Yellen Pick for Fed Could Soothe Criticism of Obama's Diversity Record

President criticized for having too many men in top cabinet spots.

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President Obama's choice of Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve may finally soothe or silence critics who have demanded that he name more women to top jobs.

Yellen would be the first woman to head the world's most influential central bank if she is confirmed by the Senate, as expected. She also would be one of the most powerful women anywhere in public life. Yellen would join Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, among the people with the most impact on the global economy.

Yellen, 67, is currently Fed vice chairwoman. She would succeed Ben Bernanke in running the Fed.

[READ: Obama Picks Yellen to Succeed Bernanke at the Federal Reserve]

Critics wondered if Obama would honor his commitment to diversity after he was re-elected last November and began populating his second-term administration with one man after another. They included Jack Lew as treasury secretary, Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, Denis McDonough as White House chief of staff and John Kerry as secretary of state to succeed Hillary Clinton.

Janet Yellen listens during a macro policy discussion during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group Spring Meetings on April 16, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
 

The critics have argued that, even though Obama had named two women to the Supreme Court and retained longtime confidante Valerie Jarrett as a senior White House adviser, he wasn't naming enough women to top posts within his administration. One study found that Obama has chosen women for 35 percent of the jobs in his second-term cabinet, less than fellow Democrat Bill Clinton's 41 percent in the 1990s, according to the Washington Examiner.

Among those expressing doubts about Obama's commitment to diversity at the senior level of his economic team was Christina Romer, who was in charge of the Council of Economic Advisers at the start of Obama's first term. "Are we moving forward?" she asked in a July interview with The New York Times. "It's hard to see it."

[READ: Obama Criticized for Lack of Diversity in Cabinet Appointments]

At that time, Romer said Obama's selection of the next Fed chairman would be a test of the administration's commitment to inclusiveness. "Within the administration there have been many successful women," Romer said. "There are lots of areas where women are front and center, where women are succeeding and doing very well. Economic policy is one where they're not."

Neera Tanden, a former Obama administration official and the president of the Center for American Progress, a progressive-oriented think tank, told the Times in July, "I think there should be more women [in top jobs] across the board."

[READ: What a Yellen-Led Fed Will Look Like]

Reacting to Obama's nomination of Yellen Wednesday, Tanden said in an email to reporters, "Janet Yellen's long history of experience with central banking makes her an excellent choice to lead the Federal Reserve."

Tanden added: "And as the first woman to run the Fed, Janet is breaking yet another glass ceiling in an arena full of gender barriers. Because of her leadership, determination, and courage, more little girls around the world can dream of some day running economies."

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.