A message from the AEA leadership on the professional climate in economics
March 18, 2019
To the members of the American Economic Association:
The American Economic Association is today releasing results from a survey of current and former members about the professional climate in economics, conducted under the auspices of the AEA's recently created standing Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Professional Conduct (CEDPC). For the Committee's summary report of the survey results, see here. As the deadline for submitting replies to the survey (February 28) has just passed, the report being released today consists primarily of simple tabulations of the responses. A more extensive report including statistical analyses, analysis of open-ended survey questions, and some comparisons with results of other surveys will be made available in early summer 2019.
Although a full analysis of the survey results remains to be done, it is evident from the findings released today that many members of the profession have suffered harassment and discrimination during their careers, including both overt acts of abuse and more subtle forms of marginalization. This is unacceptable. Excluding or marginalizing people based on their gender, race, or other personal characteristics is not only deeply unfair to those who are excluded, it damages the field as a whole by limiting the diversity of perspectives and dissuading talented people from becoming economists. It is striking that, in an era when women and members of under-represented minority groups have entered so-called STEM fields at increasing rates, the low rates of participation and advancement of women and minorities in economics have changed little in recent decades.
The leadership of the American Economic Association, including our colleagues on the AEA Executive Committee, takes these issues extremely seriously. Based on concerns we heard from our members, the Committee took several steps last year, including
- the preparation of an AEA Code of Professional Conduct, adopted by the membership in April 2018. The purpose of the Code is to help create "a professional environment with equal opportunity and fair treatment for all economists."
- the authorization of the aforementioned new standing Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Professional Conduct (CEDPC), chaired by Marianne Bertrand, and the survey on professional climate whose results are being released today. The CEDPC is charged with finding ways to make meaningful improvements in the professional climate in economics.
- the development of EconSpark, a website to provide a safe space for discussion of economics job market developments and economic issues.
- the organization of a featured session on the gender problem in economics at the ASSA meetings in Atlanta, together with continuing efforts to mentor and support female and minority economists.
Building on those measures, in discussions at the Atlanta meetings and in the intervening weeks, the AEA Executive Committee has agreed to take the following additional steps:
- to approve a formal policy on harassment and discrimination, to supplement the Code of Professional Conduct. Acceptance of both the Code and the harassment and discrimination policy will henceforth be required for participation in any AEA-sponsored activity or committee.
- to establish and fund an AEA ombudsperson. The ombudsperson will take and permanently record complaints concerning harassment or discrimination in any professional context; advise and provide resources to individuals experiencing harassment or discrimination; with the complainant’s permission, relay complaints to employers and/or to an AEA liaison; and, as appropriate, investigate or otherwise follow through on complaints. The ombudsperson will also help the Association develop policies and programs to fight harassment and discrimination, including offering training at ASSA meetings.
- to approve a formal vetting process to ensure that candidates for election to the Executive Committee, appointed officers such as journal editors, and recipients of AEA honors have not violated the Code or the policy on harassment and discrimination.
- to ask the membership to approve changes in the bylaws that would permit the Executive Committee to remove an elected or appointed officer—or, if warranted, to revoke the membership of any AEA member—for violations of the Code or the policy on harassment and discrimination.
- to work with the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (CSWEP, led by Judith Chevalier), the Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession (CSMGEP, led by Ebonya Washington and Gary Hoover), and members of the Association to establish and fund a new task force on best practices and training to counter harassment and discrimination. The task force will develop a clearinghouse for best practices/training materials, oversee the development of training programs, and seek out partners (such as other professional organizations) with which to collaborate and share information.
It's important to weed out harassment and discrimination but it's likewise essential to take action to widen the pipeline of women and minorities entering the field and to help those already in the field to advance professionally. Accordingly, the Executive Committee has also agreed
- to work with CSWEP, CSMGEP, and CEDPC to create a task force on high school and undergraduate education and outreach, to develop and disseminate best practices for attracting members of under-represented groups into economics.
- more broadly, to collaborate with CSWEP, CSMGEP, CEDPC, members of the Association, and other partners to expand existing programs and develop new ones (e.g., summer programs, mentoring, conferences) aimed at increasing the participation and advancement within the field of women, under-represented minorities, and other groups that have suffered discrimination.
The AEA will also continue, as a regular matter, to survey its membership about issues that affect their professional lives, including the professional climate and factors affecting working conditions and professional satisfaction. In this regard, please be on the lookout for a planned survey on career concerns coming soon.
We recognize that these are only first steps in addressing some longstanding problems in the profession. However, we are committed to helping make economics—which has given each of us tremendous professional opportunities and satisfaction—fully accessible and welcoming to anyone with the interest and ability to make a career in the field. We ask for the support of all AEA members in this effort.
Feedback on these initiatives is welcome and encouraged through EconSpark. Please click here to share your thoughts. To comment, you will need to login or register.
Olivier Blanchard, AEA immediate past-president
Ben Bernanke, AEA president
Janet Yellen, AEA president-elect