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Conference Promotes Diversity in Economics

When opportunities arise to hire leaders in economics, experts say there’s a dearth of minorities in the candidate pool, in part because fewer women and people of color study the subject through the Ph.D. level. The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond is continuing efforts to improve those odds by co-hosting the second annual Diverse Economics (DivEc) Conference on September 18.

This year’s event will take place online from 10 a.m. – 2:45 p.m., and it is once again a collaboration between the Richmond Fed, the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond and the Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge. The goal is to interest students in the profession earlier in their studies, at the undergraduate level.

“I am excited that we are co-hosting the DivEc Conference for the second year, and hope that students will find just as much value in the event in our virtual delivery as they did last year, in person,” said Ann Macheras, group vice president of Research for the Richmond Fed. “The economics degree offers so many different career paths and opportunities to explore fields ranging from labor economics to environmental economics and everything in between. As an undergraduate, it can be difficult to see the full range of possibilities, so we try to shed some light throughout the conference sessions.”

While the conference will be an opportunity to acknowledge The Brookings Institution findings that no more than 30 percent of career economists are women and less than 25 percent are people of color (Black, Hispanic, Asian or other minorities), conference organizers say what will be most exciting will be introducing participants in those target audiences to professionals who look like them and who can share how fulfilling their careers have been.

“Personally, I believe an economics background provides a great frame of reference for many issues that are facing society today, and it is critical that we have a diverse set of perspectives and people entering the field to inform and carry forward important policy work,” Macheras said.

This year’s keynote speaker is Amanda Bayer, an economics professor at Swarthmore College who is a visiting senior advisor at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C.

Students also will hear from a variety of panelists who work in government, academia and the private sector. Kartik Athreya, executive vice president and director of Research for the Richmond Fed, is looking forward to offering them insight as well.

“We are extremely diverse as a profession in some ways: we source from all over planet earth, and our sourcing is very competitively determined,” he said. “But we are far less diverse in ways that matter to us as Americans. We are male-dominated, and we lack representation from African Americans. Our national history includes gender bias and terrible racial discrimination. Both of these things leave us less able as a profession to understand critical social phenomena as they unfold. The only sustainable way out of this is to make our profession steadily more attractive to groups who never considered it, or worse yet, considered it and found it unattractive or unwelcoming.”

While the conference is designed to introduce or better acquaint women and people of color with economics, it is open to all who are interested in learning, said Sarah Gunn, the Richmond Fed’s Economic Education director.

“Being an ally is huge,” Gunn said. “We want the conference to be open so everyone can hear why economics benefits from having diverse perspectives. It’s important to have a diverse array of researchers so that a variety of important issues are explored and better understood.”

About 65 students attended DivEc in person last year, Gunn said, including those from a few far-flung states. Now that the conference has gone virtual, the hope is that undergraduates from across the region served by the Richmond Fed (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Washington D.C. and most of West Virginia) and from around the nation will participate and explore the different career paths an economics degree can open up.

“There are so many opportunities,” she said.

Athreya agrees: “DivEc is a way to get economists, those in economics careers and those thinking about economics, together. This is vital if we want to make sure that the profession’s choices of questions to ask stay relevant, and that the paths it selects to answer them are ones filled by those with the best chance of answering them well — with context and nuance. My hope is DivEc will open that door wide enough for them to give economics a chance.”

Interested college students can learn more here about the Diverse Economics Conference.

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