Mentoring workshop aims to support women economists

Women are underrepresented in the economics profession, as recent research and the public spotlight have shown. But changes are afoot as both men and women in the field try to understand the scope of the gender gap.

At the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), Faculty Fellow Maya Rossin-Slater is taking steps to address underlying factors of the disparity. In September, the economist and assistant professor in the School of Medicine held a mentoring workshop to assist women who are third-year economics PhD students — a pivotal point for doctoral candidates as they transition from mostly structured classes to independent research. Rossin-Slater is also a core faculty member at Stanford Heatlh Policy.

Part boot camp and part networking event, the daylong workshop brought together 28 graduate students from across California. Twice that many students had applied for the opportunity to practice insider skills, discuss their research interests, and get paired with a mentor.

The need for such an assist is clear, Rossin-Slater says. In the United States, women now have grown to account for about 60 percent of those who hold bachelor’s degrees. But in the discipline of economics, they constitute a steady 30 percent of the students. Meanwhile, other majors, such as math, have risen to a 48 percent share of women in recent years.

“Economics is about a lot of different aspects of human behavior in society,” Rossin-Slater told the workshop participants. “And you cannot think about all kinds of questions unless you have a diverse set of people doing the research.”

“You, here, are part of the next generation of female economists who can help change the profession.”

Females who are underrepresented in the economics arena — while getting their degrees or later, while working — face a variety of systemic barriers, Rossin-Slater said. And they may be at a particular disadvantage, lacking female peers, role models or mentors in their own departments and networks.

The mentoring workshop at Stanford sought to begin addressing that problem for graduate students and will hopefully catalyze similar initiatives elsewhere.

“You should continue to do the research that you are doing, and be excited about it. Be confident. Do economics,” Rossin-Slater told the participants. “As you see here today, women research every possible field.”

Mentors participating in the inaugural workshop included female economists working at think tanks and university professors — including SIEPR Faculty Fellow Maria Polyakova — focusing on applied economics, microeconomics and macroeconomics.

In organizing the workshop, Rossin-Slater said she had thought about challenges she herself had faced as a third-year PhD student, and she modeled it after a successful workshop that the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession hosts for female assistant professors. Rossin-Slater is slated to talk about the female PhD workshop at the annual AEA conference in January.

The September event at Stanford featured a mix of informative sessions — on topics, such as, “How do you ‘do research’?” — as well as practice exercises. Participants worked through hypothetical but common scenarios — What should you do, say, if you’re interrupted during your presentation at a seminar, and challenged about your research?

SIEPR, along with the National Science Foundation, funded Rossin-Slater’s workshop.

"With the mounting body of evidence that the economics culture can be unwelcoming to women and minorities, it is great to see our faculty taking concrete steps to counteract this environment and broaden the pipeline of candidates who can make important contributions to the field,” said SIEPR Deputy Director Gopi Shah Goda.

“SIEPR is proud to support such efforts, as they are perfectly aligned with our goal of cultivating the next generation of economic policy scholars.”