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Speaking of the Economy
Presentation by Elisa Giannone during CORE Week
Speaking of the Economy
April 13, 2022

Women in Economics: Advancing Together

Audiences: Economists, General Public

Arantxa Jarque and Daniela Scidá share the challenges faced by women in the economics profession and the progress that the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond has made in addressing them. Jarque is a senior policy economist in the Richmond Fed's Research department and Scida is a financial economist and manager in the Bank's Quantitative Supervision and Research group.



Tim Sablik: Hello and welcome to Speaking of the Economy. I'm your host, Tim Sablik, a senior economics writer here in the Research Department at the Richmond Fed. I'm joined today by my colleagues Arantxa Jarque, a senior policy economist in the Research Department, and Daniela Scidá, a financial economist and manager in the Quantitative Supervision and Research [QSR] group of the Supervision Regulation and Credit group of the Richmond Fed.

Arantxa and Daniela, welcome to the show.

Daniela Scidá: Thank you, Tim. We're happy to be here.

Sablik: Our topic today is on women in economics. Arantxa, you were actually on the show last year to discuss your research on diversity in the economics profession and at the Fed. We'll put a link up to that episode in the show notes. I was wondering if you could give us a quick overview of that discussion.

Arantxa Jarque: Sure. Hi, Tim. Thanks for having me again.

If I have to summarize quickly the discussion, there's two separate issues that we're trying to tackle. One is the low representation of women in the profession and the other one is whether women are actually being treated differently once they are in the profession.

On the representation, the main factor that we've been paying attention to is that women make up only 30 percent of undergrads who major in economics. And the representation only decreases as we look at the level of PhDs in economics and the research careers in both academia and in public service. The main question is understanding the source of this underrepresentation so that we can think of how to attract more women into our profession. This has been a topic of focus in the last few years, for sure.

On the second issue — the issue of whether women are being treated differently — we have heard some new important personal accounts of inclusion problems, more generally. The American Economic Association survey uncovered the problematic level of members of our profession, which include women but also our racial and sexual minorities, who said they had experienced harassment or discrimination. That's very worrisome.

Also, recently, some economists themselves have used the tools of our discipline to document some very thought-provoking facts about worse outcomes for women in academic economics. Some examples could be biased teacher evaluations, [comments on] Job Market Rumors that are not based on academic accomplishments, things like maternity leave initiatives that end up favoring men but not women, co-authorships being less recognized for women than for men, and women may be facing more interruptions during seminars. There's a long list of things that we're just starting to understand. But this is where the discussion is right now, I would say.

Sablik: Thank you for that overview. As you mentioned, it's a debate that has been growing in the profession and also academically in the research space. How is the Richmond Fed involved in this discussion?

Scidá: That's a great question. It's something that has worried our leadership because, as Arantxa mentioned, there are these issues happening in the profession and some of them are quite worrisome.

Our leadership wanted to start the conversation and try to see what's going on. We are trying to be proactive and trying to make sure that we still foster [the] most inclusive environment possible. We are hoping that this actually will help with an increase in representation of female economists in our Bank. This is the context in which we decided to organize the Women in Economics event.

Sablik: Yeah, that brings up a recent event that the Richmond Fed hosted as part of its CORE Week back in March around women in economics. Maybe you could tell us a bit about that.

Scidá: This is just one of many initiatives which we decided to start because it's a way for us to get ideas flowing and further the conversation on the topic. We thought that CORE Week was perfect timing for us to have this type of event.

Jarque: Right.

Let me explain a bit maybe for our listeners what CORE Week is. This is a new work model that our Research Department launched last fall as a response to everything that we learned and the challenges that we faced during the pandemic. We pick eight weeks a year to really be together with colleagues in person as a way to connect in this new hybrid world. It is a very busy time – we invite very high-profile economists to hang out with us and present their work and really interact. So, it was an important choice of our department to choose to spend some of this very valuable in-person connection time talking about women in economics.

Scidá: As Arantxa was saying, this week was key to hold this event. This event was thought [of] as a collaboration between QSR and the Research Department. We felt that we have economists in both departments and it was a nice time for us to join forces to do something together. This was the first series of initiatives being considered to get this conversation started with women economists, quants, and research analysts from both departments. The idea was for us to go to discuss shared experiences and different ideas to try to tackle some of these key challenges that Arantxa was mentioning at the beginning of this talk. In order to further promote women's success in the economic profession, we feel that emphasizing success is very important.

To give you an example about this event, we had this women-only chat as the first session of the event. This was one way to create a network between Research and SRC, and also to connect with Bev Hirtle with the New York Fed. She's a very successful senior economist and it was fantastic to hear the perspective from someone as successful as she is.

Sablik: Great, thanks for sharing. I'm wondering if you could both share a little bit about any takeaways that you got from that conversation.

Scidá: Sure.

It was reassuring that some of the things that were mentioned and identified there, we were already doing in our department. To give you an example, oftentimes you have seminars that feel unnecessarily tough and aggressive in how the questions and the comments are posed. In QSR, we have this rule of not [asking] any questions during the first five minutes of the seminar, just to allow the speaker to gain momentum and for us to listen before we ask questions and jump in. That actually came up during the event. It was nice to hear that this is one of the things that you can actually do and people think it does matter.

Another example of things we actually do in QSR [is] we make sure that we always have women representation in interviews. We feel it's important that we maintain some female presence when we're interviewing female candidates as a way for them to also listen from their peer women economists and get a sense of what the culture is and what their experiences are at those departments.

Jarque: Yeah, those are the super-important things. It was certainly reassuring to hear that we're kind of doing the right things.

I personally found very useful during our event the way in which Bev framed the issue that we're trying to tackle here. Maybe women's hurdles are really not that different from everyone's hurdles. They're common to everyone in the profession, but perhaps there are things that amplify them for women. I think that this way of thinking is very useful because it also makes it clear that anyone can contribute ideas to help not only women.

Scidá: Another important highlight from the exchange with Bev is the importance of mentoring. She emphasized how, at the New York Fed, mentoring by a more senior economist is a key component to help junior economists to try to take off their career and hear from those that have more experience on different processes related to the research production from beginning to end in publications. It's nice to hear that Bev thinks that mentoring is important because this has been one thing identified by us as something that we could help for not only women in the economics profession, but also for underrepresented economists as a whole.

Sablik: Yeah, absolutely. I think that connects to what you said, Arantxa, about how some of these problems are universal problems. Obviously, mentoring is important for everyone. But if you have, in particular for women economists, if there's a lower representation of women in the profession, it can be harder to find those mentors.

The Fed is in a unique position since it's a major employer of economists in the U.S. What are you seeing in your departments in terms of trying to help bring more female economists into the profession?

Jarque: One thing that is important is that we keep hearing that there are these perceptions based on important facts about the field not being friendly. So, the Bank wants to play a role and I think that one of the things we want to make sure we do is get the information out there. I think that's partly why we had this event, right, to really keep the conversation going and also give visibility and maybe guide the conversation a bit, both to the difficulties and the pro-active things and the positive things that are happening.

Scidá: That's right, Aranxta. Sure. That's exactly part of why we wanted to have this event.

We also wanted to have this event as a way for us to reflect on the things we're already doing. For example, something we are both actually very involved in is the effort to make the RA program welcoming and inclusive to everyone, not just women. For example, we currently have in QSR four research analysts, and they assist research and supervise projects across the board. They act as a pooled resource for the full set of economists. There are about 15 of us. We think it's important that they help the whole set because we are trying to make them get this broader experience and more diverse and rich experience by being exposed to a wide range of economists in QSR, as opposed to having to work with one specific person.

So, how do we hope to influence the profession by doing this? Well, I think many of our RAs pursue at the end of their time at the Fed a PhD in economics, finance, or a related field. So, we feel that our program is building this pipeline into the profession and is playing an important role in shaping the new generation of economists.

Jarque: That's right, yeah. In our RA program in the Research Department, which I am in charge of managing, it is structured very similarly to what Daniela just described for her group. It is slightly larger — we have 14 RAs. They do tremendously important work for us.

But we're also very conscious of the potential for the program to provide valuable information and experience, which are really key to enter the profession. When we're thinking about bringing down barriers to entry, this is very important. We really need to work hard to have good practices at this level — at the RA level, right — with, very importantly, an inclusive hiring process [and] good support for learning so that anyone, no matter their background, can actually have good outcomes. We put a lot of emphasis on the economists mentoring RAs.

Scidá: Arantxa, that's a great point. It is also important as part of this mentoring of RAs that we give them a balanced view of the profession. They often hear the bad things, the negative aspects. But we also tried to emphasize that there is a lot of good in the economics profession and we want to provide both sides of it.

Jarque: That's right. I completely agree. Young people continuing in this profession … should be aware of the challenges, but they should also know that we're paying attention. I think there is a willingness among our colleagues to really listen to everyone's needs.

Sablik: Yeah, that's great.

As you both mentioned, it's nice to see that the profession is responding to these issues and there is cause for optimism. Are you seeing the fruits of these efforts already having a positive effect?

Jarque: These are complicated issues, of course, and we're still learning, as we have mentioned several times in our conversation today. But I think there are reasons for optimism.

One example that I could point out is the Research Department has struggled for the longest time to attract women to Richmond. It's a smaller city and there's many factors that can play into attracting any talented economists, really. With our CORE Week model, we have more flexibility on who we can hire because they don't necessarily need to move here. So far, it seems to have proved successful. We have hired two very talented economists who happen to be females, and they're going to join us next fall.

Of course, there's many things going on. I'm a woman and I'm a mother and I know that children and travel don't mix very well. But I also know there's joint location problems and those are issues that we don't quite understand what's the right model to tackle this. But so far, at least something is happening. Even though it's a learning process, I think it's worth trying different things.

Scidá: That's right, Arantxa. I think being open to innovating is the best starting point for us to actually try to get the ball rolling when it comes to women in the economics profession and the economics profession more generally. That mindset, I think, is what we have to try to start with in order to make some sort of change in the profession.

Sablik: Daniela and Aranxta, thank you both for joining me today to talk about this.

Jarque: Thank you for having us.

Scidá: Thank you, Tim. It was a pleasure.

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