World Trade

Yellen has a heart-to-heart with Chinese economists, sharing tales of being ‘the only woman in the room’

BEIJING (Reuters) – Janet Yellen, the remarkable U.S. Treasury Secretary, had an empowering meeting with six female economists in Beijing on Saturday. This gathering aimed to shine a light on gender diversity, especially after her discussions with China’s predominantly male government leaders.

Yellen, a true pioneer as the first woman to head the U.S. Treasury, has dedicated her tenure to highlighting the invaluable contributions of women to economies. She frequently meets with women economists and entrepreneurs during her travels, emphasizing the advantages of enhancing women’s participation in the workforce and leadership roles.

A senior Treasury official shared that the luncheon with Chinese economists would provide Yellen, who also made history as the first woman to chair the U.S. Federal Reserve, an opportunity to “interact with a number of people kind of outside the normal policy structure.” The Treasury did not disclose the names of the participating women.

At 76 years old, Yellen praised China’s adoption of market-based economic policies that have remarkably transformed the nation and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty since she embarked on her career in the 1970s.

“It is my hope that these policies continue for the benefit of both China and the United States, as well as for the broader global economy,” Yellen expressed, echoing her comments to Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Friday, where she urged China to embrace more market-based reforms.

During the luncheon, Yellen engaged with the women, one of whom proudly identified herself as a feminist economist, expressing her curiosity about their backgrounds and research.

“I’m sure we share similar stories and experiences when it comes to pursuing a career in economics and the challenges we face,” Yellen remarked. “I see it all the time when I find myself as the lone woman in the room, and I’m sure many of you can relate when sitting at decision-making tables.”

Over the past decade, under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the number of women in politics and top government positions has declined. Additionally, gender gaps in the workforce have widened, with the government placing greater emphasis on traditional gender roles.

In June, a United Nations report urged China to implement statutory quotas and a gender parity system to enhance women’s representation in the government.

According to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, women make up just over 26% of deputies in China’s 14th National People’s Congress. Since October, there has been no female representation in the 24-member Politburo of the Communist Party, marking the first time in 20 years.

Shen Yiqin, appointed in March as one of five state councillors, holds the highest-ranking position among female politicians in China. Her portfolio includes overseeing social welfare, veteran affairs, and sports.

In contrast, Yellen is one of thirteen women in President Joe Biden’s gender-diverse 25-member Cabinet, making it the most inclusive in U.S. history.

Rutgers University’s Center for Women in Politics reveals that women hold a quarter of the seats in the U.S. Senate and 28.7% of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Furthermore, a recent study shows that China lags in terms of women’s representation in top-level positions within the business industry.

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

In summary, Yellen’s engaging conversation with Chinese economists allowed her to share her experiences and connect with like-minded professionals. While China still faces challenges in gender diversity, Yellen’s presence and dedication to promoting women’s empowerment serve as an inspiration for progress in both nations.

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