This week The Fairfax papers published a four-part series on the Reserve Bank of Australia. It was a compelling piece of work on an important topic — the role of Monetary policy in directing an economy towards metrics that the economics profession has long considered stable indicators.
There was however, one glaring omission. In an article that featured and drew on the opinions of 11 white men, there was not a single woman to be found.
I weighed in on twitter, trying carefully not to offend anyone — people I know were cited in that article.
And I waited for the reasoning that would follow.
It came. “There are no women in Macroeconomics”. “He tried”. “Women economists have just not been part of this debate”.
Disappointing, but alas thoroughly predictable.
Let’s go through each of these criticisms one by one.
“There are no women in macro”.
Not true. There are just not many women who are called on for public comment. So they’re not seen to be part of the national conversation. There are plenty of women who work in macro and who comment regularly on the reserve banks movements. Many of whom I know and have been privileged to work with. They’re whip smart.
Also note that quite a few men who were quoted in the piece are not macro economists or experts on monetary policy. It seems that these barriers we put in place that prevent female economists from having their opinions published in a national newspaper are barriers of perception rather than reality. Few such barriers exist for our male counterparts
I’ve heard from many since the publication of the piece that the author of the piece, did indeed try, and has a great track record in sourcing female commentators for the articles he writes.
So what happened here?
“Female economists have just not been part of this debate”
I have to admit when I read this justification the first time, it made me angry. Is the only way to gauge women’s contribution to debate, arguments and statements on twitter?! How are women meant to contribute to the debate if they’re not asked their views on the topic?! Bit of a chicken-and-egg situation to me. And even when we are part of the public debate, the opportunities for female commentators are few and far between, with journalists often preferring “Pale, Male and Stale”.
I mulled it over and after reading this line in Michael Pascoe’s piece, I guffawed.
(The former prime minister [Paul Keating] also is displeased by the RBA being somewhat wedged into criticising increasing the super guarantee levy. He has been phoning around journalists to volunteer criticism of the bank.)
It was so obvious. No woman I know has the time to phone around journalists looking for an outlet for their grudge. Seems like it’s a privilege afforded only to those on a parliamentary pension who seem to have little else to do.
And even for the regular folks not on a parliamentary pension, we know the demands on men and women’s time is very different. It’s no secret that women have had a tough time during this pandemic. Several articles have charted the differential impacts on men and women from the pandemic. (See here for Grattan’s excellent report on the impacts on women in Australia from the pandemic).
“Olivia, not her real name, resigned from her role as a product director to look after her three children so that her husband could protect his higher paying job. Jo, a mother of two, took voluntary redundancy from her position as chief operating officer after suffering a breakdown. “I think years of movement forwards for working women is going to be undone by this,” she said.”
What is a public presence?
If a contribution to public debate is gauged through an online presence (either through a twitter thread or a blog), let’s look at the time commitment that entails.
I’ve been on twitter for almost ten years. Because of the time I’ve spent on twitter, I know the networks. If there’s a piece on macro policy, or a niche area of labour market policy, I know whose twitter stream is likely to have a thread written about it. This is something that comes with time. Time that most women, juggling family and work responsibilities, don’t have the time to devote.
- Blog post
Writing the first draft of this piece, formulating the argument figuring out the appropriate evidence, finding articles to cite, took me a couple of hours in a cafe (thank you to the patient staff at Sonny Ray in Hawthorn, highly recommend). Something not many women have the time to do.
This is not the first time this has happened. Only six years ago when the Economics Society of Australia assembled a National Economist Poll with 49 economist who would be called on to answer a whether they agreed or disagreed with question of economics and policy. Of those 49 economists, only 6 were female. My friends and I were outraged at the time, and it led to a bit of a reckoning within the economics profession in Australia. One that ultimately led to the creation of the Women in Economics Network. A wonderful organisation that does a lot to put female economists on the map, including the creation of a Women in Economics register — a register of names and areas of expertise of female economists who could be drawn on for comment. Journalists, for their part, seem to have ignored this.
So what do we do about this?
We actively include women in these important conversations and do not assume otherwise. We encourage women to be a part of the debate, but don’t assume that because they are not on twitter, that they do not have things to say.
There are at least a dozen women that could have been quoted in this article had the same criteria been applied. Chief economists and senior economists of think tanks, banking and academic institutions.
Yes it might require journalists to work a bit harder and to work differently, soliciting comments through email or text, and giving more time for responses. Maybe some men will miss out on being quoted in yet another article that week, But ultimately our world of economics and policy will be better for it.
On the more substantive arguments within the piece, there’s much room for debate. Most of the debate was at the end of the Fairfax article. Hindsight is 20/20, not enough fiscal policy levers were touched despite the insistence of the Governor at the time. This is an issue that’s being felt by Central banks around the world — not an issue that’s exclusive to Australia. The functioning of Monetary Policy around the Zero Lower Bound (zero or close to zero cash rate) doesn’t have much stimulatory effect. These are all valid arguments and one wonders if they would’ve featured in the piece, had more diverse voices been sought.