THE BLOG

How Janet Yellen's Path at The Federal Reserve Holds Lessons for Us All

10/15/2013 06:45 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Amid all the news coverage about the first woman ever nominated to run the Federal Reserve, the headline in the Washington Post stood out:

"For Janet Yellen, Obama's Federal Reserve Nominee, Quiet Patience Paid Off."

The story goes on to point out how Yellen did not press or angle for the job as chair of the Federal Reserve. Instead, she got the nomination for the position because of her history of hard work, her experience and because of forward-thinking supporters.

For any woman in the workforce, it's worth examining Janet Yellen's career. Here's how I think her path the very pinnacle of her chosen profession hold lessons for all of us:

Set your goals, determine your path and stick to it.
Yellen earned a degree in economics from Brown University in 1967. She earned a PhD in economics from Yale. She went on to teach economics at Harvard. She also taught economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

It's hard to imagine a better path to the Federal Reserve Board, which she joined in 1977 as an economist. In essence, Yellen decided where she wanted to be and what she wanted to do. She developed a plan to get to get there, determined the path she needed to take -- and then stuck with it.

Do the job you want to do -- before you get picked to do it.
After several years of distinguishing herself as an economist at the Fed, in 1994, Yellen was appointed as a member of the Fed's Board of Governors. Ten years later, she became president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. And then in 2010, she was named vice chair of the central bank, second only to Ben Bernanke in determining the nation's monetary policy.

When President Obama started looking for a replacement for Bernanke, it was obvious that Yellen was primed, ready and able to do the job. And when she takes over as chair of Federal Reserve, she will be well-versed in the duties, the importance and the responsibilities of the role.

Build your team of supporters (and support other women)
When Yellen was in the running to join the Fed's Board of Governors back in 1990, it was a fellow Berkeley professor, Laura D'Andrea Tyson, who recommended her for the role, according to the Washington Post. Earlier this year, when Yellen's name surfaced as a possible replacement for Bernanke, she found support in the Institute for Women's Policy Research. The group drafted a letter recommending Yellen for the position that was signed by more than 500 economists.

"I felt here was a supremely qualified woman who deserves a job," Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research and an economist herself told the Washington Post. "I sort of suspected that a lot of economists felt the same way."

Yellen may not have lobbied or pressed for the top job at the Fed. But her supporters -- other women, other professors, others who had been on her team before -- did.

Change Starts at the Top
Yellen is the first woman nominated to be chair of the Federal Reserve, but she's just the latest in a notable line of women who President Obama has nominated or appointed to the highest roles of government.

Thanks to the president's recognition that our country's leadership should better mirror our country's population, we had a woman in charge of the State Department (Hillary Clinton); we now have a woman running the Department of the Interior for the first time (Sally Jewell); a woman running the EPA for the first time (Gina McCarthy) we have a woman ambassador to the United Nations (Susan Rice) and the two most recent appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court have been women (Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor).

Whether it's the President of the United States or the CEO of your company, change must come from the top. Regardless of how hard we work or how much support we have from our peers, making our country and our companies more gender equal depends on strong leadership. It's up to all of us to encourage leaders to do the right thing.

So, now that we have a woman in line to run the Federal Reserve for the first time, what can we expect?

For some time now, I and others have suggested that if we had more "sisters" in leadership roles when the Lehman Brothers debacle occurred, our country's financial crisis would've have turned out much differently. Study after study shows that women make decisions differently than men -- women are typically more egalitarian, more risk-averse and therefore less ego-driven and less reckless. Having more women in decision-making roles on Wall Street would've clearly made a difference in the financial crisis.

In picking Janet Yellen, President Obama noted how she spoke out early about the problems that eventually led to the Great Recession.

"She had sounded the alarm bell early about the housing market bubble and excesses in the financial markets before the recession," Obama said. "She calls it like she sees it."

That's a good thing, I think, for our economy, for our country -- and for all of us women.