An important new study of online conversations among economists by Alice H. Wu quantifies “outright hostility toward women in parts of the economics profession,” reports Justin Wolfers of the New York Times. Wu reported the findings from her award-winning senior thesis research paper at the University of California, Berkeley. Her paper is prompting urgent conversations among leading economists around the country. Wolfers notes that, while the underrepresentation of women in the economics departments of top universities is well known, claims about workplace culture as the culprit have been hard to measure. People are guarded about publicly revealing their attitudes toward female economists. Wu developed new uses of technology to reveal hidden misogyny. How did she do it? Wolfers explains that Wu used technology to research computerized archives by mining “more than a million posts from an anonymous online message board frequented by many economists . . . [including] economics faculty members and graduate students.” She adopted machine learning techniques on her computer to identify whether the subject of each post was a man or a woman. She then applied machine learning techniques to identify the terms “most uniquely associated with posts about men and about women.” The words pertaining to women included hotter, sexy, sexism, tits, anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, etc. You get the idea. Wolfers notes that the terms most associated with discussions of men reveal “no similarly singular or hostile theme.” Many words associated with discussions about men are positive, such as goals, greatest, and Nobel. Wolfers goes on to note that Janet Currie, a leading economist at Princeton, said Wu’s findings resonated because they’re “systematically quantifying something most female economists already know.” She went on to tell Wolfers that this analysis “speaks volumes about attitudes that persist in the dark corners of the profession.” These attitudes can create a subtle but hostile work environment for women. Thank you, Alice H. Wu, for shining a light into the dark corners and opening a pathway to change. We need more young female economists like you to join the field. Photo courtesy of Business Forward for a Creative Commons photo with the Share-Alike 2.0 license.]]>
I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs where my mother and many of my aunts were strong businesswomen. I am also an entrepreneur, perhaps because I had female role models, and I have always wondered—why don’t more women start businesses? Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times agrees that something is wrong with the underrepresentation of female business founders. She notes that while women make up half the workforce and earn 40–50 percent of the degrees in business, science, and engineering, fewer than 10 percent of technology startups are founded by women, and only 36 percent of all US companies are owned by women. Also, many woman-owned businesses are small, employ only the founder, and earn less revenue than businesses founded by men, according to the census data. Why are there fewer women entrepreneurs? Miller cites research reflecting the following factors:
- Women have fewer role models.
- People mentor and give venture capital money to people like themselves. Miller notes that this dynamic is called “homophily, or love of same.”
- Of all venture capitalists, 91 percent are male. Most worked in investment banking, private equity, or consulting and went to the same few universities—Harvard, Stanford, or University of Pennsylvania.
- Not surprisingly, 91 percent of venture capital-backed entrepreneurs are men. Most of them have degrees from similar colleges and worked in the same firms.
- Women are outside of these established networks and do not get the same mentoring, contacts, or funding opportunities.
- Women are also less likely to get management experience before trying to become entrepreneurs. Only 19 percent of top executives are women, so women are less likely to have mentors in senior leadership.