For Women in Economics, Harassment is Ever-Present

For Women in Economics, Harassment is Ever-Present
Photo:Noam Galai / Stringer (Getty Images)

For years, researchers have found that women who work in economics face a number of barriers to success—they’re less likely to be hired and promoted than their male peers, and often deal with more significant barriers to being published in economic journals. Although plenty of fields have similar issues when it comes to gender-based discrimination, data shows that racial and gender gaps in economics are both wider and have decreased less over time than those in other fields. But the authors of the latest paper examining institutionalized sexism in economics hope their work will begin to provide insight on the nuances of how discrimination functions within the industry.

According to the New York Times, their research found that during economics presentations, women received 12% more questions than men, and there was a higher likelihood that the women got questions that were characterized as “patronizing or hostile.” This is particularly damning considering the fact that women were already less likely to be invited to present their research in seminars—less than 25% of the economics talks in recent years were given by women. In a 2019 survey commissioned by the American Economic Association, nearly half of the women respondents reported that they had avoided presenting at a conference due to fears of harassment or disrespectful treatment. In addition, the survey revealed an unsettling number of cases of sexual harassment and assault within the field.

People of color working in economics were even less likely to be invited to present their work in seminars. Less than 1% of presentations in recent years were given by Black or Latinx economists, and only about 30 of those were delivered by Black or Latina women. “It’s just embarrassingly bad,” said Dr. Jennifer Doleac, one of the authors of the study. “These scholars are just not being invited, ever.” In fact, there were so few seminars given by economists of color that it was impossible for the study to even examine whether they were treated differently by their colleagues during their presentations.

Unsurprisingly, being overlooked for seminars has tangible consequences for one’s career in the academic world, as those types of presentations are key to building a reputation in the field and getting feedback on research. Economics seminars are known to be particularly cutthroat and aggressive, a quality that some in the field say benefits their work, but others say puts off people from the field. In a setting where critique is encouraged, it’s no surprise that the work of women is still disproportionately scrutinized and criticized—it’s just another form of discrimination that alienates them from the field of economics.

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