Economics Conference at UVA Promotes Opportunities for Women in the Field
The Department of Economics hosted the Undergraduate Women in Economics Conference this month as part of an ongoing national effort to draw more women into the field.
Sponsored by the University of Virginia and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation through the National Bureau of Economic Research, the April 8-9 conference drew faculty and students from more than 15 universities and colleges across the country, including keynote speaker Sandra Black, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and Professor of Economics at the University of Texas at Austin. Souder Family Prof. Sarah Turner, the Chair of UVA’s Department of Economics, organized the conference with Claudia Goldin, Harvard University’s Henry Lee Professor of Economics.
Last year, UVA's Department of Economics was one of 20 university and college departments randomly selected from a group of more than 160 interested institutions to participate in the Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge, a national initiative to encourage more undergraduate women to major in economics. The project was started by Goldin and is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation through the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Over the last two decades, the gender ratio of male-to-female economics majors has remained fairly constant – about three men for every one woman, adjusted for the total number of BAs, according to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) – although there is a noticeable gap between schools based on the type of institution and the other offerings. A survey by the American Economic Association showed that less than 30 percent of assistant professors in the field of economics are women. The percentage drops even lower, to 12.1 percent, at the full professor level. The primary purpose of the Challenge is to raise awareness of the underrepresentation of undergraduate women in economics. Beyond that, Goldin has said, it is an experiment to test the effectiveness of a deliberate intervention strategy by an economics department to recruit and retain female majors.
Turner said that at UVA, many women who are well prepared to excel in economics choose other majors.
“Our aim is to improve communication about the full range of career possibilities with an economics degree while also increasing opportunities for students to engage with faculty and participate in co-curricular activities,” Turner said. “Ultimately, we hope these efforts will improve the experience of all students studying economics.”
Topics covered at the UVA conference included a moderated discussion on barriers and challenges for women in the teaching and learning of economics and a panel discussion on academic and professional career opportunities for students with a degree in economics. Panelists included Lindsay Burton, a UVA economics alumna and managing principal for Kayo Advisory, and Maria Fitzpatrick, an assistant professor in Cornell University’s Department of Policy and Management and a 2008 Ph.D. graduate of UVA’s Department of Economics.
UVA fourth-year student Jessica Cederquist, who is completing the Economics Distinguished Major program this semester, as well as a second major in Statistics, attended the conference.
"Meeting representatives from a variety of academic institutions helped to highlight some of the institutional differences that the Undergraduate Women in Economics initiative must address," she said, adding that the conference helped her gain a better understanding of the professional opportunities available. “Learning about the career paths of previous Econ majors and the career aspirations of current majors showed that the questions that economics addresses and the tools gained through an undergraduate economics degree can be applied to a limitless number of possible careers and academic paths,” Cederquist said.
University of California, Berkeley sophomore Nina Rodriguez-Beltran said the cross-country trip to attend the conference was worth it for the opportunity to meet “such amazing faculty and students who are passionate about the field.”
“It definitely encouraged my interest in pursuing a career in economics,” Rodriguez-Beltran said. “As a current student, handling courses can be overwhelming and discouraging at times. But this conference has given me confidence to power through as best as I can to get my degree in economics. I was able to learn more about the careers in economics, how it can be applied and affect different areas in the work force that will actually make a difference in people's lives.”
More information about the Undergraduate Women in Economics initiative can be found online: http://scholar.harvard.edu/goldin/UWE.