“All the women were busy.” “There are no people of color working on this topic.” “It’s the male-dominated field that’s the problem, not this particular panel.” We needed big names and all the big names just happen to be white men based in the Global North.”
We’ve all heard these excuses many times over. Women, minorities, and scholars from the Global South are severely underrepresented in the field of Economics – and that makes putting together panels that do not simply reproduce the dominant identities in the field a challenge. The high concentration of a few dominant identities in the Economics field has rightly led to outrage against all-white and all-male panels .
It is becoming increasingly accepted that this underrepresentation is not simply an issue of fewer women, minorities, and scholars from the Global South choosing not to be a part of the field. On the contrary, research shows that there are systemic biases that make it more difficult for economists who are not white, not male, and not based in the Global North, to be heard. An additional layer of discrimination has to do with approach. Indeed, Economics is “unique among the social sciences in having a single monolithic mainstream, which is either unaware of or actively hostile to alternative approaches” (King, 2013: 17).
The structural exclusions in Economics
Discrimination based on identity has been thoroughly documented in the economics field. To name but a few examples of discrimination of women in economics: they face higher publishing standards than men, they are less likely to be given credit for their work when they co-author with men, and they are more likely to face a lengthy peer-review process, even while they will have a harder time getting tenure.
The case of minority women exposes an even more alarming reality. 62% of African American women economists have reported some sort of harassment, discrimination and unfair or disrespectful treatment. Black women economists not only experience a discriminatory, sexist and hostile culture but are also cited less, paid less and are less successful in applying for promotions compared to their white peers. One can see similar patterns in the Global South, for example in Brazil where women are a small minority in the top ranks of academia or in South Africa where black women continue to be marginalised in academia.
The consequences of a narrow field
The lack of diversity in the field leads to a lack of attention to issues that specifically affect underrepresented groups, in everything from the theories and models employed to understand the world, to economic research, to public policy decisions. Economic theories, as other social theories, are affected by the context in which they are produced. Hence, theories produced in the Global North – that dominate economics textbooks globally – may not be particularly relevant for understanding global problems or economies with different institutional structures, for example, due to their colonial past or peripheral position in the global economy (see for example Chelwa 2016 or Jayadev 2018).
Marginalised groups are also more likely to bring in viewpoints that would otherwise be absent or undervalued. An example of this is that women were far more likely to recognise and engage with problems associated with excluding household work from GDP (see, for example, Nancy Folbre’s work and the Women’s Budget Group). Similarly, papers with at least one Black author are more likely to report a finding of racial discrimination than papers with no Black authors.
Moreover, diversity also tends to lead to better outcomes which can be beneficial for policy decisions. For example, gender and ethnically diverse groups tend to outperform homogeneous groups. Research has shown that creating diverse groups results in developing group intelligence because of the combination of different insights.
Working towards a more diverse and decolonised economics is thus likely to stimulate new insights and debates in economics that monism might stifle. Decolonising economic theory, then, is not simply about providing historical context, but to acknowledge that theories from outside the Global North can provide fruitful starting points.
In line with this, D-Econ has three interlinked goals to diversify and decolonise economics:
- More equal representation in terms of identity,
- More openness in terms of theoretical and methodological approach, and
- Decolonising economics by tackling the historically produced Eurocentrism in our field and its claim to neutrality and universality.
Addressing the most common excuse
Recently, Diversifying and Decolonising Economics (D-Econ) is launching the D-Econ Database to tackle exclusions in terms of both identity and approach. It is a database of non-mainstream scholars that are underrepresented in terms of gender, ethnicity and/or location. The aim of the database is to increase the visibility and opportunities of these scholars by addressing some of the most common excuses for the lack of diversity in the economics profession: lack of knowledge of non-white, non-male, or non-Western scholars in the field.
The database already has over 100 entries and new scholars are being added every day. This is a communal project of co-creation driven by a grassroots movement – we rely on your help to add scholars. Are you wondering if you qualify as ‘underrepresented’? The infographic below can help you figure it out. Read more about the database here and submit an entry here.