Recent coverage of sexist and discriminatory language used on Economics Job Market Rumours (EJMR) shed an unpleasant light on the treatment that some women receive in the economics profession. EJMR is not representative of the entire profession. But, the revelations should force us to face up to some uncomfortable truths about economics and gender.
Women remain a small minority in economics departments in the UK. The RES Women’s Committee has been monitoring the gender composition of academic departments in the UK for twenty years. Things have been getting better —– but at a snail’s pace. Today, less than one in five economics professors is a woman — and there are many economics departments with no female professors at all.
Economics is also failing to attract female students at A level and undergraduate level. For every woman choosing to study economics, there are two men. Economics lags behind maths, statistics and chemistry in terms of its share of female students – and if anything, the trend in economics is downwards.
It is not uncommon to hear the argument that this situation reflects people’s rational choices – with women preferring other subjects and different careers. But growing evidence, including from EJMR, points also to the presence of (conscious and unconscious) discrimination.
It is easier to describe the issues than it is to find solutions. But an important first step is for everyone in the profession to acknowledge that there is a problem and then to want to do something about it. We hope that everyone can make this first step.
The RES Women’s Committee exists to promote the role of women in UK economics. The information on gender composition in academic departments collected by the Committee for twenty years provides an important source of data that we would like to make available to researchers. We will encourage and support departments to apply for Athena SWAN awards as a way of committing to advancing the careers of women. We will continue to support early career female academics through networking and mentoring events and will partner with government and business to promote the status of women in the wider economics profession. We are also looking at ways of reaching out to schools to encourage more women to study economics. We welcome suggestions on other things that the RES Women’s Committee could be doing — and would like to hear from people who would like to work with us.
Sarah Smith (University of Bristol); Chair, RES Women’s Committee
Karen Mumford (University of York); Former Chair, RES Women’s Committee
Silvana Tenreyro (London School of Economics) Former Chair and Member, RES Women’s Committee
Marina della Giusta (University of Reading); Member, RES Women’s Committee
Amelia Fletcher (University of East Anglia); Member, RES Women’s Committee
Grace Lordan (London School of Economics); Member, RES Women’s Committee
Kimberley Scharf (University of Birmingham); Member, RES Women’s Committee
Peter Neary (University of Oxford); Ex officio member, RES Women’s Committee
Denise Osborn (University of Manchester); Ex officio member, RES Women’s Committee