Over 70 students and faculty attended a Tuesday afternoon lecture by Swarthmore economics professor Amanda Bayer on the implementation of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the field of economics. The event was hosted by the Department of Economics and co-sponsored by LSA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department.

Bayer has served on the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession. She published multiple studies on diversity and inclusion and serves as a visiting senior adviser at the Federal Reserve Board. 

Bayer discussed several studies on regression analysis which portrayed the inequality of gender and race in the field of economics. She found women are more likely than men to be denied tenure; all else equal, economics has the largest gender gaps amongst all math-intensive fields; and when women co-author with men they frequently get less credit than men for the same work. 

“I find the evidence pretty convincing that the playing field is not level,” Bayer said. “I find the evidence pretty convincing that any woman or minority economist in the room has faced heavy headwinds, and has really been superlative to get where they are today. It’s all the little things that matter. There isn’t just one fix to diversity and inclusion, but there are many different functions in the profession that need to be attended to.”

Bayer discussed the origins of bias and explained how many implicit assumptions dictate behavior. She described the ideas of Daniel Kahneman, 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize laureate in economic sciences, who delineated “system one” biases, those which are cognitive and based on unconscious associations, versus “system two,” which includes conscious reasoning. System one biases, according to Bayer, are the main perpetrators of stereotypes.

“We think we’re being explicit, intentional and rational, but there’s always this influence, or threat,” Bayer explained. “These dynamics happen in all the professions, so there’s plenty of evidence of discrimination or bias amongst STEM scientists and others, but collectively as a field we seem to have a more severe problem.”

Bayer proposed three general approaches to improve diversity and inclusion: increased awareness and understanding, questioning assumptions and internalized biases and department-wide efforts of countering bias and exclusion. She described a study she co-authored in which emails encouraging students to enroll in economics courses  across nine colleges and 2,710 students showcased the diversity of research increased the likelihood of completing an economics course by three percentage points.

“Once students understand what economics is, once they fill information gaps or correct stereotypes about the field, did they like the field? The answer seems to be ‘yes,’” Bayer said.

Bayer emphasized the importance for economists and students to use the AEA as a resource, following a robust initiative to uphold diversity and inclusion efforts. These initiatives were created directly after AEA’s 2019 survey results measuring the professional climate in the field of economics. The AEA released a statement on the issue which included in-progress resources and initiatives.

“Although a full analysis of the survey results remains to be done, it is evident from the findings released today that many members of the profession have suffered harassment and discrimination during their careers, including both overt acts of abuse and more subtle forms of marginalization,” the statement said. “This is unacceptable.” 

Business predoctoral research fellow, Jaclyn Schess, described the importance of the survey for her academic career, as she was gauging the environment for women in particular.

“I’m still thinking about getting a Ph.D. in economics, so this was really important to me to get a sense of what the current state of thought is on diversity and inclusion in the economics field, particularly because that applies to me,” Schess said. “I’ve definitely experienced a lot of hostility in my undergraduate degree, and I think I really wanted to get a sense of whether or not the field was moving in a good direction, as I’m making the decision of whether or not to apply to Ph.D.s.”

Rackham student Max Gross is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in economics, and expressed the need for more lectures and events to confront issues of diversity and inclusion. 

“The econ profession — and our department is no different — has big problems around diversity and inclusion,” Gross said. “I was happy to see the department invite Professor Bayer to confront some of those issues, and I hope that this is not the end of that confrontation.”

 

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