"This is just so bad."
“It’s just the basic statistics so far but I think the numbers are shocking.”
“One woman said she thought of a lot more instances of harassment over the years after she had submitted it. So, even worse…”
“The percentage of women reporting different types of discrimination is outrageous.”
These are just a few of the texts and emails that started popping up on my phone on Monday after the AEA released tabulations from their first ever survey on the professional climate in Economics. If you haven’t seen the report yet, you can find it here.
Needless to say, this type of climate survey is hugely important in moving the profession forward. However, reading the results can be particularly demoralizing for individuals from underrepresented groups who are just starting their careers. Grad school is challenging enough without looking forward to the prospect of discrimination and harassment in your future career. So today, I’d like to share some learnings from one of the breakout sessions at WEB’s Summit for Diversity in Economics last fall: strategies for self-preservation.
These strategies represent what has worked for everyone from seasoned professionals in our field to individuals just starting grad school. While I’ve written them to be specific to grad school, many can be applied to any level of our profession. Thanks to all of the participants at the summit for helping to generate these (and many more) ideas!
Find out what mental health care options are available at your institution. Many institutions offer coverage for mental health care as part of their student health insurance plan (Berkeley offers 6 free sessions, $15 copay for additional sessions, and free group therapy sessions). Regardless of whether you’re having doubts about your research abilities, struggling with first year courses, or feeling alone as part of a marginalized group within economics, having an outside professional to talk to can be an important resource for navigating tough times. Know that seeking consistent mental health care is not a sign of weakness - it’s a worthwhile investment in your career. If you feel comfortable talking about your mental health care, you’ll probably be surprised by how many of your peers are also seeking some type of professional care on a regular basis.
Recognize that no one is working all the time. We often fall into the trap of thinking that we need to be working all the time because all of our peers are working all the time. I will admit here and now that I do not work all the time! Supporting empirical evidence: this past Saturday, I took a nap at 11AM. Let your peers know when you’re not working so that taking breaks and enjoying hobbies outside of economics isn’t stigmatized in your cohort or department.
Keep nuggets of success handy. Wins can be lean on the ground in grad school, but they do exist! Keep a folder of “nice things” on your computer. Save things like emails from faculty giving positive feedback on a new research idea, thank you notes from students, or even quick notes that you jot down of all the people who expressed interest in your research after a talk. Revisit your folder on days when you’re struggling to remind yourself that your ideas and work are valued.
Build bridges with your peers. Whether it’s others in your cohort or students above or below you in your department, create support networks among people who are sharing this experience with you. There is a lot of institutional knowledge that can be passed down through these networks, and it’s important to learn how others have dealt with the challenges that grad school presents. It’s also helpful to learn that you’re not the only one who is struggling!
Cultivate support networks outside economics. As fantastic are your peers are, a healthy and balanced social diet requires that you spend at least some time around people who are not economists. Do this in whatever way makes sense for you: faith-based networks, club or intramural sports teams, volunteering, and playing in community music groups are all great ways to branch out.
Look at this picture. Even if you were unable to attend the summit last fall, recognize that this can also be the face of economics! If you haven’t already, reach out to join our network of diverse economists. If you’re surrounded by people who look nothing like you, use this picture to know that you belong.
Author: Megan Lang
Over the past few months, with the help of some peers and an excellent podcast (unfortunately in French only!), we had started to question whether fighting for gender equity in economics is really the best use of our time. Spoiler alert: we still think it’s important. But examining this question delivered important insights into how we can be better aware of the privileges that we hold as economists and how our actions may impact the world around us.
After the Summit for Diversity in Economics this fall (for those living in a bubble, check out our post from a few months ago), we took a step back to re-examine things: Is equity of opportunity in our "ivory tower" really the issue that we want to devote so much energy to? For the most part, economics is a profession made up of highly educated individuals who come from privileged backgrounds. [We don’t have a statistic to back this up, but it only takes looking around your department to see how many economists have parents who are highly educated and sometimes even economists themselves.] So is the effort of promoting women in economics simply an effort of moving the already well-off into a slightly more elite position?
Further, what is the cost of such action? We sometimes wonder if we should encourage women and students of color to join a field that can feel isolating, disatisfying and can be so explicitly hostile [Wu (2018)].
On a grander scale, perhaps focusing on our own small bubble obfuscates a larger issue about equity and opportunity in the world. Promoting women in economics may contribute to disparities within women but across the socioeconomic hierarchy. The entry of privileged women en masse into the labor force can be linked to disadvantage and exploitation of women of fewer means.
Women make up two-thirds of the low-wage workforce - and almost half of those workers are women of color. With wages below $10 an hour, they barely scrape by. These women end up doing the care work or nursing work carved out by upper class women as the latter enter the labor force and are competing with men to break the gender glass ceiling. Footnote: Stephanie Land’s 2019 New York Times bestseller "Maid" describes in great detail the hardships of women in low-paying jobs.
While we take these concerns seriously, our answer lies in a simple (and perhaps self-serving) observation about economics: economists have a lot of power on policy and the development of knowledge, and the composition of people who make up the field of economics will impact the content and strength of the research that is produced. [Bayer and Rouse (2016)].
Research by Anusha Chari and Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham shows that women are more likely to be in empirical fields like health, labor, and development economics. The authors write that
These statistics are suggestive of the fact that the presence of women in the field impacts the sub-fields that are emphasized.
Another paper by May, McGarvey, and Whaples (2014) finds that the normative views about the economy vary by gender. Bayer and Rouse (2016) summarize the results of May, McGarvey, and Whaples (2014) as follows:
Finally, Marion Fourcade, Etienne Ollion, and Yann Algan postulate that the fact that economics is dominated by primarily those who are economically privileged, those who are white, and those who are male, may reflect a social stratification that makes our field more closed off to the broader development of knowledge occurring across the social sciences. A laboratory study by Woolley et al. (2010) corroborates this notion, finding that collaborative groups working on problem solving tasks were more successful when they had greater gender diversity.
The bottom line is that the people who make up the field of economics seems to affect the quality and content of the research we produce. And since we like to believe that what we do matters for policy making, knowledge production and generally "making the world a better place," we want to make sure that we have a diverse and representative group of people producing economic research.
Authors: Emily Eisner and Nina Roussille