Best Practices for Economists: Introduction
It is no secret that the economics profession suffers from a profound lack of diversity. In 2018, of the 1197 doctorates in economics awarded in the United States, less than one-third were awarded to women and only 46 to Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans (CSMGEP 2019). While historically there has been a focus on encouraging more women and underrepresented minorities to study economics, a growing body of convincing evidence documents the role of demand-side impediments—such as climate, hiring and promotion practices, and stereotyping—that also contribute to the lack of diversity (see, among the many other papers discussed in this report, Allgood, Badgett, Bayer, Bertrand, Black, Bloom, and Cook 2019; Lundberg and Sterns 2019; Bayer and Rouse 2016). There are some encouraging signs of early steps toward a more diverse and inclusive profession, but we need more rapid and far-reaching change.
The guidelines presented here aim to point the way forward, laying out actions economists can and should take individually and collectively to bring about change. The recommendations are grounded in research and specific to economics, aggregating and extending efforts taking place across the profession (e.g., Bayer and Wilcox 2019, Buckles 2019, Eisner and Lang 2019, Bayer 2011). They show how all of us—individuals and institutions—have habits of mind and practice that inhibit our own work and the opportunities afforded to others.
A more diverse profession would foster a more vibrant discipline. Economists with different lived experiences ask different questions and come up with different ways to answer. Addressing biases in individuals and institutions can improve both equity and efficiency (Yellen 2019, Hsieh, Hurst, Jones, and Klenow 2019, Bayer and Rouse 2016, Price and Sharpe 2018). Rather than pointing to a tension between diversity and quality, research shows economics has much to gain from thinking more broadly and acting more inclusively.
The task of addressing bias and improving the professional climate rests with all of us. It does not belong to those toward whom the bias is directed. It is not only for department chairs and presidents of associations to worry about. Each of us has the power and the obligation to build a more diverse, inclusive, and productive profession.
The guidelines are organized into four sections, each focused on a different aspect of our profession: research conduct, serving as colleagues, working with students, and leading departments and workplaces. Each section starts with a high-level summary of five best practices that are then further elaborated upon (including the research on which the practice is based). While there are many specific suggestions that should help departments recruit and support talented and diverse faculty, students, and co-workers more effectively, they share some common features. Specifically, they emphasize the importance of providing structure, transparency, and accountability to practices that involve people, such as admissions, hiring, mentorship, meetings, promotion, and teaching. It is key for all of us to understand how overreliance on personal relationships and traditions that worked for an outmoded academic demographic can be counterproductive to efforts to diversify the profession. Following the practices outlined here would improve the quality of the work of individual economists and the profession overall. With intention we can make change.
- CSMGEP is the Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession, a standing committee of the American Economic Association established to address the underrepresentation of minority and historically disadvantaged groups in economics and economic policy decisions, with a focus on Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans in the profession (Collins 2000).
- CSQIEP is the Committee on the Status of LGBTQ+ Individuals in the Economics Profession, a standing committee of the American Economic Association to provide support for LGBTQ+ economists and economic research relevant to LGBTQ+ populations.
- CSWEP is the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession, a standing committee of the American Economic Association charged with promoting the careers and monitoring the progress of women economists in academia, government agencies and elsewhere.
- Diversity refers to attracting a more representative portion of the population to the profession, given the various dimensions in which individuals differ, including but not limited to characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, national origin, sexual orientation, intellectual approach, and socioeconomic background. Data show that the economics profession has a striking absence of women and members of racial/ethnic groups historically underrepresented in the United States.
- Inclusion refers to creating an environment that recognizes, appreciates, supports, and engages the talent, skills, and perspectives of diverse individuals.
- URM abbreviates “underrepresented minority” and, following standard usage, refers to members of groups historically underrepresented in the United States: Black, Latinx, and Native American individuals.
- Women and URM refers collectively to women of all races and ethnicities and URM individuals of all genders. URM women often face a dual burden of race- and gender-based disadvantage in our profession (Allgood, Badgett, Bayer, Bertrand, Black, Bloom, and Cook 2019, 17-18).
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