Women in Economics: Kathleen Hays
This 22-minute podcast was released May 15, 2019.
“What I'm trying to do is add value … really try to get to understand what someone's thinking, why they're doing what they're doing, where they're heading next,” says Kathleen Hays, the global, economics and policy editor for Bloomberg Television and Radio. Hays talks with Maria Hasenstab, senior media relations specialist at the St. Louis Fed, about her economics education and its role in her prestigious business reporting career. Hays also discusses business and journalism changes over her three decades in the reporting field—and whom she’d like to interview next.
Maria Hasenstab: Hello. I'm Maria Hasenstab, 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 Kathleen Hays. Kathleen is the Global, Economics, and Policy Editor for Bloomberg Television and Radio, covering economies and central banks around the world from the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank to the Bank of Japan and the People's Bank of China. Hi, Kathleen.
Kathleen Hays: Hello. It's great to have this conversation with you.
Hasenstab: I'm so glad we're speaking with you today. I'd like to highlight your journalism career, but you started out studying economics. You have a bachelor's and master's degree in economics from Stanford University. Did you always know you wanted to be a journalist?
Hays: No, not at all. I always loved writing as a kid. Writing always came easily to me. I always enjoyed it; however, when I went to college, I think I wanted to save the world somehow. I probably thought I would ultimately go to law school. I did take one intro econ course my freshman year. My sophomore year I went to Mexico City on a Stanford program where I ended up taking some courses at El Colegio de Mexico, which is a small graduate institution that has one course for undergrads in international relations, and, at the time, it was very oriented toward a more—actually, I'll just say, it was a more Marxist look at the world. It was more like dependency theory and how the center countries exploited the peripheral countries, and, you know, as a sophomore in college, I thought, "Wow. That's just really explaining a lot about how the world works. So, I'm going to go back to Stanford my junior year, and I'm going to study Marxism."
And, lo and behold, we had three pretty well-known Marxist professors at Stanford at the time, and so, I dove into economics and I decided to major in economics. So, I took micro. I took all kinds of things, and, over time, I think, as much as I still appreciate all the time and the great professors I had, I became much more—I've always been interested in how things work and why they work, and I think in my economics courses, one of the first courses that really spoke to me loudly was, of all things, money and banking. Why? Because, I felt like, instead of looking at Edgeworth box diagrams and these various things, which are important, you know, very important, still, I was finally looking at how the system works, how political economy works, because banks, that's where the money flows through. That's where so many important things are occurring, right, so many forces in our world, and I suspect that ultimately that's what kind of got me on a path to the Federal Reserve. Not because it's Marxist, anything but, and nor am I at this much older and wiser point of my life. But, because the Federal Reserve is one of the most important institutions in the United States and, therefore, in the world, and everything it does has such a big, big influence on people, on the economy, on their jobs, on companies.
So, that's kind of a long of saying, no, I didn't ever think I was going to be a journalist, and that's another part of the story, how I fell into being a journalist.
Hasenstab: So, talk to me about the role your econ degrees have played in being a leading business journalist, and tell me what it's like being a leading business journalist and also a woman.
Hays: Well, I didn't really exactly set out to be a leading business journalist. I really set out to be able to do something with my economics degree and everything I had studied, and, when I was looking for jobs, I was on the West Coast. And, kind of, out of left field, I became aware of a job in New York to help start a financial newswire service. Now, mind you, it didn't say journalism. I've never been a financial journalist, but I had this background, I guess. And, I think, maybe it did help that I had completed this coursework at Stanford. So, the people hired me who were starting this small operation back in the mid-80s thought I had what they were looking for. And so, I came to New York, and I started talking to people when we barely had a product, economists on Wall Street, to be specific. And, that's where I started learning more about the Fed, about the bond market, all the things I'd covered for so long.
So, maybe what helps you, really, if you're a man or a woman, is having a real interest in what someone's talking about, number one, and, number two, you know, as much as you study something in college and try hard to do a good job at it, you do the same thing in your work. And, I think that, in business journalism, we're always kind of financial journalism, et cetera, we're always kind of a, we are a community. Right? You get to know a lot of people in our own company and outside of your company. You get to know a lot of the people that you're covering. So, I think that probably my educational background helped a lot, but, once I got here to New York and started working, I think it had a lot to do, simply, with, you know, covering a topic, having a really keen interest, and doing my best to be competitive, write good stories, because that's how I started out. I started out as a print reporter.
Hasenstab: I know you've covered the economy for three decades. You've had a prominent role at Bloomberg since 2006, and you also have a history at other news sites, like Reuters, CNBC, CNN, and others. Let's talk about changes you've seen, not only changes in the economy, but changes in journalism and how you cover it.
Hays: There was a time when all economies were more closed, and, as we started opening our economy and as, you know, money and capital flowed more freely and investment and companies wanted to start taking advantage of things overseas. And, we allowed other countries, like China, we've had very, very open borders to sell things to us, and much lower-wage countries clearly had an impact on the competitiveness of American workers, and you can see how the auto industry was affected by it, let's say suffered from it, right, in the U.S. anyway.
And, technology, the rise of technology, and the way people in the middle class, have been affected by this. I think that's a really important change, and, at the same time, starting with the financial markets, I can remember when Telerate was the only kind of online device or system there was, and there was one page where they showed some prices for bonds because bonds didn't have electronic trading. They didn't have electronic systems, and, of course, Bloomberg, led by Mike Bloomberg, kind of got that off the ground. But, it was a technology framework that established the ability for, this industry to grow and I think also for the whole economy. That's been a really, really big change.
And, I think that, as much as social media can just be awful, I think there's a much bigger upside to all of the access now that we have to information, to different sources of people talking of news, of what's happening in the world. I think that's made a big difference too. You know, you asked about the role of women, and I think that, in the kind of journalism I've done, there are probably more men covering it when I started out. But, there's always been some women, and I think, for a long time, the number of women in journalism, and even including in financial journalism, has grown and maybe, in some ways, a little bit faster than the role of women in other industries. I'm not sure why, but I do think that that's been a factor.
Hasenstab: So, do you feel that being a woman in that field is a strength?
Hays: For young women, in some ways, it's an advantage now because so many companies are trying to catch up, so to speak. I feel they don't have enough women, so they're eager. They want to reach out and put more women in jobs, put them in places where they're visible. Over the years, I don't know if it helps me to be a woman. Maybe it did in some ways because somebody thought, "Oh, it's a little bit different to have a woman talking about the bond market and the Fed." But, I've never had the sense that it really hurt me. Television, of course, is a very competitive industry, not just in terms of what you say and what you think, but also in how you look and, you know, are you older, are you younger, are you this or that. But, I think, again, one of the advantages about something as important and serious as financial journalism, there's a naturally more diverse pool of people.
I think one of the things about economics is that finally we see a lot more women going into it and staying with it. A long time ago, women were not as drawn to it, and it's always hard to know is that a subtle bias that they felt when they walked in the door. When I came back to Stanford my junior year and really dove into economics, one of my first higher-level courses was about 100 kids. Out of 100 people or more, when I walked in, there were, like, 10 young women in that course, and I couldn't figure it out. I thought, "Am I in an engineering class? Did I just walk in the wrong room?" And, back then, I was very mystified. Why are there so few women? Why is this so dominated by men? Is it because economics has a mathematical component? I don't know, but it seems pretty clear to me that is changing as I think more young women become interested, not just in economics, but in finance and business.
Hasenstab: Well, you said, when you walked into that classroom and you were one of 10 women out of 100, was that daunting, or did you just note it? Did it affect you?
Hays: I just noted it. You know, I've always been a bit of a tomboy. I've always like hanging around with boys, like hanging around with guys. What I really remember is that, there were the nerdy guys who sat right in the front row, right in front of the professor. Every chance they could, they raised their hand, and, oh my God, if they could point out something that he didn't say just right, they were the first to do it. To me, that was a little bit offâ€‘putting or daunting, and maybe, on some level, it did make a field of study, you know, in college, where I think everybody feels, kind of, like, "Oh, boy. How am I doing? Am I going really do well?" a little more daunting. And, I don't know though if it had been any easier if the nerdy people in the first row, excuse me, had been young female students, right? They might have been just as bad, but I persevered. I got through. I still think there's a lot more men, certainly within the world of, especially at the higher levels too, in academia, in finance, in central banking, but it's changing really fast. Like, that's one of the good things is that people, broadly, and have been forced to realize that something was askew and there's been a lot more effort to make it more of a level, and not just a level, but a welcoming playing field.
Hasenstab: You mentioned some of those economists and big players in monetary policy. You've interviewed prominent economists and policy makers. In your opinion, what has been your best interview in the economics world?
Hays: My best interview, that's a really hard question to answer. I've had all kinds of interviews. I can remember being invited to the White House with a group, with about a half a dozen financial journalists, to interview President Bush. That was certainly a privilege and a responsibility because, when you get that chance—and, of course, we were focusing on the economy—you want to ask good, smart questions. I always think what I'm trying to do is add value, not just, and not even in a gotcha way, but really try to get to understand what someone's thinking, why they're doing what they're doing, where they're heading next.
I just have to say that, probably, one of my favorite interviews—and, to kind of illustrate how things progress over time, when the current president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Jim Bullard, became president. I was the first television interview he did. I think Jim was just stepping into this role where he has become an, obviously, important player globally. He's always been well-respected, but I think, at that level, on the FOMC a real thought leader and opinion maker. And so, for me to be able to sit down with him and get his thoughts, at that point, and then continue to interview him over the years has been very interesting.
And, I remember, in fact, coming out to the St. Louis Fed a year or so after that because we were into the crisis and the Fed has done its first quantitative easing. And, Jim, at the time, said he thought the Fed needed to lay out the parameters for when they're going to buy bonds, when they're going to do quantitative easing, because there might not just be one. There might be more. He was the first person at the Federal Reserve that I heard say that, and I thought, "Wow. This is so smart. He's right." And so, I was able to do this interview, to have that, and when you interview someone and talk with somebody, the information really gets into your head, and then talk about that later. So, well, you know, Jim Bullard says, and to try to put that out into the public discourse so that people could have the value of that thinking. And, of course, Jim was right, you know? There were two more rounds.
But, I think it's also gratifying when you, and maybe helpful, when you're in a field for a long time. I've known many of the people who are at the Fed, you know, and who are officials, or, you know, behind the scenes, for a long time, and so, it's not just my knowledge of the topic. It's knowing the people themselves. Having those relationships is very valuable as a journalist. And, here again, when you think of that question of being a woman, I don't think it's ever made any difference whether or not I was a woman. I think what's made a difference is that I know this topic, I'm really interested in this topic, and, when I'm going to do an interview with someone, I just work very hard to make sure I have good, pertinent questions. Ideally I love to make some news, and, at the very least, I want to finish that interview and then have people watch it, listen to it, and come away with something valuable.
Hasenstab: Well thanks for sharing those stories about President Bullard. Is there anyone you haven't interviewed yet who's on your wish list?
Hays: Wow. That's a long list. I haven't interviewed Jay Powell yet. You know, I've been covering the Asian Central Banks as well. In the past two years, I've gotten to interview Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, Bank of Japan. I'd love to interview President Trump. I'd love to ask him some very pointed economic questions. I'd love to interview Theresa May. Boy, she's going through a lot. And then, if I think of other, areas, like, science or medicine or technology or the arts, I could go on and on of people I'd love to interview. You know, I'm not done yet. I may get there.
Hasenstab: Well, that would be quite a list. So, we'll keep listening. You travel regularly from New York to Japan. How do Asia and the U.S. compare when you're covering the economy? Are there are any striking differences or similarities?
Hays: Asian Central Banks more closely, central banking is really, it's a field. It's not just something the Fed does. This is a practice, a body of knowledge that has developed over a long time, and I was really struck, first of all, by, wow, it's a lot the same in all these countries. There's somebody who heads the central bank. There are board members. There are economists. They have meetings. They have to look at their interest rate level. They have to look at their inflation and what's driving it. What's the budget deficit doing? In Asia, I think a lot of those countries have to watch their currencies much more closely because they're so export-oriented. So, that is a big, big factor that can influence policy. I think that similarity has been very, very striking to me.
In terms of differences, this is a really pragmatic thing, and, unless you're a journalist or somebody who does this kind of thing, maybe you don't, it won't strike like it strikes someone doing it. Our data flow in the United States is so amazing, the data the government puts out, the way they put it out, you know, the way they organize their releases, the Federal Reserve banks, the analyses they do, the data they put out. You've got the FRED system at the St. Louis Fed. You're spoiled. I mean, a number on retail sales or jobs can come out in the U.S., and, within seconds, you know tons. I find that, in the Asian countries, oh my goodness, it's much slower. You don't find as much of the commentary. You just don't get the details as fast. I mean, it seems like a small thing maybe, but that's one of the things I've noticed.
Japan is a very modern country, and I think covering the Bank of Japan is, in many ways, a lot like covering the Federal Reserve. I'm still developing my coverage in these other countries, The Fed is really at the tippy-top of being accessible, and people can speak to the public, and there's all kinds of blogs now by Federal Reserve Banks. There is so much available. I think, you know, the Bank of Japan is right up there, but I think, when you get into a lot of countries in the rest of the world, not just in Asia, there's a much more, it's much more like the Fed used to be 20, 30 years ago, much more closed, more reticent about talking to reporters or putting out as much, although they're changing too. But, I'd say that's the difference. I guess the delightfulness is, "Wow. I'm in another country and another part of the world." And, you know, I'm focusing on something that's very specific, like monetary policy, but you're always kind of putting it in the context of people and the culture and what it seems like. And so, it's an interesting project.
Hasenstab: It does sound really interesting. Why do you think it's important to have women, not only in the field of economics, but also in the field of financial journalism?
Hays: I think it's important for everybody, women, male, whatever your, you know, background is, academic or non-academic, you know, Ivy League, East Coast, or, you know, rural Arizona, to, if you've got an interest in something, to say I can dive in and do that too. And, people talk a lot about diversity. I think it boils down to even something like individual personalities, people, and also the ability for people who have something they're interested in to bring their energy to the table.
So, to the extent that the field of economics and financial journalism feels welcoming to people, women included, I think is good. There's a lot more women in the field than there used to be. To me, I see there's a lot more balance here than people realize, and, even, like, I think if you look at the financial services industry trying very hard to bring a lot more women in. And, they are. I think that financial journalism is on par with what they've done or even more, and it's partly generational. You know, if you want women at the top of organizations, well, I'm old enough I should be at the top. Right? These next couple of generations, I think we're going to see in, you know, 20, 30 years, that the top of everything is very much integrated with women because there's so many women doing so many things now that I just think it's a matter of time until we won't even have to discuss this.
Hasenstab: Exactly. Kathleen, is there anything else you would like to talk about in regards to women in economics, women in journalism, or anything about your career?
Hays: I guess I was thinking about mentoring because—I'm mentoring someone right now. I'd never done that before, and, at first, I thought, "Oh my God! What am I going to tell anybody? I've made so many mistakes in my life." You know? "Okay. I'll do it." And, I found that, in my experience so far, a lot of it is listening and then just trying to provide feedback and be helpful in that regard. I never had a single mentor in my life. I've had some people who helped me, certainly no women mentoring me, but there really weren't too many women above me. And, I've worked in different kinds of situations where it just wouldn't have probably occurred naturally. I think that that is a really good development. If anything, I'd like to see maybe in economics and in journalism, it isn't just about women. It really is, getting more different kind of people.
I mean, young kids who go to college and are talented and have these skills and abilities to finance, economics, that kind of thing, I think a lot of them want to go into business. They want to make the most money they can. Fair enough. And, if you want to be rich, you don't necessarily go into journalism. However, it's a very rich and rewarding and important field, and so, if anything, I think it's good that we are, there is a sense that, yeah, let's get people from different parts of the country, different ethnic backgrounds, different, you know, socioeconomic levels and let's at least try to stir the pot that way, right, so that the right questions are being asked. And, I think then more people can relate to what, you know, what people are talking about or writing about, talking about on TV, writing about in papers. Because, again, I think the kind of topics and things that are covered in this field are important to people. Again, I think they're just as important to women as they are to men. They're important to families. They're important to single people because it affects our lives so much.
So, I guess that's something I'm glad to see happening, and I hope it happens more. I think, if you're a young person trying to figure out what you want to do and if you were like I was. I never wanted to be an economist. I knew I didn't want to be an economist because, oh, I didn't want to go for the Ph.D. route and go heavily into math because it, you know, that's a lot of—Ph.D. work is modeling and very mathematical. But, I was always interested in issues. Why do things happen? What's going on?
If you have that kind of interest, you can certainly make a living, and to be able to pursue that, I think this is an area to consider. And, I guess what we could say to make this, especially for women at this point, if you listened this far, you know, there's a lot of women already here. I think it's a field that really welcomes women now, and I think that, even if you think, oh, I'm not good at finance, don't worry about it. Just dive in, and it can be on the journalistic side and, you know, see what part of it you find you're good at because there's many, many parts of it and there might be a part that's really good for you that you'll really enjoy and you'll really find your path.
Hasenstab: Well, that's a really great call to encourage more economists to pursue journalism. Kathleen, I want to thank you so much for your time today.
Hays: Oh, it's been a lot of fun.
Hays: Thank you, Maria.