How Janet Yellen keeps breaking glass ceilings


Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Ursula von der Leyen’s vaccine distribution decisions in the EU prompt criticism, Jessica Alba’s Honest Co. may go public, and Janet Yellen is the most prepared woman in Washington. Go get your Monday.

Today’s guest essay comes to us from Fortune politics reporter Nicole Goodkind:

The most prepared woman in Washington. Janet Yellen, the newly-minted Treasury secretary, is a serial glass-ceiling breaker. She was the only woman in her class to earn an economics Ph.D. at Yale University, and was for some time the sole female economics professor at Harvard University. She served under President Bill Clinton as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (a rare non-first moment; she was the second woman to serve in that role). In 2014, she was confirmed as the first female chair of the Federal Reserve, under President Barack Obama. Now she’s the first woman to hold the head job at the Treasury. 

Her new job also makes Yellen the first person—of any gender—to complete the Holy Trinity of the U.S. finance circuit: Council of Economic Advisers chair, Fed chair, and Treasury secretary. The list of her accomplishments and career highlights is large enough to fill a Proust-sized tome, but when it comes to the woman behind the resume, very little is known—barely a novella’s worth.   

In Fortune‘s February/March issue, I set out to find out what motivates Yellen, the woman who will be charged with the Biden administration’s efforts to stabilize a teetering U.S. economy that has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic—and who will have a profound impact on how quickly the economy can rebound. 

To do so, I spoke with Yellen and those closest to her: Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, San Francisco Fed President Mary C. Daly, and David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy. They all echoed similar impressions of the 74-year-old economist: She leads with a quiet confidence that comes from always being the most prepared and researched person in the room. When asked to describe Yellen, Bernanke turned to a 1970s reference: “When Janet Yellen talks, people listen.” (You can see the EF Hutton commercial he was referencing here.)

To learn more about Janet Yellen and what she’d like to add to her ever-growing highlight reel, read the full profile here.

Nicole Goodkind
nicole.goodkind@fortune.com
@nicolegoodkind

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe. 



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