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Women in Economics: Kate Warne

Kate Warne

This 23-minute podcast was released Jan. 16, 2019.

“I come from a family of economists. So, of course, I didn’t want to go into economics,” says Kate Warne, at right in the photo above. Warne is a principal and investment strategist at Edward Jones. She talks with Mary Suiter, assistant vice president and economic education officer at the St. Louis Fed, about why we need women in finance, policy and other fields related to economics.

They also discuss the role of education in building confidence. “One of the things education does for you is provide a set of skills that you can be confident in,” says Warne, who has a doctorate in economics.



Transcript:

Mary Suiter: Hello. I’m Mary Suiter, and you’re listening to Women in Economics, a podcast series from the St. Louis Fed’s Timely Topics audio channel. Today, I’m speaking with Kate Warne, principal, with Edward Jones. Hi, Kate. Thanks for being with us today.

Kate Warne: Hi, Mary, delighted to be here.

Suiter: Great. Well, I guess we’ll start off with, what kind of work do you do?

Warne: Well, as an investment strategist at Edward Jones, I’m responsible for helping financial advisors explain to clients what’s going on in the financial markets: that’s interest rates, it’s the economy. It’s what’s happening in the stock market. What’s happening in the stock market? What’s happening in the bond market? What’s happening globally? And then, providing advice and guidance about the actions that they should take to address the changes that are happening in the financial markets. So, it’s really two parts. I do the analysis of what’s happening, and then my role is the advice and guidance about what do you do about it, which, to me, is always exciting because there are always changes in financial markets. There’s always something going on that people are confused about or concerned about, and my role is to provide that insight and perspective to be sure clients are able to take the right actions in those circumstances.

Suiter: And so, when you do that, do you conduct briefings, trainings for staff, or do you provide written guidance or both?

Warne: Both. What I do is write a large number of things that get sent out. I do videos, sort of similar to these podcasts, but actually with, you know, visuals, as well, and I also do client seminars and I talk to the media. So, it’s trying to be sure that we’re conveying this information in all the ways possible so that people know what they need to do to address whatever is going on in financial markets, whether it’s rising interest rates or falling stock prices or global uncertainty.

Suiter: Okay. How did you decide that economics was the field for you?

Warne: Well, actually, I didn’t.

Warne: I come from a family of economists, and so, my father was an economist. My aunt and uncle were both economists. My grandfather was an economist. So, some people come from families of doctors or families of lawyers. I come from a family of economists. So, of course, I didn’t want to go into economics, so I majored in political science, and then I looked for a job and I realized that it was my minor in economics that everybody was interested in, so then I went on and did a Ph.D. in economics and have decided that it was the really the best thing I ever did, even though, of course, I resisted early on.

Suiter: That is great. I love that, a family of economists. So, I think we should make a sitcom.

[Laughter]

Suiter: I have a family of engineers, but it’s seldom that I hear about a family of economists, so, you know, as a teenager, you must have rebelled against any suggestions that you’d be an economist. But what kind of work were your family members engaged in, and has that influenced or does it dovetail with work you currently do, or you have done?

Warne: The last one is the easiest. And, no, it doesn’t really dovetail very much with what I do. My grandfather was a professor of economics at Amherst College, and that was probably why I didn’t want to be a professor, but I did experiment with that, and come to Washington University in St. Louis to be on the faculty. I would say in terms of the background, certainly, there were always conversations around the dinner table, family gatherings, about what was going on in the economy, and that’s probably where I got my interest in these things as being important problems, whether it was the direction of the economy or what was happening in labor markets or, you know, why there were cycles, things like that, I mean, to me, those were always the really interesting questions. So, I probably got my love of those types of questions from my family. But interestingly enough, none of the rest of them have done finance. None of the rest of them do specifically what I do. So, in a way, having tried really hard to get out of it by doing political science, I still managed to get out of it by doing something different and talking about financial markets. But, no, in terms of that, I think it’s the love of those kinds of questions, seeing those as important questions that are really interesting questions that need good analysis and good recommendations for people to take action.

Suiter: As a follow up, were they able to see you? Did your grandfather live long enough to see you get your Ph.D.?

Warne: No, he passed away before I got my Ph.D., but I was at Yale working on it at that time.

Suiter: So, he knew you were—

Warne: Yes. He knew that eventually that I did go into economics, yes. And my aunt and uncle were still alive at that point. So, yeah, as well as my parents.

Suiter: So that’s exciting for them. I think there had to be a lot of pride that the granddaughter had stepped into his footsteps, more or less, so that’s really great.

Suiter: When you went back for your master’s and your Ph.D. program, who inspired you? Were there instructors that inspired you or mentored you?

Warne: Absolutely. Even as an undergraduate, there was a professor in political science who just did a great job of identifying important topics and doing a thorough analysis and then presenting them very clearly. And I think it was that last part that really attracted me was the clarity with which he always explained what was going on, and that was really something that I aspired to. So, when I went back to Yale and did my Ph.D., my dissertation advisor, Steve Ross, was really, you know, my biggest and best mentor, but also Rick Levin, who was the person who did industrial organization or competitive strategy as we call it now was the other person at Yale. And they were both people who identified important problems and took a really thorough approach to analyzing them, and that was the thing that I always wanted to do.

Suiter: And I know that you do that now in your work for Edward Jones, so that’s really terrific. How does being a woman in economics influence what you do?

Warne: I don’t think it does very much, and you can certainly hear from the fact that the two people, three people I identified as mentors, none of them were women. I guess it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do what I do being a woman, even though I didn’t have any real models. My mom has a Ph.D. in music, and she taught for a while at the university level. So, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that being a woman was different. And I guess I would say, very much, I’ve always focused on trying to add value and trying to focus on what I could contribute, whether it was in an organization or to solve a problem. And in that sense, if you’re making a contribution pretty much the people in the room accept you for the contribution the more you focus on your gender they focus on your gender, but if you focus on what you’re doing that adds value, to a certain extent they’re focused on that, too. And I think it really helps in terms of shifting the focus away from who’s in the room to what problem are we solving and who can provide help in solving those problems.

Suiter: I think that’s a great view to have and probably an absolutely accurate view of how we can make the best contribution as individuals regardless of who we are.

Warne: And I think that’s actually really what’s important is figuring out where you can make a contribution, what skills you have, developing those, and saying, “Here’s what I bring to the table.” And I think, strangely enough, women frequently can do that as well or better than men and they don’t have—I’m not sure whether it’s self confidence or the willingness to be visible to say, “I can really make this contribution here.” And sometimes, of course, they discover when they try to that the men push back and that makes it even more challenging.

Suiter: So, have you faced those kinds of challenges with men pushing back when you’ve wanted to share your approach or your solution?

Warne: I would say I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate that, certainly in the environments I’ve been in, the answer is pretty much no. I’ve been pretty accepted. I would say there’s certainly job interviews or interviews that I went to where it was pretty clear they were checking a box, but that’s a very small piece of the problem where you just say, “It was obvious that they weren’t ever going to hire me. I must have been there for some other reason besides being a serious candidate.” But, certainly, we’ve all read in economics that there’s a lot of discrimination at the university tenure stage, in terms of the articles and things like that. I haven’t faced any of that that I’m aware of specifically.

And I would just say I think I’m extraordinarily fortunate, as opposed to, somehow, I did it right. I just think I happened to hit places and situations where I was accepted based on what I was doing and that nobody really cared one way or the other. And I probably actually had some benefit because in many cases, people were interested in hiring women, and that’s the case right now at Edward Jones. We’re trying to hire women financial advisors because we actually think it gives us a competitive advantage, so there’s huge amounts of opportunity.

Suiter: So, why do you think that gives you a competitive advantage?

Warne: Well, if you think about financial services and you think about economics in general, it’s about solving problems and especially solving problems about money. Money is one of the four, big issues that you face in life. It’s money. It’s your career. It’s your family. It’s your health. Those are really the four things that everybody needs to solve problems about. And for women to do that, I think it’s really important because many people would rather talk to a woman about those kinds of life decisions, and yet, historically, financial services was a male profession. Financial advisors or, you know, stockbrokers back in the old days were all men, and women didn’t feel comfortable talking to them. They felt it was some kind of foreign territory. I really think today, women have a huge advantage because they tend to speak more in levels and in ways that people understand. People are more comfortable saying, “Here’s the things I really want to achieve.” And as a result, they’re able to address more of people’s needs and really help them with their financial situation over time. It’s not that men can’t do that. I think women are naturally more able to listen and to really address the specific needs of the people that they’re serving.

Suiter: What would you say to young women who are interested, maybe on the edge, thinking about a career in economics or finance? What would you say to sort of push them in that direction?

Warne: Well, I think the first thing is economics is about incentives, and it’s about helping you figure out tradeoffs and making really important decisions, and those two are life skills. So, it takes some economics regardless of whether you’re going to become an economic professional because those will help you in thinking about all kinds of different things. It’s a method of analysis. But more importantly, if, as you said, Mary, you’re on the edge thinking about, “Is this a career for me,” think about, how do you want to help people? Everybody wants a career where they’re doing something beyond themselves, and I think economics gives you the grounding, whether you end up doing specifically economics or something else.

When I was thinking about my career long ago, I worked in Washington, and I realized the thing I really liked to do was policy analysis, and that meant I either needed to do a Ph.D. in economics or get a law degree. I chose to get a Ph.D. degree in economics. But one of the things I also realized was the clarity of thinking that economics had given me really helped in terms of crafting the analysis of new regulations, of almost anything I was working on and that that was really attractive.

So, I would say for somebody contemplating a career in economics don’t think of it as, “Oh, well, the only thing I can do is become an economics professor.” It’s basically a good grounding for whatever you decide to do because it’s this way of thinking, and it’s an analysis of what’s going on in the world and all of these policy issues are really important today. There are all kinds of things that we’re concerned about where good economic analysis is needed and where the problems are really, really interesting, and really important, and that, to me, is what’s so exciting about economics.

Suiter: And I think that’s what would excite young women about economics, your message. So, I hope that it comes through loud and clear. Currently, do you have a lot of women working for you or with you at Edward Jones, and how do you mentor them along their careers?

Warne: The answer is yes. Edward Jones does a really great job of hiring very talented analysts and associates in the home office, as well as financial advisors. So, I’ve got a lot of smart women who don’t work for me, but who I work with. And I really see my job not so much as teaching them, they almost all have specific responsibilities that are very narrow. But what I want them to do is broaden out the way they think about the input that they provide in terms of supporting our clients. So, I’m trying always to challenge them to see what they do in a broader role to bring them into decisions that are a little bigger than what they’re currently working on. Because I think one of the things you do is develop expertise, and then you broaden out what you are able to comment on or able to add value on once you have this area of expertise that’s sort of your home base, and I think that’s really important.

Suiter: Why women in economics? Why is that important to the financial field, to the policy field, to lots of areas where we don’t have as many women involved as we might?

Warne: I think in many cases, women look at economics and they realize there’s a lot of mathematics in it, and they see that, and they forget that these are really important problems. And I think women are attracted to solving important problems, but they tend to look in other areas and say, “The challenges that interest me are something else.” I think it’s important to have women for a couple of reasons. I think it’s really important to have women in economics because sometimes the natural tendency that men have is to identify a different set of causal explanations than what women would look at.

We never know which ones are going to be right until we look at the data, but having different hypotheses, having different questions getting explored is going to be really important in terms of making progress on important policy issues, on important topics in economics like what causes recessions and how do we avoid another financial crisis, as well as just decisions on things like immigration, where it’s a really important issue and economists have a lot to say about it, but they may not have said it in a way that’s getting incorporated in today’s debate.

Suiter: In your career, and you’ve had a tremendously successful career, you worked as an economist for the Council of Economic Advisors, and I’m just interested in what that was like.

Warne: That was a lot of fun. The Council of Economic Advisors, I was the person who specialized in transportation policy. That was under the Reagan Administration, so it was a really long time ago, but the Council is really the advisor to the President. And so, at that point, we were getting involved in lots of different transportation policies, and I was the one who sort of got to write some of it to determine administration policy. And it was a great opportunity in terms of seeing parts of the governments, like how the budget process worked, which I knew nothing about, but also in terms of being able to provide input in terms of some of the important decisions that were made under that administration.

Suiter: That’s exciting.

Warne: Yeah, it was one of the best jobs I ever had.

Suiter: What is an obstacle that you had or a problem that you had that you struggled with and how did you deal with it?

Warne: I guess one of the problems you always have is you’ve developed a body of knowledge. I did a Ph.D., and then I decided I didn’t want to be in academia, which was not so much a problem, but clearly a different direction. If you look at my career, I’ve worked for public companies like General Motors, like what’s now AT&T, but it was Southwestern Bell when I worked there. I’ve worked for the government. I worked for—I was on the faculty at Washington University, and now I’m working at Edward Jones. It’s not exactly a logical career progression, and I would say part of what I was always trying to do was figure out, “Where can I add more value?” And I also had a pretty clear sense that I liked solving the first 80 percent of problems and not the last couple of percent, which is really what you do in academia, but I didn’t know that until I had experienced it.

So, I guess the obstacles I faced were more trying to find the right fit for me where I could add more value rather than discrimination or rather than people blocking my way. It was more I needed to—I kept trying to figure out where am I going to be able to do the things that really make sense to me, and that’s what the place I’m working also wants me to be doing. But I realized at Washington University, and it’s a great research university, but they focus on making sure you’re doing cutting edge research. So, every minute I spent teaching classes was a minute I was not spending doing research, and that, to me, wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. So, other jobs were much better fits, and it just took a while for me to figure out what’s the right match. I think that’s probably good career advice in general. Although, clearly, it would be much better if you go work for an employer where you love it and stay there forever.

But when you look at careers, not just of women, but of men, it’s always multiple employers now and people are staying on jobs a lot less long. So that’s one of the things that I think is really important for today’s graduates, or for younger women, which is never think about this as something where you’re going to be there forever. Always think of it as, “How do I keep my skills sharp? How do I make sure I’m looking at other opportunities?” Not because you want to move, but because what you want is that network, and what you always want to be doing is saying, “How can I improve? How can I add value? How can I do a little more?” Because that’s going to lead you to the success in whatever field you choose, whether it’s economics or something else.

Suiter: So always that continued investment in your own education and development of skills and problem solving?

Warne: Yes, I think that’s really important, and that’s something where—The good news is by doing economics, there’s always more to do. There’s always more to learn, and you’re dealing with something that’s really important to people, whether you’re doing macroeconomics and looking at cycles in the economy and what’s going at the aggregate level with the deficit, for example. Whether you’re doing microeconomics and trying to say, “All right, how does this industry work and what should be done to regulate this industry?” Those are just two examples, but they’re ones where there’s always more to learn and there’s always something changing.

We’re seeing lots of mergers across the world right now. Is that good or bad for consumers? In some ways, it’s giving them opportunity to buy things from different places. It’s good news because it’s bringing bigger companies that can lower costs, with the other hand, they could have market power and then that’s bad news for consumers, but trying to help figure that out, that’s an important question. That was the kind of thing that attracted me to economics.

Suiter: And I think the kind of thing that will attract women if they are aware of those bigger questions. So, what else might you want to talk about relative to women in economics that you think is an important message for young people we hope are listening?

Warne: You know, I think many people think that they need to see women in economics in order to go into the field. There’s this notion that if others aren’t doing it, somehow, I shouldn’t do it. And that’s where I had this huge advantage, where it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have that sort of blinder, but as I said, it’s probably my family background that always said, “Education’s your ticket and don’t worry about anything else.” But I think that the more we see women entering economics, the better the profession will be, the more visibility there will be for other women coming in. It’s one of those things that feeds on itself. And so, I really think it’s important that women go into economics because of the fact that if we don’t have women there then we’re losing some of the brain power and some of the insight we would get from some of those really good people who could help solve very important problems.

Suiter: And I agree. And I also agree with you about just education in general, and that’s been sort of a subtheme of our podcast series is how important it is to invest in yourself, and how important it is for women to invest in themselves, so I certainly appreciate you bringing those points up. Is there anything you would like to add?

Warne: Just following on to what you just said, I think one of the things that women should recognize, especially people who are thinking about a career, is that one of the challenges many women face is they’re concerned, and I’ve heard this phrased in different ways, but, “If there’s a job and it requires eight skills, men will apply if they have one, and women feel they need to have all eight.” One of the things education does for you is provide a set of skills that you can be confident in, so you can figure, “I’ve learned those, and I know them really well and I can figure out the others.” And it can help you overcome that hurdle of feeling like that you have to have done everything before or have to know everything before you’re good enough to apply for a job or be considered for a promotion. I think that’s true. It’s probably more true in economics, because there’s a set of very clearly identifiable skills that you’ll be able to convey to others. But it’s true regardless of what you study that the more you think about, “If I’ve got these skills, I can probably apply them to something else.” And I think that’s really helpful as a way of overcoming that hesitancy that many women seem to have when somebody says, “Well, you need to have these 10 things,” and you don’t have all of them. As I said, we have all these studies that say, “Men do it anyhow and women hesitate and don’t take the initiative.” Take the leap, go ahead and do it. And certainly, if you’re somebody thinking about economics as a career, think about economics as the thing that will help push you through that door because you’ll have really good skills.

Suiter: That is great advice for young people to—young women that’s particularly—to recognize that the skills they develop apply, and I think that takes some perspective. You have to be able to step back or have someone, as you just did, step back for you and kind of point that out to you because otherwise, you get kind of mired in, “I can’t do this. I’ve never did that.” So, I think that’s very useful for our listeners.

Suiter: So Kate, you mentioned that have a number of women that you work with. Is Edward Jones currently looking or hiring women?

Warne: Absolutely. In fact, we’re hiring women as financial advisors, which fits into what I was talking about where many people would rather talk to a woman about all of these very important life decisions, whether it’s their money or their health or their legacy or even what’s happening with their family. All of those are super important decisions, and many people would rather get advice from a woman, even though, of course, financial services has always been a male-oriented profession. So, I think there’s a huge opportunity. Edward Jones is looking for women to fill those roles, and certainly, even if what you’re doing is graduating as an undergraduate, what we have are programs to help you learn the business and to come in and be a financial advisor.

Suiter: And that’s fantastic that you provide some, more or less, on the job training that gets them ready for the work they’re going to do so they come out with an economics degree or a finance degree. That’s really great.

Mary Suiter: Well, thank you so much for being with us today. We really appreciate it, and we know that our listeners will enjoy hearing what you had to say today, so thank you.

Warne: Thank you.

Suiter: To hear more about Women in Economics podcasts, visit stlouisfed.org/womeninecon. That's one word: Stlouisfed.org/womeninecon. Thank you.