Women In Economics - What more diversity in the profession and reverence for economic thought can mean for Antigua and the broader Caribbean.
It has been a long time coming, but the economics field is finally having a grand reckoning regarding how truly inclusive they are to women and people of color. Articles in Bloomberg, The Economist, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times have chronicled the issues plaguing women in the field from a lack of resources for mothers or soon-to-be mothers to blatant misconduct through discrimination, harassment, and, in some cases, assault by fellow faculty, administrators, and advisors. These issues are not just interpersonal squabbles between coworkers but a reflection of society’s disrespect toward women, especially women of color, with repercussions far beyond the social plane.
In the 2016-2017 academic year, 1,150 doctorates in economics were conferred in the United States of which less than one-third went to women. Even direr, only 0.6% of these doctorates went to black women. Though there is a funnel in the pipeline from Bachelor’s Degrees in economics through to PhD’s, the drop-off rate for women and people of color is the highest with their proportion diminishing as cohorts rise throughout the rank of academia. We have long attributed this discrepancy to a lack of access to resources or knowledge about them. Many in the field have pushed for curriculum change and broader outreach and recruitment strategies to increase diversity in the field. But increased numbers through diversity initiatives will not change the status quo. To have a genuinely positive impact on minority and woman participation in the field, we must think critically about inclusion.
"But increased numbers through diversity initiatives will not change the status quo. To have a true positive impact on minority and woman participation the field, we must think critically about inclusion.”
Women and women of color face not only financial and structural barriers to entering the field but also cultural ones. Alice Wu, a doctoral candidate at Harvard made headlines in 2017 with her senior thesis and its analysis of the language used against women in the Job Market Rumors Forum. The most common words used in forums about female economists and economists-to-be included: hotter, lesbian, tits, anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, hot, pregnant, pregnancy, cute, marry, levy, gorgeous, horny, crush, beautiful, secretary, dump, and prostitute. A forum page discussing her paper’s findings is even disparaging about her findings and fitness for the profession - proving her point.
Challenges to inclusion include not only harassment and misconduct but implicit bias about the capabilities or deservedness of women, especially minority women, in the field which hampers recruitment and inscription at all levels of the field, especially when it comes to decisions of academic hiring and receiving tenure. Representation matters and research has proven this.
With harassment and implicit bias on the basis of both race and gender, the economics profession concretes the present power structure by diminishing minority and female participation at later stages in the field and discouraging individuals from even entering. In a field that is one of the most, powerful in academia with respect to power and influence, this disconnect is dangerous.
It is no secret that diversity in collaborators beings good results. The necessity of these results is especially necessary when it comes to economics and public policy. We need representation in the halls of power that make decisions regarding our wellbeing. Janet Yellen, former Federal Reserve has stressed the importance of having a “ diverse group of policymakers who can bring different perspectives to bear” and the role that homogeneity in perspectives played in the Great Recession of 2008-9. In the words of Jushaw Hockett: “ This is a problem. The power for ensuring the country reaches full employment rests solely with people who do not share the lived experiences of those most affected by their policies. The voices of women, African-Americans, Latinos, and representatives of consumers and labor are being shut out of key discussions over our economic future”.
Fixing this problem is what drove me to be a part of The Sadie Collective. Through The Collective, we are succeeding in bringing more black women into higher levels of the field, exposing them to mentors and resources, and creating a space of belonging for women so often feel excluded in their respective institutions. Spaces like these are crucial but we need individuals to fill them.
In the heyday of Caribbean development, we had the voices of Caribbean men and women leading the charge in turning away from Great Britain and securing a future of joint prosperity for ourselves. We had representation through Sir W. Arthur Lewis (a St.Lucian of Antiguan parentage who is the Caribbean’s only Nobel Prize Winner in Economics) and The Hon. Dr. Eric Eustace Williams TC CH (the First Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and noted economist and historian). More recently, we had the late and great Sir K. Dwight Venner who, for decades, championed our monetary stability throughout his tenure as head of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank. These men were our representation in the field and the greatest advocates for Caribbean excellence. But now, with them all gone, who will be next?
Who will be next?
With the dwindling expertise in economics and public policy in the Caribbean has come a rise in populism. This trend has given a platform to inept politicians whose sole interest is in stoking nationalism and adhering to short term economic thinking that will keep them in power but do nothing for the long-term development of the nations they represent. Transparency is dwindling, the private sector is losing trust or is at the teat of a government content to feed them short term prosperity through exemptions that secure their loyalty. On the other hand, we have the IMF and other world bodies pushing neoliberal policies that push smaller nations to a world stage they have not been able to prepare for and large corporations incentivizing our governments’ thirst for foreign direct investment at the expense of political accountability and environmental protections. This is not sustainable.
The Caribbean needs a new generation of economic and public policy figureheads that are well versed in theory but also have a drive to work beyond the gridlock of parliament, despite the roadblocks put in place by the powers that be, toward a more prosperous and sustainable future. This, among many reasons, is why I accepted Shelton Daniel’s invitation to appear on Observer Radio’s Big Issues - Antigua’s largest current affairs radio show - on March 10th. Audio of our conversation is below.
Economic and political development that prizes government accountability, the strength of institutions and civil society, equal rights for women and the LGBTQIA+ community, an independent private sector which, through sound public policy, engages in ethical practices, and a fair application of the law is the only way forward for a stronger Antigua and a stronger Caribbean Community. We will get there — but we need to learn from the mistakes of our Northern neighbors and rely on the ingenuity of the next generation to do so.
George-Ann Ryan is a Masters of International Affairs candidate at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs majoring in in Economic and Political Development with a focus on Advanced Economic Analysis. She serves as Chief Financial Officer at The Sadie Collective.