Originally published on Advisor Perspectives
Members of the financial services industry have benefited enormously from economists. Recently, I was surprised to learn that gender discrimination has afflicted the careers of far too many female economists.
Previously, I considered discrimination against women to consist primarily of unwanted attention of a sexual nature and, in extreme cases, physical abuse. I also thought victims were typically less educated and powerless, making them especially vulnerable.
I could not have been more mistaken.
Survey of economists
When I think about female economists, “vulnerable” doesn’t come to mind. I assume they are incredibly intelligent, well-educated and confident.
I was surprised by the findings of a survey conducted by the American Economic Association (AEA). The survey was sent to 45,433 eligible participants. Of that group, 9,223 completed the survey.
The survey questions asked the respondents if they experienced discrimination both generally and specifically. It further asked whether those experiences occurred in or outside of academia.
One question asked whether the respondents had personally experienced “exclusion, harassment or physical assaults.”
Here are some highlights of the results.
Evidence of discrimination
Almost half (!) of female respondents reported being discriminated against based on their gender.
The academic environment provided little respite. Almost half of female respondents thought they were discriminated against in course evaluations. More than one-third felt their gender negatively impacted their compensation and opportunity for promotion.
In order to avoid possible harassment, discrimination or unfair or disrespectful treatment, almost half of women responding didn’t present a question, idea or view at their school or place of work. A similar percentage didn’t speak at a conference or during a seminar presentation.
Almost 70% didn’t feel their work was taken as seriously as their male colleagues and felt they were socially excluded at a meeting or field event.
Those victims were far more fortunate than those who experienced assaults, attempted assaults and other unwanted physical touching.
Respondents reported 61 incidents of attempted assaults, 29 assaults and 175 “other physical touching” occurring at their university.
Finally, 96% of women believe male economists are respected within their profession, but only 16% of those respondents believe women are similarly respected.
There were troubling indications of gender discrimination in the economic profession prior to the survey. One study found that men received academic tenure regardless of whether they were the sole or co-authors of published works. Women were less likely to receive tenure the more they co-authored.
Another study examined comments on economics job market website. It found the discourse tends to become significantly less academic or professional oriented, and more about personal information and physical appearance when women are mentioned.
Response of the AEA
To its credit, the AEA has responded by taking measures to address the rampant discrimination within its ranks. It implemented a new anti-harassment code. It appointed an ombudsman to investigate discrimination complaints. It’s threatening offenders with sanctions (like the loss of awards, removal of officers and expulsion from membership).
Why it matters
Gender discrimination is pervasive and highly nuanced. It’s just as likely to be present in your advisory and fund management firm as it is among economists.
A discriminatory environment is bad for those who are victims and worse for the business that employs them. It can lead to mental health issues (high anxiety, depression), addiction to drugs and alcohol and reduced productivity. It causes increased workplace conflict, poor company morale and, in extreme cases, violent retaliatory conduct.
How confident are you that your workplace is free from gender (and other) discrimination?
Confront that issue, resolve any problems you uncover, and move forward.