Serving as Colleagues

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  1. Discuss and enforce a code of conduct. 
    Establishing rules for unbiased conduct facilitates important conversations, sets clear expectations, and creates a more productive and inclusive environment. 

  2. Be an effective bystander. 
    Signaling a willingness to listen and to speak up when you observe inappropriate behavior helps set norms for fair conduct.

  3. Be a good mentor.
    Improving your mentoring skills encourages those around you to do the same. A more supportive environment attracts better colleagues and creates productive work relationships. 

  4. Create room for your colleagues' work-life choices. 
    Supporting one another’s need for fulfilling professional and personal lives improves mental health and productivity.

  5. Meet your colleagues where they are.
    Valuing differences helps individuals, and the profession, thrive. There is no set profile of what an economist should look like, and there is no rulebook for what constitutes economics research. 

Discuss and enforce a code of conduct. 

Establishing rules for unbiased conduct facilitates important conversations, sets clear expectations, and creates a more productive and inclusive environment. 

How to Implement

  • Encourage your department or division to constitute a representative body to draft a code of conduct and to lead conversations on its content. Ensure all voices are heard during the process, in an anonymized way if needed. 
  • Lead by example, by adhering to the AEA code of conduct as well as your departmental code if you have one. Discuss the codes of conduct annually with graduate student bodies and with faculty. Speak up when inappropriate behavior happens, and remind others of the standards we expect of ourselves.
  • Ensure codes of conduct are enforced and reinforced at the highest level. Hold leaders accountable for education and enforcement. Ask leaders to check regularly that the code is working for everyone and to organize conversations and updates when required. 

Research and Resources

Every department and professional group should have a code of conduct that spells out reasonably formalized rules of positive professional behavior. Discussing and establishing clear guidelines for constructive, equitable, and unbiased conduct is a useful exercise. The AEA Code of Professional Conduct (AEA 2018), the AEA Policy on Harassment, Discrimination, and Retaliation (AEA 2019), and the best practices recommended in this resource are helpful starting points. Local discussions of group values and norms and their effects on individual and collective well-being produce insight and agency.

In the words of the next generation of economists, as published by economics graduate students and research assistants in a December 2018 open letter,

What does your department expect of its members? In many contexts—particularly seminars and advising relationships—university-level codes of conduct simply do not go far enough in answering this question, or in addressing concerns unique to our profession. Moreover, passively adopting the policies of your parent institution does not send the signal that department leadership will monitor or enforce them.

So, departments—in conversation with RAs and graduate students—ought to make their own standards. A good place to start would be the AEA’s new Code of Professional Conduct [(AEA 2018)]. Other resources include the American Finance Association’s code of conduct [(American Finance Association 2018)], which explicitly addresses abuses of power and includes an obligation for bystanders to act; the Geological Society of America’s code of conduct [(Geological Society of America 2019)], which prioritizes conduct towards students throughout; and the American Statistical Association’s conduct policy [(American Statistical Association 2019)], which specifically targets harassment and discrimination.

Once you have standards in place, make sure everyone knows them. Have your department chair email them out with a personal note every year. Hold engaging, meaningful, tailored training sessions. Communicate, repeatedly and enthusiastically, that these are the rules by which everyone—no matter how brilliant or famous—is expected to abide. And demonstrate that those who do not abide by these standards will face specific consequences, up to and including removal from the department.

Gray areas give bad actors room to justify their behavior and obscure victims’ entitlement to a harassment-free workplace. Tailored codes of conduct go a long way towards removing gray areas and making it harder to excuse the sort of behavior that disproportionately harms marginalized economists. (Advocates for Diversity in Economics 2018)

A collective and intentional effort to address bias, inclusion, harassment, and respect is a must. In their study of women’s experiences in economics PhD programs, Boustan and Langan (2019) find that successful departments “are notable for senior faculty with awareness of gender issues.” In their initiative to improve gender balance at the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Romer and Wolfers (2018) find that “making an explicit decision to be concerned about these issues and to think consciously about them had the biggest impact on gender equity.”


Be an effective bystander. 

Signaling a willingness to listen and to speak up when you observe inappropriate behavior helps set norms for fair conduct.

How to Implement

  • Call it out when you see it. Speak up when bullying, bias, discrimination, disrespect, or harassment happens. 
  • Prepare yourself. Actively seek opportunities to learn how to be a good listener. Educate yourself on issues of difference and discrimination. Know whether you are a mandatory reporter, and know what resources, such as the AEA Ombuds Team, are available to you and others. Know what you might say in advance. Prepare quips, admonitions, or questions that you can use the next time a colleague makes an inappropriate comment. For example, an ombudsperson suggests asking, “What were you trying to accomplish with that?”
  • Create opportunities for your colleagues—faculty, staff, and students alike—to speak honestly about the work environment and emerging issues, and listen.
  • Crowd out the harm. Proactively praise, promote, and protect the work of women and members of underrepresented groups. 
  • Say yes. Women and URM economists bear heavy service burdens. Take some of the load off their shoulders by saying yes to opportunities to serve.

Research and Resources

Hierarchies and power structures often make it difficult for the vulnerable to speak up when they have experienced harassment, discrimination, or disrespectful treatment. If your platform enables you to safely and accurately speak on behalf of vulnerable parties, do so. Bystander intervention is helpful both for conduct that has been codified as unacceptable (e.g., threatening physical harm) and for conduct that has not (e.g., referring to a paper using only the male author’s name). 

Being an effective bystander requires speaking and acting accurately on behalf of someone, which requires listening, learning, and questioning to gain a full understanding of others’ perspectives and experiences. The graduate students and research assistants emphasize this point in their open letter (Advocates for Diversity in Economics 2018): “Overall, the most important thing department leadership can do is stay informed about the climate as experienced by graduate students and RAs.” To improve awareness of gender bias, review this resource and the readings it links to. Boustan and Langan (2019) recommend “self-reflection, questioning one’s assumptions, and striving to learn more about the experiences of others” as “habits worth cultivating for any individual and especially academics. Empathy is a human virtue, and a scholarly one too.” 

Departments that provide explicit mechanisms for people to discuss concerns empower colleagues to communicate as problems arise, and early communication helps maintain a healthy work environment. Barreira, Basilico, and Bolotnyy (2018) find that only 42 percent of graduate students report that they would know where to turn for help with advising if an issue were to arise.

Being an effective bystander also extends to taking on tasks that tend to fall disproportionately to women and URMs. Research studies and personal accounts report ample evidence of a “service tax” imposed on women and URM economists. Babcock, Recalde, Vesterlund, and Weingart (2017) investigate the allocation of “nonpromotable tasks” by using a combination of survey, field, and laboratory evidence and conclude that women more often do these tasks because men are seen as relatively less inclined to do them. Bayer and Rouse (2016) recommend that “as colleagues, we can be allies to women and faculty of color by helping to relieve service burdens and making sure diverse types of work are valued.” Men can and should volunteer to take on service tasks; doing so contributes to the well-being of the group and, likely, to the perceived status of this work. 

Bayer and Rouse (2016) also recommend “small acts that help others to succeed. In interactions with colleagues and students, give credit to others, open doors to opportunity, listen, include, support, and encourage.” Showing such kindness is in fact our professional obligation, as stated in the AEA Code of Professional Conduct (AEA 2018): 

Economists have both an individual responsibility for their own conduct, and a collective responsibility to promote professional conduct. These responsibilities include developing institutional arrangements and a professional environment that promote free expression concerning economics. These responsibilities also include supporting participation and advancement in the economics profession by individuals from all backgrounds, including particularly those that have been historically underrepresented.

The burden of implementing diversity and inclusion in economics must not fall to individuals in underrepresented groups. Anyone can be an ally with training and commitment.


Be a good mentor.

Improving your mentoring skills encourages those around you to do the same. A more supportive environment attracts better colleagues and creates productive work relationships. 

How to Implement

  • Invest time and effort in learning how to be a better mentor through mentorship resources such as CSWEP’s Mentoring Reading Materials, this collection of articles on mentoring diverse junior economists, and training workshops for mentors. 
  • Actively recruit women and members of underrepresented groups as mentees and potential coauthors. 
  • Champion your mentees: focus on providing information and advocacy over advice. Ask them how you can help.
  • Guide your mentees to appropriate professional development resources and programs offered by CSMGEP, CSWEP, CSQIEP, and the Diversity Institute for Tenure in Economics. Create networking opportunities. Avoid venues such as gyms and bars that may exclude some people.
  • “Destigmatize conversations about failures, big and small. Destigmatize getting help” (Barreira, Basilico, and Bolotnyy 2018). 
  • Recognize the power of reference letters. Educate yourself and your colleagues on ways to avoid gender and racial bias in your letters. 

Research and Resources

Good mentoring is effective but unevenly distributed. A randomized study of CSWEP’s CeMENT mentoring program found a positive effect of mentoring on professional outcomes, such as publications and grant receipt (Blau, Currie, Croson, and Ginther 2010). Unfortunately, academics and business executives have been found to offer more career mentoring to white men (e.g., Milkman, Akinola, and Chugh 2015; Sheltzer and Smith 2014; Moss-Racusin, Dovidio, Brescoll, Graham, and Handelsman 2012; Foust-Cummings, Dinolfo, and Kohler 2011).

Good mentors listen and offer information and advocacy. They approach mentees with “a mindset of possibilities and not deficits,” and they avoid the “soft bigotry of low expectations [that] has permeated the way economists have approached URM students” (Cook 2019). “Mentoring combined with advocacy is not about guiding someone through a pipeline with blockages and inequities, but about clearing the pipeline” (Montgomery 2019). Mentorship also entails sharing inside information about how to succeed in economics. For PhD economists, this can mean coaching a mentee about “developing the right pitch for a paper to sell it to a journal, strategically choosing which journals to submit to and in what order, interpreting and responding to comments from editors and referees, building a professional network and developing a reputation with potential letter-writers, and developing strategies for meeting expectations for teaching, advising and service while preserving research time” (McKinnish 2017). 

In their study of the mental health of graduate students at economics PhD programs in the United States, Barreira, Basilico, and Bolotnyy (2018) find that “many students report being unable to be honest and open with their advisers about the difficulties they are experiencing. Ordered by the gap between desired honesty and actual honesty, from largest to smallest, the top 5 issues are: (1) non-academic career options, (2) preparing for the job market, (3) research progress, (4) issues with other advisers, (5) issues arising from co-authorship with the faculty member.” Their paper offers important insights and recommendations. 

On writing (and reading) letters of recommendation, analyses of actual academic letters of recommendation show that recommenders use significantly more standout adjectives to describe men as compared with equally qualified women (Schmader, Whitehead, and Wysocki 2007), write shorter letters for women and include “doubt raisers” and gender stereotypes (Trix and Psenka 2003), and describe women in terms (more communal and less agentic) that have a negative relationship with hiring decisions in academia (Madera, Hebl, and Martin 2009). Letters—both written and received—must be checked scrupulously for biases. This gender bias calculator may prove useful; other, better tools could be constructed and shared.


Create room for your colleagues’ work–life choices. 

Supporting one another’s need for fulfilling professional and personal lives improves mental health and productivity.

How to Implement

  • Recognize that everyone has a different approach to managing the balance between work life and personal life. 
  • Remember that hours spent at the office are not the same as hours spent working. Some work at home; some play at work. 
  • Trust that your colleagues have the drive to construct fulfilling professional and personal lives, just as you do. 
  • Create a forum to discuss caregiving and other work–life issues in your department, gathering the perspectives of all staff and students. Work together to excise outdated perceptions, norms, and practices from your workplace. 
  • Make sure you are carrying your share of departmental tasks so that you and your colleagues can have fulfilling lives at work. 
  • Take advantage of flexible scheduling and leave policies. More generally, insist on enough time away from work for a full and fulfilling personal life.

Research and Resources

A traditional pattern of work, established when men went to the office and had stay-at-home wives, is outdated and is not optimal for most of us. Of course face time in the workplace can be necessary and productive, but the physical presence of colleagues is often not required for economists to be productive. Outdated perceptions, norms, and practices in the workplace unnecessarily constrain work–life options, hurt recruiting, and impose harm on colleagues. As Claudia Goldin (2015) remarks, “The last chapter [in the grand gender convergence] . . . will be about how firms respond to changes in technology and to the evolving preferences of employees as family/work issues arise. Don’t fall into the trap, though, of assuming the last chapter is just about women. This isn’t only a woman’s problem, and it isn’t a zero-sum game. The labor-market conditions that will generate convergence in pay between genders—the technological and institutional changes that reduce the cost of temporal flexibility—will make life better for almost everybody.”

Departments can and should do more to increase family friendliness and decrease the career costs of having children, particularly for women, through targeted, in-kind allowances for pregnancy and childcare. “Gender-neutral” tenure-clock-stopping policies have unintended consequences that advantage men and thus only nominally provide equality. Antecol, Bedard, and Stearns (2018) find that these policies increase male tenure rates in economics departments by 17 percentage points and decrease female tenure rates by 19 percentage points and that “the primary mechanism driving the tenure results appears to be that men publish more in top-5 journals after the policies are implemented.” Departments and tenure letter writers need to understand this pattern.

Colleagues should hold one another accountable for constructing and sustaining a bias-free work environment. Drago (2007) reports on a national survey of faculty, published in 2003, which documents both “daddy privilege,” “wherein men are lauded for the intrusion of family on work commitments, while women would experience bias against caregiving for similar intrusions,” and “bias avoidance,” activities such as delaying or denying childbearing and hiding family commitments, which can come at great personal cost. 

Intentional efforts to change the image of an ideal economist and of an ideal career path can help create an environment where no colleague has to give excuses for or change their work–life choices. It may be useful to get to know economists who have successfully integrated their family and work lives as well as the environments that facilitated their success. 

A substantive and fulfilled personal life is necessary for good mental health and productivity. Poor work–life balance can weaken support systems and thereby compound problems of discrimination, bias, harassment, and overwork. For example, Barreira, Basilico, and Bolotnyy (2018) find that “a sizable number of [economics PhD] students feel isolated and out of place . . . 6% say they have zero people in their personal life with whom they can talk about their most private feelings . . . 17.5% of students say they often lack companionship and 16% say they often feel isolated from others.” 

The goal is a workplace environment in which colleagues with diverse personal obligations and interests can construct and enjoy successful personal and professional lives simultaneously. A collective attitude that economists’ personal obligations are both important and manageable is essential to ensuring that all groups are welcome and can progress in the field. 


Meet your colleagues where they are.

Valuing difference helps individuals, and the profession, thrive. There is no set profile of what an economist should look like, and there is no rulebook for what constitutes economics research. 

How to Implement

  • Recognize that different people progress through career stages at different speeds. 
  • Offer information and support for colleagues, but don’t judge their choices or expect that their path should mirror yours.
  • Work to create an environment where diverse economists can thrive. 
  • Through training and seminars, broaden your and your colleagues’ awareness of the full range of work in economics and the diversity of methods and questions in the field.
  • Accord your colleagues and students—their research, their ideas, and their personal well-being—the respect and dignity that you want them to accord to you. 

Research and Resources

Diversity fosters innovation. A robust research literature suggests that a more diverse economics profession will produce better and more relevant economic knowledge (see Bayer and Rouse 2016). In contrast, homogeneity yields redundancy. As former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke explained, “There are 19 people around the table when we meet to discuss monetary policy. And my attitude has always been if two people always agree, one of them is redundant. . . . So the reason we have a committee is to bring different points of view and different analytical approaches, different perceptions of the economy, different views on communication and on strategy” (Bernanke’s 2011 speech on the U.S. economic outlook, as quoted in Reuters 2011). 


See References.

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