I still remember my first A Level Economics lesson: I was the only girl in a class of fifteen boys. Obviously, the problem here wasn’t that the economics faculty in my school didn’t accept girls onto their course (I mean, they let me in) but the problem was that girls weren’t applying to study this subject.
I can think of a few other examples of where certain subject areas seem to attract more men/discourage women from applying such as perhaps computing or engineering and it honestly baffles me. In a world where issues of gender equality and feminism are so current and openly discussed we still have girls being put off applying for traditionally “male-dominated” subjects.
Last term, the Lancaster Economics Society, together with LUMS, organised a talk by Manika Premsingh – an entrepreneur and economist. It was fascinating to hear about her journey to where she is today; and about the obstacles of being a woman in a “man’s world”. It really made me reflect on my own experiences of being a woman in economics and realise how important gender discussions are to the profession as a whole.
I am currently studying an Economics and International Relations degree and I can definitely say that the ratio of males to females in this subject has improved at university level, but it still isn’t where it should be. If we look at the below graph, taken from the Royal Economic Society website, we can clearly see how the number of male full-time undergraduate economics students has consistently been almost two times higher than the number of female students and I refuse to believe that this has anything to do with girls being less able or talented when it comes to this discipline.
Some of you may ask – well why does this matter? Maybe girls just want to do other things? Gender stereotyping aside, this view is very problematic simply because if research is only done by men, then the results are likely to fail at least half of the population – there are things that simply won’t be on male agendas. We need women to bring that perspective to the table.
Perhaps the issue is with our perception of economists. As the Financial Times so quaintly puts it: “To most people, an economist is the chap interviewed in newspapers or on the television uttering acronym-laced incantations about 0.3 per cent this or 10 per cent that. He is usually a man, rarely stylish, mysteriously confident, and a bit dull.” It’s hard to conjure up an image of a female role model in economics but that just means we need to become our own role models. I, for one, would love to see more women on the cover of the Economist and the Financial Times.