David Zheng

Amid national concerns about females being faced with hostile environments in economics departments, Yale’s department has increased its outreach to women in its hiring process and graduate student recruitment efforts.

The department’s graduate student admission days this week featured a social event with prolific female speakers on campus, including Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley and professor of finance and economics at the School of Management Judy Chevalier. The event aimed to highlight women working in economics to prospective Yale students. Current female graduate students also individually reached out to women looking to join Yale’s doctoral program. In addition to graduate student programing, the department has increased the number of offers to female professor candidates.

According to Chair of the Department of Economics Dirk Bergemann, recent outreach efforts come years after an internal review found that gender ratios in the department skewed toward men at all three levels — undergraduate, graduate and faculty.

“We are working toward a more gender-balanced department in all dimensions,” Bergemann said.

According to professor of economics Tony Smith, who also chaired the doctoral admissions committee in economics this year, over the past decade, the fraction of women in Yale’s doctoral program in economics has generally been about 25 percent, roughly equal to the percentage of women in the application pool. And the Office of Institutional Research reported that there were 90 male to 56 female senior economics majors in the 2018–2019 academic school years. Currently, there are 27 tenured male faculty members and only five tenured female faculty members in economics. But this inequity extends beyond Yale. According to an annual report from the American Economic Association, female faculty only constitute a quarter of all faculty in doctorate-granting departments nationwide.

At the end of 2018, hundreds of graduate students and research assistants from Yale and other institutions wrote “An Open Letter Regarding Harassment and Discrimination in the Economics Profession.” The letter –– listing suggestions for improving the internal culture of economics departments –– followed the resignation of Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. from the executive committee of the American Economic Association. He stepped down from the position after an internal Harvard investigation found him responsible for creating a “hostile and sexualized work environment,” according to the letter.

Smith said the recent outreach efforts are not a direct response to the American Economic Association report or the controversy surrounding Fryer. Instead, he said gender inequality in economics has been a longstanding issue that the department has now decided to address.

“This year we’re making special efforts, but I don’t think it’s [a] direct response to the AEA study,” Smith said. “We want to attract more women in economics. It’s a real loss not to have as many women in economics.”

According to Paula Calvo GRD ’21, a graduate student in the Department of Economics, Yale has created a welcoming environment for her and her colleagues. She said that she and her male counterparts enjoy equal treatment. Still, she added that increasing outreach efforts in the department is important in order to build a gender balance within the department. 

Professor of economics Marina Halac echoed the sentiments of her colleagues, stating that the push for equity needs to occur at various stages of academia. She said that in her role as chair of junior faculty recruiting in the department, she and the other members made conscious efforts to create “a more balanced pool of candidates, trying to identify and recruit some of the best women economists on the market.”

“A key priority is to make sure that we offer effective mentoring for women junior faculty and students,” Halac said. “There is evidence that mentoring can make a big difference. With our recent success in hiring women senior economists, I believe we have an opportunity to make real progress.”

Economics is the most popular major for the class of 2019.

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu