Seven Economic Institutions With Firmly Intact Glass Ceilings


Janet Yellen

Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen

Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen

With Ben Bernanke’s departure from his post as Chair of the Federal Reserve imminent, there has been a heated debate over who President Obama should appoint to replace him. The two most frequently talked about candidates are Larry Summers and Janet Yellen, current Vice Chair of the Fed. Gender has inevitably become part of the conversation, because a woman has never headed the Federal Reserve. In fact, not only is Yellen a perfectly well qualified candidate, she would bring the total of female heads of central banks around the world to 18 out of 177.

That slow progress to break down gender barriers is common to the fields of economics and finance. Here are seven other glass ceilings either yet to be smashed or only showing small cracks:

1. World Trade Organization: The WTO regulates trade deals between different countries and enacts agreements that are negotiated and signed by the world’s trading partners. But it has never had a woman act as its Director-General.

2. International Monetary Fund: While Christine Lagarde is now the IMF’s Managing Director, she was the first woman to ever be appointed to that position when she was selected in 2011.

3. U.S. Treasury Secretary: Here at home, the glass ceiling at the Treasury Department has yet to be dented. While President Obama got some encouragement to pick a woman to replace Timothy Geithner at the end of last year, such as Christina Romer or even Janet Yellen, he instead tapped Jacob Lew.

4. European Central Bank: The same gender problem facing the Federal Reserve can be found across the pond. Not only is the central bank headed by a man, but you won’t find a single woman among its Governing Council, Executive Board, or General Council.

5. Wall Street: Few women make it to the top of the biggest financial companies. They are less than 20 percent of executive officers and board directors and less than a quarter of senior officers. Citigroup doesn’t have any female executives, and JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley only have one each. Seven of the ten most powerful venture capital firms have zero female partners.

6. Business academia: Five of the top six top business schools in the U.S. only have male deans: Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, MIT Sloan, and University of Chicago Booth. Only about 10 percent of full-time tenured economics professors are women.

7. Actual money: The U.S. has not a single woman on its banknotes, while the U.K. does slightly better at two, although the woman who pushed the country to keep two women is now receiving vicious vitriol on the internet.