“Economists, who extol the virtues of healthy labour markets, like to think that they practise what they preach. Not so. At this year’s conference of the American Economic Association (AEA) in San Diego, the profession’s lack of diversity was high on the agenda. In a session titled “How Can Economics Solve its Race Problem?” Janet Yellen, now the AEA’s president, summarised the situation as wasting talent and “deeply unfair”.
It was the second year that barriers to entry into economics were so prominent at economists’ biggest annual gathering. Early results of the pressure to improve were evident. As part of an effort led by Ben Bernanke, Ms Yellen’s predecessor, a lawyer contracted by the AEA was present to hear any complaints about professional misconduct. Hotel suites were reserved for those conducting job interviews, avoiding any need for candidates to sit on beds.
To advocates for greater diversity, the attention was welcome. Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, a co-founder of the Sadie Collective, an initiative to boost the representation of black women within economics, said she “loved how leadership was in the room and it wasn’t just an echo chamber”. However history suggests that momentum may be hard to sustain. Many participants pointed out that the problems were not new. The 1970s and 1980s saw a flurry of activity intended to promote diversity, said Cecilia Conrad of Pomona College—’and then it stopped.'”
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