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Great question.

What are the M/F ratios among economics professors? I'm assuming more men. I suspect that male department heads and deans believe that they are less likely to be called out for discrimination against women in a hiring or promotion decision if there is a woman on the committee. Thus if there are more men than women in your department, the women will end up having their name come up for committee duty more often. You should therefore be paid more, as you do more work. ;-)

As for whether women candidates actually benefit, based on my brief experience in history faculties, I agree with your skepticism.

One question that used to be asked of the history profession (maybe still is, but I'm no longer there), is why over 50% of Ph.D.'s were granted to women, but women made up much less than 50% of new hires in departments across the US. It would not shock me if the economics profession has had a similar issue to address. Perhaps putting women on committees is supposed to help.

I should get my wife (a female academic) to comment on this issue - it's something we discuss frequently. One thing she likes to point out is that women academics are expected to spend more time counselling and mentoring students than men are.

"Some people call it the "gender tax," the extra committee work women are asked to do just because they're women. The question is: is that tax worth paying?"

No, it isn't. The gender tax makes women faculty less productive (because their time is being spent doing other tasks) and the reduced productivity makes them less valuable and less likely to get promoted. It's a vicious circle.

I have a lot of sympathy for this - not just because of my wife, but because of my own experiences. I was the only N. American student in my Ph.D. class and being fairly social, I was constantly being asked my senior faculty to take people giving talks out for dinner or drinks etc. (and often I was told 'and grab a couple of girls to come with you'. Charming). I could have always said 'no', but I figured I'd need help from the faculty later. Best to stay in their good books. Plus I enjoyed it - I got to meet a lot of really interesting people, including a couple of people who would go on to win Nobel Prizes.

Anyhow, one night I went out with a fairly heavy drinking econometrician. Came in the next morning with a wicked hangover. Just to be called into a prof's office to get chewed out for 'not getting as much work done as some of my colleagues'. Gee, I wonder why?

Women shouldn't have to be put in a position where they feel forced to pay such a tax.

Wendy: " I suspect that male department heads and deans believe that they are less likely to be called out for discrimination against women in a hiring or promotion decision if there is a woman on the committee."

We certainly do. We don't just believe this; we know this. We are told we have to. Once as chair, for "personality" reasons I won't go into, I wanted a committee that happened to have no women. It was absolutely the right committee to have, in that case. It would have been very unfair to have done otherwise. But it was a very hard decision for me to make. And I made damned sure I covered my ass as much as possible all the way up. But I very nearly wimped out and did the unfair thing.

We need to remember the supply side of the job market too. For men, having a job, and a high-status job, makes a big difference to your general status, including especially your "Dating Market Value" (or Marriage Market Value). For women, less so. Especially in the past. Female hypergamy can explain male behaviour. Behind every successful man, there's a woman (or several actual or potential women), demanding his success.

But the next generation of boys has clearly stopped playing that game, as any look at university enrolments or parents' basements will tell you. And where that will lead will be interesting to watch (back to the third world, where women do all the work?). But I am still waiting to hear anyone at university get really worried about his. "Why aren't boys taking Social Work? How can we make Social Work less of a hostile environment for boys?" Words I have yet to hear, except from my own lips. (Actually, I think the main reason is that fewer boys than girls are interested in being social workers, but God it would be nice to hear the analysis gender-switched occasionally).


Wendy, the stats are available at www.caut.ca - go onto the CAUT Almanac. American stats are available from the Committee for the Status of Women in the Economics Profession. When I'm on my other computer I'll get some for you.

The economics job market is complicated because of the interaction between race and gender. So who faces a harder time on the job market: a Canadian born female candidate or a male candidate who moved here from China five years ago? Or a female candidate who moved here from China five years ago?

female economists are assumed to be nice, and there is some truth in that - by which I mean yes, people do assume female economists are nice.

Hah! That got a chuckle, even before I had finished my first cup of coffee.

Wendy and Nick: " I suspect that male department heads and deans believe that they are less likely to be called out for discrimination against women in a hiring or promotion decision if there is a woman on the committee."

We certainly do. We don't just believe this; we know this. We are told we have to.

I was once having a conversation with an equity officer about the practice, common in economics departments, of conducting preliminary interviews in hotel rooms. (The horror stories about such interviews are legion - people who lie on the bed while interviewing candidates, chairs so low that sitting down while wearing a skirt is hazardous, etc). She was horrified. But when I suggested that the awkwardness could be solved by renting a conference room at the hotel (at vast expense) she immediately suggested that there might be some other way of making the hotel room interview more professional - by making sure that there was a female interviewer, for example.

So requiring a female committee member imposes no additional costs on human resources or equity officers. It is much less difficult than confronting departments and trying to change hiring practices that really do disadvantage women. For example, hard as this may be for outsiders to believe, the idea that all candidates should be asked the same questions and the answers written down is relatively novel - more and more departments do it these days, but it was rarely done 20, or even ten years ago.

"Wanting to be one of the guys rather than the equity officer" sounds like a strong incentive. Do men on these committees have any comparable incentive?

Those who have not read Female Science Professor on women in universities might enjoy it. A sample post is here.

"I was once having a conversation with an equity officer about the practice, common in economics departments, of conducting preliminary interviews in hotel rooms."

I first learned about this 10 years and was absolutely shocked then. Still am. If I pulled that nonsense in the private sector, I'd be sued out of business. And the "making sure that there was a female interviewer" makes a number of assumptions I'm not comfortable with either.

Mind you, I have a reputation for going too far in the other direction, thanks to an incident that happened to a fellow grad student a few years ago. I don't meet students at my office and if I did, I'd certainly never close the door. I have all my meetings in an open lounge area. I'm continually surprised about how cavalier academics are about this kind of thing.

What I'm getting out of this is that women are expected to do more committee work because there are fewer women to spread the work out between, so consistently gender balancing committees requires consistently tapping the same women over and over.

So the root problem is the unbalance between men and women in academic economics. Is this intractable (women by and large are just less interested in being economists), or is this because of hiring bias? I imagine you could figure this out by comparing graduating stats to hiring stats. It might just turn out that recent classes have been balanced in favour of women (this is true in many disciplines), and the problem will simply go away if you wait. Otherwise, if there are fewer female students, then people should stop worrying, and decline to work on committees if it takes away from your real job. But if it's a hiring bias, then you need to find a way to address it, and maybe artificially balancing committees is one of several strategies that should be used.

I've been trying to work on a similar problem with a volunteer board that I'm on. This year we were 82% male (and 91% white), and both women have stepped back this year. Since we're trying to serve the entire utilitarian cycling community - and indeed grow the community to include more women - it was felt that trying to recruit a more balanced board for next year might help us expand our membership to include currently underrepresented subsets. So in recruiting, we were specifically asking women, which makes me feel like a sexist asshole, but the hope is that in the long term, we'll simply have more even numbers stepping forward on their own.

I don't mean to be the bull in the China shop here (well, maybe not true), but, for those outside of the shop, what's the case for tenure today, and is it any stronger/weaker when the concept was first introduced? Isn't this just like getting into the union, or the second tier of a union.

It has its parallels in industry. Imperial oil executives have (well at least had) to have a long track record internally of some sort of corporate performance measurements before they become "made" - part of the upper echelon. Naturally, anyone who thinks/acts outside the box is a "bad apple".

Now, I know you'll come back with "to protect the tenured profs from retribution - allow full freedom of speech; allow freedom to pursue academic research unimpeded" - but if employers/gov'ts don't listen, does it matter?

Is tenure still relevant today, or a hangover from a bygone period?

btw MM, many new employees go through the rights of passage. I did the Friday donut run. A friend at a law firm had to serve drinks at socials. It happens.

My friend Nate is an African American mathematician and I would guess he get the same kind of pressure to sit on committees. It is not just a "gender tax" in is a "discriminated against minority tax".

"btw MM, many new employees go through the rights of passage. I did the Friday donut run. A friend at a law firm had to serve drinks at socials. It happens."

Agreed (though as an employer, I'm personally against such rights of passage - but they're common), though I think there's a big difference between that and meeting potential recruits in hotel rooms.

Rachel, women aren't minorities in number like blacks are. They're minorities insofar that common sensibilities deem them 'crippled' in some way. Working with women, I don't think they're crippled in any way. Why put that millstone around their neck?

Corban, I don't think that blacks or women or even people who use wheelchairs are metaphorically crippled. I was just pointing out that while women may face pressure to sit on extra committees, they are not the only ones facing this pressure. Any member of a groups that is perceived as marginalized will face it.

Rachel, agreed, I've heard the same things from African-American female economists and Quebecoise economists, I haven't talked about it with the few African-Canadian male economists I know.

I don't know if there is any attempt to make sure that visible minority candidates have a visible minority external reviewer. I certainly have never heard of any pressure to make sure that committees have a visible minority member, but perhaps that's because economics, like math, looks good in terms of visible minority hires relative to other disciplines based on number of new hires (that's not to say it's all warm and fuzzy and everything's o.k., it's just to say that the numbers look good to the equity office).

Just visiting "what's the case for tenure today, and is it any stronger/weaker when the concept was first introduced?" As a tenured professor, I am sitting here in a very fragile glass house. Please do not throw any stones. I'm not going to do so.

Neil: "So the root problem is the unbalance between men and women in academic economics" Agreed. So is the solution to hire disproportionately large numbers of women and achieve gender equity quickly, or to hire men and women roughly in proportion to the number of men and women in the pool (e.g. if 30% of new PhD students are women, 30% of new hires should be)? I would tend to favour the latter, even though it means progress towards equity will be painfully slow.

Are you willing to reveal the city in which you are looking for a cycling committee member?

Please do not throw any stones. I'm not going to do so.

OK, but it's not the first time you've brought up the topic (tenure). If the intent of the blog is to promote discussion /debate in the field of economics, seems fair. But, since I don't have tenure on this blog, I'll back away... :)

Just visiting - no worries - I don't have tenure on this blog either. Stephen Gordon could delete me tomorrow.

But you can see where I'm coming from, can't you - the university could fire me tomorrow and replace me with sessional lecturers who would do as good a job of teaching my courses as I do at a fraction of the cost. In that context, it's hardly in my interests to open up a debate about tenure. Anyways, I don't need to, a debate about tenure will happen soon anyways.

@Frances - We're looking for people in Edmonton. I'm less concerned about finding the people, and more concerned about my reasoning in specifically targeting women, and discouraging men who were interested.

Hiring and promotion is a bit different from volunteer recruitment (what with the longer time periods and actual money involved), and I would say the solution is to hire based on merit, which I imagine you do. But if the results are significantly different from the proportion of graduating students, then there's something wrong with the evaluation criteria, and they need to be reworked to eliminate the problem.

I wonder if the issue, at its root, isn't the same one that impacts all hiring to some degree. People like to hire people who "fit" into the existing organizational culture. Often, this can mean hiring people who are very similar to themselves. At it's extreme, you get the "old boys club" hiring more "old boys."

Women who excel (as opposed to just survive) in male-dominated professions tend to get along with men very well. They might get along with men better than other women and thus wouldn't necessarily want more women around. Putting them on a hiring committee to improve the chances that a female candidate will be hired, if qualified, won't work--especially if the female candidate doesn't seem like a fit with the male culture already there.

Wendy - agreed. It's basically an empirical question. I was hoping someone would write in a comment along the lines of "there is a study here showing conclusively that having a mixed-gender committee makes a difference to hiring outcomes" but no one has. I do know some women who are terrific mentors and who have done a lot to promote women within the profession.

But one can't simply assume that all women are nice. Moreover, that assumption can have perverse consequences. If I write a somewhat guarded letter in support of a candidate, and the person reading the letter assumes that as a woman I'm more likely to write a positive letter, they might see my letter as damning with faint praise. On the other hand, if I'm seen as being a super-tough super-demanding rigorous person, then if my letter says "this person is o.k." then the department may say "great, let's go ahead and give the person tenure."

Could this have to do with preferring people with similar research interests, rather than gender itself? Women are substantially more likely to work in applied subfields than in theory ( http://www.aeaweb.org/annual_mtg_papers/2007/0105_1430_1103.pdf ). By picking people in similar subfields, one gets conveniently located co-authors, potential access to their social network, enhanced departmental reputation/output pertaining to one's subfield and increased voting power at faculty meetings.

Frances,

I agree it would be a fascinating study. Although each committee is different, if you looked across a wide enough number of departments, you could probably find some trends. Not sure who would do the study, or fund it, however.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aiTW8uu5oNMM

doesn't have to do with economists, but still an interesting article

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