Comment: Like Muirfield, Fed is another ‘boys’ club’

WHILE arguments rage around the men-only rule at Muirfield golf club another gender debate is getting under way across the Atlantic.

Terry Murden. Picture: TSPL

Talk about the successor to Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve has been clouded by what commentators see as nothing short of sexism.

The overwhelming favourite is the deputy governor Janet Yellen who the bookies have at a very short price over her main rivals, the former treasury secretaries Larry Saunders and Timothy Geithner. Long shots include former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Christina Romer and former Fed governor Larry Meyer.

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But in spite of Yellen’s clear lead, she is hardly considered a shoo-in, and that is for one reason only: being a woman.

One newswire reports of a “seemingly unco-ordinated yet disturbingly consistent whispering campaign against her”. More pointed was the comment by Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas president Richard Fisher in May who suggested on CNBC that if Yellen is chosen, the pick will have been “driven by gender”.

Perhaps most sinister is the fact that, while Yellen is held in high regard, and proved to have been correct in predicting the credit crunch, the plaudits are often accompanied with a condition that she “lacks gravitas”, is too “soft-spoken” and too “passive”.

Although she has clearly demonstrated a knowledge of monetary policy, some have questioned her ability to handle Congress whom she would inevitably have to confront on occasions where decisions are not popular.

In a country which prides itself on merit and opportunity it is worth noting that every chairman of the Federal Reserve and every treasury secretary has been male,

Inevitably, these jobs are defined in male terms and some believe monetary economics has become a “boys’ club”.

For Yellen to succeed she needs those who value her grasp of the monetary brief rather than masculine desk-thumping to come to her aid. 

Ashley shows others how it can be done

When Mike Ashley first took his company Sports Direct to the London Stock Exchange he managed to upset many in the City with his somewhat cavalier and uncompromising approach.

However, he has shown that actions speak louder than words. After floating in 2007 at 300p, the shares fell drastically to 32p amid questions over performance and corporate governance.

But they’re now twice the flotation price and Ashley believes the staff share scheme has been a contributor. The scheme is certainly proving generous, with an employee on £20,000 in line to pick up shares worth £70,000 at today’s price.

Ashley has succeeded by appealing to all ages and calling the market right at a time when his rivals got it so wrong, notably JJB which found itself with the wrong stock and too many stores. Its demise has clearly helped boost sales at Sports Direct.

Ashley is now combining acquired businesses Republic and USC to build another chain and is also expanding across Europe and developing the company’s click-and-collect operation.

A 40 per cent rise in pre-tax profits marked a record year that will be the envy of many struggling retailers. Ashley’s biggest problem will be trying to maintain the pace in what he has dubbed a “non-tournament” year.