattern of complaints about Yellen in his conversations with members of the Obama Administrations, Federal Reserve, financial reporters, and the broader monetary-policy community. Yellen lacks “toughness.” She’s short on “gravitas.” She’s too “soft-spoken” or “passive.” What these complaints have in common, Klein points out, “is an implicit definition of leadership based on stereotypically male qualities.”Yet it is Yellen’s low-key, consensus-building style that makes her exactly the kind of leader the Fed needs. Summers, in contrast, is known for his arrogance and dismissiveness of those he regards as less powerful; putting someone with his temperament in charge of the Fed, The New York Times warned in a September 6 editorial, “would risk institutional discord or worse, dysfunction.”Also, unlike Summers, Yellen does not have close ties to Wall Street. Her untainted perspective is another argument in her favor. We need a Fed that’s more concerned about unemployment and growing income inequality than it is about corporate profits and high stock prices.Yellen’s main disadvantage appears to be that she’s not a member of the small fraternity of all-male advisers who reportedly hold sway over the President’s economic decisions – Robert Rubin, Timothy Geithner, Gene Sperling, and Larry Summers.For too long, it’s this absence from the inner circles of power that has perpetuated women’s exclusion from top leadership positions. Obama should break out of this vicious cycle. He should appoint Yellen, first because she’s exceptionally well-qualified for the job – and, just as importantly, because her appointment would strike a blow for parity in women’s power.