US Treasury Sec Yellen swaps ‘the only woman in the room’ stories with economists

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US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, a trailblazer in the field of economics, met with six female economists in Beijing on Saturday, an effort to spotlight gender diversity following meetings with China’s largely male government leaders.

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Yellen, the first woman to head the US Treasury, has made Women’s contributions and importance to economies a focal point of her tenure, often meeting with women economists and entrepreneurs during her travels, and hailing the benefits of boosting women’s participation in the workforce and leadership.

A senior Treasury official said the lunch with the Chinese economists would give Yellen, who was also the first woman to head the US Federal Reserve, a chance to “interact with a number of people kind of outside the normal policy structure.”

Treasury did not name the women participating.

Yellen, 76, said she had seen China’s adoption of market-based economic policies transform the country and lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty since she began myher career in the 1970s.

“It is my hope for the benefit of both China and the United States, as well as for the broader global economy, that those policies are carried out moving forward,” Yellen said, echoing comments on Friday to Chinese Premier Li Qiang, in which she urged China to shift to more market-based reforms.

Yellen told the women - one of whom described herself as a feminist economist - she was curious to learn more about their backgrounds and research.

“I’m sure we share similar stories and experiences about what a career in economics is like, and the challenges you can face,” Yellen said. “I see it all the time when I’m almost the only woman in the room, and I’m sure many of you have that same experience at decision-making tables.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decade as the ruling Communist Party’s general secretary has seen the number of women in politics and top government roles decline and gender gaps in the workforce widen, with the government emphasizing more traditional roles for women.

A June report by the United Nations urged China to adopt statutory quotas and a gender parity system to boost women’s representation in government.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women found that women comprise just over 26 percent of deputies to China’s 14th National People’s Congress and since October have had no representation in the 24-member Politburo of the Communist Party, a first in 20 years.

China’s top female politician is Shen Yiqin, appointed in March as one of five state councilors. She ranks higher than a minister and oversees social welfare, veteran affairs and sports.

Yellen, by contrast, is one of 13 women in President Joe Biden’s 25-member Cabinet, the most gender-diverse in US history.

One-quarter of the US Senate and 28.7 percent of the House of Representatives seats are held by women, according to Rutgers University’s Center for Women in Politics.

China also lags in terms of women’s representation in the top echelons of industry, a recent study showed.

Bain & Co and leadership advisory firm Spencer Stuart reported in March that women account for only 19 percent of top business executives, compared to an average of 25 percent in leading countries.

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