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Speaking of the Economy
Female economist mentoring another female economist
Speaking of the Economy
Sept. 13, 2023

Advancing Women in Economics

Audiences: Economists, Students, Business Leaders, General Public

Marina Azzimonti and Arantxa Jarque, director and associate director of the Center for Advancing Women in Economics, discuss the Center's recent launch at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and the need for such an organization within the economics profession. Azzimonti is a senior economist and research advisor and Jarque is a senior policy economist at the Richmond Fed.


Tim Sablik: Hello, I'm Tim Sablik, a senior economics writer at the Richmond Fed. My guests today are Marina Azzimonti, a senior economist and research advisor, and Arantxa Jarque, a senior policy economist. They are also the director and associate director, respectively, of the newly launched Center for Advancing Women in Economics at the Richmond Fed.

Marina and Arantxa, welcome to the show.

Marina Azzimonti: Thanks, I'm very excited to be here.

Arantxa Jarque: Hi, Tim.

Sablik: I'm glad to have you both on with me today to talk about this new Center for Advancing Women in Economics. The Center's mission is to champion diversity in the field of economics by mentoring, connecting, and promoting the high-quality research of women.

We've discussed the representation of women in economics in previous episodes, most recently in April 2022. I'd encourage listeners to check out the links to those earlier episodes on the show page.

Representation of women in economics is low. Women make up only about 30 percent of undergrads in economics. The share is even lower for PhD economists.

Arantxa, you were a guest on that earlier episode I mentioned and you talked about the Richmond Fed's decision to hold discussions around women in economics at one of its CORE Week conferences last year. Did those discussions influence your decision to help launch this new center?

Jarque: Yeah, for sure.

As you know, the Richmond Fed has been working towards promoting diversity and inclusion within the Bank and also in the economics profession broadly for several years. And I have to say that that has been an important part of my job, mostly due to the fact that I have been running the Research Assistant program for the last 10 years. As part of diversifying the pool of applicants for these RA positions and also our summer interns, I helped develop our annual DivEc Conference, which informs undergrads of careers available to them with a major in economics. I have also created relationships with organizations and initiatives that are eager to partner with us in efforts to diversify the pipeline into the economics profession, such as the Sadie Collective and the American Economic Association summer program for undergrads and also their summer fellows program for PhDs.

The event that we discussed in that previous podcast that you just mentioned was targeting PhD economists instead, not the pipeline directly. It was one of several initiatives that a task force in our department had suggested. It was a group of our economists that was asked to identify ways to promote diversity within our group and also in the profession as a whole.

From the same group came an idea of funding a center to promote women in economics research. We were hoping, also, as part of that idea that we could find a senior researcher to lead the center that would have the reputation and the experience needed to make the initiative visible and impactful. When the hiring committee managed to interest Marina in this position, whom I have known for a long time, that made me even more eager to collaborate. I knew that not only is she a great macroeconomist who would bring incredible energy to our department, but also she's passionate about and has an excellent track record on supporting women's research careers, and will be great to lead the Center.

Sablik: Marina, you joined the Richmond Fed a little less than a year ago after a career in academia. How did you get involved in the Center as its director? What does this work mean to you?

Azzimonti: I was really excited when this opportunity came up. Arantxa and I, as she mentioned, go way back. We met when we were pursuing our PhDs in economics at the University of Rochester more than 20 years ago and I knew I could work very well with her. I was also aware of her previous work trying to promote diversity inside the system. So, when the opportunity to design and launch a center came across, this was a no-brainer for me.

Let me give you a little bit of background. At the University of Rochester, we were lucky because we had a large set of women among the graduate students. We had a very supportive group of advisors and mentors. So, while I was doing my PhD, I never felt different or discriminated [against]. Gender was a non-issue. At the time, I felt I could do anything.

Once I went into the broader world as a young macroeconomist, I started to know the lack of representation of women, especially when I attended conferences where we're a very tiny minority within macroeconomics and central banking. The culture was not very friendly. I kind of had to grow a thick skin to survive in this environment.

I also noticed that were very few opportunities to network. A lot of the informal connections, a lot of the papers that start at conferences, happened in environments where I didn't have an obvious fit. They would be at a soccer game or going for beers, and I didn't naturally fit into this world. So, I kind of felt a bit left out. But I still tried to blend in and I tried to adapt to strive.

It was during a Society for Economic Dynamics conference in Edinburgh, where we by chance ended up sitting in one of these big events with a group of only women at a table. We realized that the dynamics were amazing. We had a lot of common concerns — we felt a little bit left out and we all shared this idea that there were not that many senior women who could mentor us.

We also discussed the challenges that appear both in the publication process and career progression, particularly when we started having kids. If you have young kids and you're trying to attend conferences and finish your papers and get them published and get tenure, all these worlds start colliding. A lot of my peers just would drop out because it was very difficult to succeed in all of these things at the same time.

So, at that table with Alessandra Fogli, who is at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and Veronica Guerrieri, who is at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, we started discussing the idea of creating a conference where all the presenters and all the discussants were women.

Sablik: That's really interesting. Can you tell us more about this conference for women that you helped organize?

Azzimonti: We wanted to show the world and the economics profession that women can do great economics. And this is not necessarily that we are good at working on gender or family economics. We can do any type of economics. We can be useful for central banking decisions, we can be useful for thinking about fiscal policies, we can talk about macroeconomics in general.

The second thing we wanted to do is to create a space to discuss issues that were particularly important for women. The third one is we wanted to create a network where young women could meet influential women that were later in their career. If they didn't have a role model within the institution, they could have someone they could contact. Once you establish the first link, it's much easier to then shoot an email and say, "What do you think about this? I have this opportunity. How should I approach this challenge?"

We held our first conference soon after. One thing we noticed in that first meeting is that the dynamics were completely different. The comments were more constructive. There was more space for debate in a respectful manner. Yet, it was academically sound. It wasn't all flowers and rainbows — there was criticism, but it was very constructive and very positive. People felt that this energy was very good. What we realized is we didn't need to just adapt to this hostile environment, we could help shape it.

Some of us went even further and worked on task forces within the profession to fight sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and homophobia. These discussions were prompted by some of the things that we learned during this meeting. So, to me, the Center is a natural progression of this journey to try to make economics more welcome to underrepresented minorities. In particular, the focus here is on women — how to foster their research, how to help them network, and how to mentor them.

Jarque: Let me say that what Marina just said resonated a lot with me. It's important to think about mentoring as kind of broad. Mentoring can and should be very specific about your research and your work, how to advance your career. But it can also be about practical things in your career like, for example, how to evaluate the pros and the cons of hiring someone to help you in the house or with your kids.

Personally, after many years of trying to have both a family and a career, I now think about money, time, and energy as a relative calculation. Of course, you never want to make risky financial decisions, but sometimes in your career money, or at least that was [the case] for me, money was what I had the most of when I compared it with time or energy. I had to learn this the rough way.

Let me give you an example that I think is easy to understand, even for people outside of academics. When I first had my kids, I was driving a small car and I felt pretty good about it. It was easy to park, it wasn't very expensive. I was still young. Eventually, when my kids were already five and seven, I bought a minivan and that made my life so much easier. I really wish someone would have helped me understand the potential benefits of that investment much earlier. That, to me, falls into this mentoring category.

Sablik: I'm taking notes as someone with two small kids [laughs].

Arantxa, why do you think it's so important for the Fed to launch this center? What's the Fed's interest in this topic?

Jarque: Of course, it is a mandate of the Fed to represent the interests of everyone in this country. As I discussed in an earlier episode of this podcast, over time, the presence of women has really increased among Fed presidents and governors at the Board as well as in boards of directors of the 12 Feds.

But another important dimension for our policy to cater to the needs of every American is having a diverse group of economists in our research departments who can bring broader perspectives. Marina and I both love our research and how it relates to the policy work done at the Fed. As she just mentioned, we also have come to appreciate the unique perspectives that women working in macro and banking can bring to the table. Because women are underrepresented among researchers in economics, it is important to seek them out and bring them into the Fed's network so that they can help us paint a more complete picture of the communities we serve. We're hoping the Center will help us do just that.

Sablik: What are your initial goals for the Center as it launches?

Azzimonti: When we started working in the group on the conference I was mentioning before — the Women in Macro group — we started receiving many requests of people that wanted a list of women. There are people within the profession who are aware of the lack of diversity and try to proactively include underrepresented minorities. But because these are not within their existing networks, they've never met them in grad school or they never crossed paths and conferences. It's like a vicious cycle that they cannot integrate them because they don't even know who the women that do economics are.

Based on this need, we organized the Center initiatives to connect and highlight women that are at different stages of their career. For example, for junior researchers — these are people that are just out of their PhD and before they either reach senior economist or the tenure level — we are launching a fellowship program. We are going to select two young, promising academics and they will have the opportunity to present to our broader group of economists within the Fed and receive input on their work. We will also give them funding to attend two of our CORE Weeks, which will allow them to network with a broad set of economists. Together with our mentorship efforts, we hope that we can help them expand their network and get their work known by other economists.

Jarque: Right.

In that same spirit, for more established researchers that have some kind of connection to the Richmond Fed, we hope to feature their research profiles on the Center's website. With these, we're hoping that we will make them even more central to the profession and allow everyone to learn and be inspired by these successful women.

Sablik: Great.

Thinking a little bit ahead, what are your next steps after you get the initial launch off the ground?

Jarque: This is a work in progress. We are hoping to expand the resources that we have on our website that can help women learn from other women. One idea we're excited about is collaborating with the AEA Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession, CSWEP, that would entail developing a series about great minds in economics where we could feature women who made important contributions to the discipline.

Azzimonti: One thing we want to do is to host a conference in the first quarter of 2024 where we are going to invite leading female economists. We're going to introduce them to our fellows, the junior economists that we have in the Richmond Fed, and the broader set of economists that are attending the conference.

Another thing that we're very excited about is that we are developing a directory of women in economics. We are going to make it very easy for anybody trying to invite someone to a conference, to make them a keynote speaker, to make them an editor to find who the women are. We are going to give information on their seniority level, where these economists graduated, where they are located within the U.S., and what are the topics they specialize on.

The need for this is something that we recognized a long time ago. Other associations such as the AEA CSWEP that Arantxa was mentioning before are very excited to have such a tool for economists in general. We hope that through [this directory], women are going to be able to strengthen their networks, that they are going to get invited, that they are going to become role models, or that the junior women are going to be able to seek role models.

Sablik: Marina and Arantxa, thank you so much for coming out today to talk about all the exciting work that's happening at the Center for Advancing Women in Economics.

Azzimonti: Thanks for having us.

Jarque: Thanks, Tim. Always a pleasure.

Sablik: Listeners can find a link to the Center's homepage as well as other related links on the show page. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving us a rating and review on your favorite podcast app.

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