We, the UEA School of Economics, are the only Economics department in England to have received the Athena Swan Bronze Award. The significance of this achievement to us as a group and the wider discipline could not be understood better than in the context of the recent discussion on gender imbalance in economics in the popular press (See; Where are all the women in Economics?).
As a member of the School’s working group on gender equality, I can say that receiving the award was an acknowledgement of the School’s journey of increased awareness and of the constructive approach to the issue of the role of women in Economics. This means a lot to us. We started off a couple of years back by asking ourselves why we even needed to speak about gender equality since none of the female members of the group actually felt that they had fewer resources, less recognition, or fewer opportunities compared to our male colleagues. We were insistent: if we are to provide women with tailored support, we must be providing men with the same level of tailored experience. Through the discussions, I gradually became aware that our task was not about signposting initiatives as gender-specific but to question self-justification biases, to ensure that the image we were projecting was a fair representation of our diverse membership, and to acknowledge that discrimination may manifest itself in non-participation
Participation is indeed the key. I studied Economics as a student because I was fascinated by the subject and attracted by the rigour. It never occurred to me to ask the question of whether this was a subject for which I was suited, or which was suitable for me.
The way I see this is a bit like taking part in a running event – it does not matter how fast you run but that you want to run and know that you can do it. Running the 10K Road Race in Trowse together with a team of colleagues from the School of Economics made me think that – I, the only woman on the team of five didn’t take the decision to run alongside my fellow economists because of, or, despite the fact I am a woman, but because I thought the cause for which we were running was worth the effort. We ran to raise money for Ace Africa: a charity that has a transformative impact on some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities.
Unexpected as this may be to some, the race let me return to the question of gender and economics – as a discipline and as a subject. As you can see on our JustGiving webpage, we raised more than a third of the funds we set ourselves as a target. As economists, we know that charitable giving is not one of those activities perfectly rational and self-interested individuals should engage with, thus, raising any money is puzzling. Even more notable is the fact that all of the eight non-anonymous givers were women of whom seven were economists! So what does this evidence suggest about female economists – are they less rational than their male counterparts? Are they more motivated by the wellbeing of others? Are they feeling more gratification by the mere act of giving? Are they feeling more generous as a result of the Athena Swan award? Research on gender differences and charitable giving suggests that our experience is not simply a matter of skewed results.
Instead, I would like to extend this line of thought to the similarities between charitable giving and sharing knowledge. Knowledge has the properties of what economists call a public good. If I share and idea with my students I don’t have less of it, equally, it is very difficult to prevent another human being from having the same idea as mine. Individual contribution to the production of public good is generally problematic because an individual bears the cost but shares the benefit. So here comes my question: if women are more generous givers than men are, then what does this imply about the role of women in the knowledge industry and about education in economics in particular.