How gender and racial biases are hurting economics

A survey released this month by the American Economic Association reveals a disturbingly high level of gender bias in the field, with nearly half of the women respondents saying they’ve experienced discrimination and more than two-thirds saying their work wasn’t taken as seriously as that of male colleagues. In addition, hundreds of women reported being sexually harassed, assaulted, or inappropriately touched by male colleagues.

A non-binary person using a laptop at work.
(Photo: The Gender Spectrum Collection)

The voluntary survey completed by 9,000 current and past members of the association—both men and women—also shows evidence of racial bias in a discipline that has struggled to attract more minorities. Nearly a third of nonwhite respondents said they had faced racial discrimination, compared with just 4% of white respondents.

The results have prompted the association to take action to curb unacceptable behaviors and make the field more welcoming to women and people of color.

Olivia S. Mitchell, Wharton professor of business economics and public policy and executive director of the Pension Research Council, says she is now paying much more attention to the presence of “manels” in academia—or panels consisting of all men. “I think you have to be sensitive to that, and raise the point that there are other perspectives that we need to bring in.”

Bias begins in school, where female and minority students often report sexual harassment or discrimination, the professors pointed out. Female and minority professors also face an uphill battle for promotion, tenure, compensation, teaching assignments, and even access to graduate student researchers.

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.