The Robins School of Business is participating in a study to encourage more women to choose economics as an undergraduate major. Economics is typically heavily skewed towards men and this is one of the first attempts to study and address the issue. The project is spearheaded by Harvard Professor Claudia Goldin. She reached out to several universities around the U.S. for their involvement. KimMarie McGoldrick, Shakun Mago, Saif Mehkari and Maia Linask are economics professors implementing the study for the Robins School.

Females account for between 25 percent to 40 percent of the economics majors at Richmond. Nationally, that statistic is even lower. “The fact that less than half of the students are female when females account for more than half of the college student population is alarming,” says Linask. The study on a national level hopes to show that this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

As for the Robins School, the team hopes to encourage all students, not just females, to study economics as a major or as a concentration. They would like to also bring awareness to the issue and ensure that topics and classes appeal to both male and female students. Linask said that all faculty in the economics department are on board with the initiative and plans to continue their efforts for the foreseeable future.

The project began last fall, so has now seen one full academic year. The team has implemented five main initiatives among other smaller changes. First, they have brought a female from the economics workforce to speak each semester. They also work to ensure that the Robins Executive Speaker Series and C-Suite Conversations speakers have female representation. Many professors offer extra credit or make attending a speaker part of their curriculum. When reflecting on the students’ synapsis papers, many of them do notice when the speakers are female. 

Second, the team hopes to combat some of the economics’ stereotypes. Many are not aware of the breadth of careers offered in the economics field. It is also assumed that the student must be good at math and typically, males have performed better in math than females. A new course, Conversations in Economics, was introduced. Each week, a different professor lectures on a different topic. Topics range from economics in crime, marriage and dating and population growth. Males and females follow different career paths in the economics field. By showcasing the different areas, they hope to gain more interest in the major. The team has received an incredibly positive response to the class and there are more professors interested in teaching a topic than weeks available in the half credit course.

Third, on average, females see grades as a negative signal that deters them from continuing. Therefore, a female in an introductory economics class could interpret a “B” as a sign that they should not pursue economics as a major. In order to encourage them to at least continue taking economic classes or consider it as a concentration, the economics department sends out an email to everyone that does well in the introductory courses. This would include many students that previously dismissed the idea of continuing.

During advising hours, the team ensures that both male and female faculty members are available. However, they know that there are some questions students would rather ask other students. The fourth initiative was the implementation of a peer mentoring program. Since a shortage of female role models in economics is apparent, starting a mentoring program allows freshmen and sophomores to find role models in junior and senior students. The team is hopeful that this connection will encourage those considering the major to go forward with it.

The last initiative was attending the Undergraduate Women in Economics conference in April at the University of Virginia. About 12 other colleges around the country attended and even one brave male economics student! Emily Evans, ’18, Martha Whamond, ’17, Elaine Wissuchek, ’18, and Professor Linask represented the Robins School.

Overall, the team simply wants to encourage students to consider a major or concentration in economics, whether they are male or female. They strive to teach topics and choose examples that appeal to everyone. The project is ongoing, but the team feels positive about the results thus far.

More information about the Undergraduate Women in Economics initiative can be found online: http://scholar.harvard.edu/goldin/UWE.

Photo: The University of Virginia Undergraduate Women in Economics Conference students, faculty, department advisers, organizers, and guests, including keynote speaker, Sandra Black of the Council of Economic Advisers.