In economics, cracking the glass ceiling

Earlier this year, economics professor Pinelopi Goldberg was named the first female editor in chief of the country’s most prestigious economic journal, the American Economic Review. But Goldberg is an anomaly in her field, and at Yale.

She is one of only three tenured female economics professors at Yale, where no woman in the Economics Department has ever been granted tenure internally; all tenured, female economics professors have been hired after receiving tenure at a different university.

Goldberg, who came to Yale from Columbia in 2001, will take office as editor in chief in January.
Goldberg, who came to Yale from Columbia in 2001, will take office as editor in chief in January.

As she prepares to begin her duties as editor in chief in January, Goldberg, who has worked at the American Economic Review for the past three years, said she hopes women in economics will become more common.

“It’s a symbol of things changing,” Benjamin Polak, Economics Department chair, said of Goldberg’s editorial appointment. “For a long time it’s been hard to encourage women to do economics.”

Polak said the department is aware of its gender imbalance, but he added that while not many junior faculty were women until recently, now about half are female. Polak said the Economics Department is working hard to increase the number of tenured female faculty in the department. No faculty in the department are up for tenure this year.

Since the 2001-’02 academic year, the Economics Department has granted tenure to only two faculty members — both men. The department now has 32 tenured male faculty, compared to three tenured female faculty. Among the 13 members of the junior faculty, however, five are women, Polak said.

“Many of the new stars who are rising up in the profession are women,” he said. “The bad news is we only have three tenured women. The good news is that’s more than we ever had before.”

Goldberg said she thinks the department is interested in promoting women and that cases are treated fairly, but that far fewer of the candidates are female. She added that this has gradually begun to change.

Goldberg came to Yale in 2001 from Columbia University, where she was a professor of economics. As an editor for the American Economic Review, she said she has influenced the field of economics by reading submitted papers, making reports and deciding what is published. After being asked to submit her views on how the journal should be run, a committee in conjunction with the American Economic Association voted her the next editor-in-chief.

As editor, Goldberg said she hopes to ensure that the journal continues to draw contributions from experts with different perspectives and methodologies. She added that holding the editorship and teaching at the same time will be difficult, but she said her exposure to the most recent research questions will make it easier to advise students for the future, especially at the graduate level.

Polak said that, as a policy, the Economics Department does not give time off for faculty to edit journals, and Goldberg will have a full teaching schedule. But he added the department will give support in other ways, for example, by cutting back on required committee work. Polak said he expects that Goldberg will continue to publish as well.

“She’s such a dynamo,” he said. “She’s just going to go on publishing anyway.”

Goldberg proved her ability to juggle academic and outside responsibilities when she had twins 14 years ago. Goldberg gave birth over the winter holiday, and when school started the next week, Goldberg returned to teach.

“I never got a break,” she said. “Working with kids was very difficult. You don’t see them very much, but I think it’s worth doing it. I think it slowed me down for a few years, but I’m glad I didn’t give up.”

About 15 years ago, Polak said, Yale created its current parental leave policy. In fact, Yale’s parental leave policy has become a model for institutions nationally, said Jo Handelsman, a member of the Women’s Faculty Forum and a professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology. Polak, Goldberg and Handelsman all noted that women are up for tenure around the age when they would expect to have children. But women tend to make career choices that avoid conflict, and institutional structures need to change so as not to pressure women to abandon their careers for their families, said Inderpal Grewal, chair of the department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

In fact, Goldberg said she has made some career decisions partly with her family in mind. In 2007, she left Yale for a job at Princeton University, which offered a closer commute to her home in New York City, and was known for its particular strength in the field of international economics. Now Yale has built a sizeable and diverse contingent of international faculty, Goldberg said, and she returned last July and said she is here to stay.

Polak said the department was unaware of her editorship and of her recent Guggenheim Fellowship when it began the process to rehire her.

“We poached her back from Princeton,” Polak said.

Still, Goldberg’s rise in the field of economics has often left her among few women. Goldberg was one of only three women in her Stanford graduate school class of 22, but Goldberg said she never felt uncomfortable as a minority or faced discrimination.

“I think if I ever faced discrimination, I was totally oblivious to it, which was a plus,” she said.

She added that although sometimes gender stereotypes might interfere with how someone is perceived, she does not think anybody would offer a lower salary based on gender. But Grewal noted women across the nation still receive 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.

“The generation who might discriminate is gradually getting older,” Polak added. “[But] I think it’s still true in our society that a lot of people think that it’s OK for women to be less focussed on math and the science subjects. It’s taken a long while to get rid of that convention.”

If such discrimination exists in the working sphere, two women economics majors said they have yet to feel it on campus.

Donna Horning ’13 said both genders were well represented in her introductory classes last year and that she does not anticipate facing discrimination in her field of natural resource economics, into which she said women have already entered. Dilan Gomih ’13 said she was a minority as one of three women in her 14-student “An Introduction to Macroeconomic Analysis” seminar last year, adding that most of her female friends are English and history majors.

But she said that anyone prejudiced against women breaking into the sciences is thinking a century behind.

“In this day in age, I honestly think that women are empowered, and we’re definitely capable of overcoming these biases,” she said. “You can’t deny excellence.”

In the 2009-’10 academic year, 95 of the 300 declared economics majors at Yale were women.

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