A little while ago, I wrote a Bloomberg View article highlighting some research showing that the economics profession is more biased against women than are the natural sciences or the other social sciences. Following that article, I received quite a number of emails agreeing with what I wrote, and offering opinions about what can be done.
By far the most common suggestion was just to raise awareness of the problem. The modal comment was something along the lines of "I never realized there was a gender problem in econ, but recently I've started noticing it more and more." That is very encouraging. The more economists realize that something is fishy, the more they will act to counter it in their daily lives.
Raising awareness can be done at the individual level and at the official level. Regarding individual-level awareness, Frances Woolley has a great blog post on the subject:
"Sexism" is not the result of some high level conspiracy. It is the product of millions of every day actions by thousands of ordinary people...
[A] scholars's reputation and impact is determined by the decisions of others: who they choose to acknowledge, who they choose to network with. Every single active academic can, through the citation and other decisions they make every day, influence other academics' reputations - and thus the probability that they will receive tenure or get promoted.
Who do you cite? If you're like most people, you're more likely to cite the seminal work of some well-known male academic than the work of a female scholar...
Do you give women credit for their ideas? Just about every woman has had the experience of sitting in a committee, saying something, and having her contribution ignored. A man will then restate her point, and he is listened to, and receives credit for the idea...
How do you word your letters of reference? Do you use the same adjectives to describe women and men? Or are women delightful, pleasant, conscientious and hard-working while men are strong, original, insightful and persistent?
Who do you invite to present at conferences or departmental seminars? If a man, do you turn down invitations to participate in conferences with all-male line-ups (see the gendered conference campaign)? Do you make it easy for female colleagues to come for a drink in the bar after a seminar by corralling them into the bar-going group?
The economics profession is far from perfect...and the power to change it lies within every one of us.Well said.
Woolley also points out some potential problems with Ginther and Kahn's research (which inspired my post). But that doesn't diminish the case for raising individual awareness in the way Woolley describes.
As for official awareness, things get trickier. As Woolley points out, it's the natural instinct of organizations like the AEA, universities, and journals to try to fight discrimination by giving women more responsibility. But in academia, responsibilities - like department chairs and committee memberships - are often detrimental to a professor's career rather than helpful.
A better way, in my opinion, is to strengthen and increase support for organizations designed to investigate and highlight the gender problem. The main such organization is the Committee for the Status of Women in the Economics Profession, an AEA committee. The AEA might, in the future, increase the committee's size and funding, or perhaps the number of paper sessions allocated to the committee. It also might promote the committee more prominently on its website and in the events at the annual meeting.
As for universities, more might follow the lead of Harvard, whose Task Force on Women Faculty put out an interesting report in 2005 (the link is courtesy of Anke Kessler, head of the Canadian Women Economists Network).
How can journals help? Well, they can invite some publications by top researchers on the subject of gender discrimination in econ. As Frances Woolley points out, Ginther and Kahn's paper leaves some stones un-turned. The more research there is on the topic, the more we will know about exactly where the problem lies.
A final player is the media at large. The media can help highlight the increasing contributions of female economists, instead of ignoring them.
The overall hope here is that gender discrimination in economics is like the Phillips Curve - that the more we believe in it, the more it goes away in reality. Ideally, everyone should do their part.
Update: Here is a piece in Quartz by Miles Kimball and an anonymous co-author, giving first-hand accounts of the culture of sexism in econ.