By Tavia Grant and Kevin Carmichael, Globe and Mail, June 29, 2011
For decades, the IMF, World Bank and OECD have helped steer the global economy. And they’ve done it largely without women.
Christine Lagarde’s rise to the top post of a global economic institution has catapulted her into a job no woman has done before, and highlights the maleness of the circle of senior officials at the agencies and central banks guiding the global economy.
Lagarde chosen to lead IMF The dearth of women in senior roles reflects a glaring absence of women at all levels of the economics field. While women are making professional strides in other academic fields, change has been much slower in the dismal science. From Bay Street to the Bank of England, women are still far less likely to become tenured professors in economics, chief economists or heads of large think tanks.
At Canadian universities, only 8.3 per cent of full professors in economics are women – the lowest portion of any social science. That number is 10.7 per cent in the U.S. At the Bank of Canada, five of six members of the governing council are men while the Bank of England has no women on its monetary policy committee.
In Ottawa, no woman has ever risen higher than associate deputy minister at the Finance Department, the rung below the top bureaucratic job in the government’s premier ministry for economic policy. Louise Levonian, a Queen’s University graduate and a 15-year department veteran, is an associate deputy minister, sitting third on the depth chart behind Deputy Minister Michael Horgan, and Paul Rochon, who is Canada’s chief negotiator at the Group of Seven and the Group of 20. But of 16 senior policy positions at the department, only four are filled by women.
The scarcity is even more stark in the private sector.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty regularly consults with private-sector economists to garner insights on the economy. Eleven of the 12 economists at his last meeting were men (Sheryl King, head of Canadian economics for Merrill Lynch, was the exception).
Globally, before Ms. Lagarde, who is a lawyer, not an economist, no woman has ever led the IMF, the World Bank or the OECD.
Some of the reasons are straightforward – it can take 65-hour weeks to be a chief economist, or endless late nights to become a full-time professor – while other factors turning women off economics are more complex.
The lack of women in academic economics is an issue not just for the women who aren’t advancing; it also impoverishes the research and work produced. “A lot of social problems aren’t being analyzed to the extent they would be, or paid attention to, to the extent they might be,” says Barbara Fraumeni, chair of the American Economic Association’s committee on the status of women in the economics profession.
Women tend to pursue different areas of economics than men, in areas that help shape social policy such as health, education, labour and international development. A list of current research posted on the Canadian Women Economists Network website includes income inequality among seniors, kindergarten subsidies, the institution of marriage and the informal sector.
Historically, economics and politics have been "male preserves" and keeping it that way has resulted in a "male perspective" on many public issues. As a result of this "slant" the media often follows suit. For example, questions of health, education and workplace culture are very often relegated to the "family" section of the newspaper, as if these issues did not command the same kind of attention, interest and public scrutiny as, for example, tax policy, defense, foreign affairs, and perhaps even race relations.
There is a giant divide in the perceptions of what is really important, because the skewed perceptions makes important issues, sometimes even more important than those issues that dominate the front pages, fall between the cracks and end up on page 19, buried amid the ads for, ironically, men's suits.
Child poverty, for example, is an issue in North America that has no "sex appeal" because it concerns only how much food a young person consumes; and yet, without adequate nutrition there is likely to be inadequate supervision (an assumption that is not intended to slam the parents, only to note the obvious stress that accompanies hunger), perhaps inadequate heating and inadequate places for study and the list goes on. And the results show up in the classroom where grades plummet and interest flags and eventually enrolment drops. And while occasionally, a program like 60 Minutes on CBS will focus on such a story, it rarely gets the kind of public policy attention it deserves.
However, women editors and women economists and women politicians can see the significance of such an issue immediately, and can most likely find any information about it in the "family" section of the papers.
However, if we are not feeding our children we are committing our own sabotage.
Similarly, enrolment and curriculum patterns in elementary and secondary schools are rarely the subject of investigative journalism, but the budgets of school boards always command a front page story. And the truth is that such a bias hurts the potential for public scrutiny of school issues to parent councils, parent nights, and barbeque and cocktail parties. Concentrating on the number of students in a classroom is barely touching the surface of the important issues in any school and educators, for the most part, are public servants paid by public dollars (billions of those dollars) and the male culture considers it unimportant.
And consequently, when males start to do less well than young female students, we think such a demographic belongs on the "family" pages, and not on the front pages, when the future is being shaped by their academic resistance.
It is not more women in principalships that is the issue; we have already crossed that threshold. It may be that we need more male elementary teachers, and that issue is certainly linked to the "wimp" or "fag" factor that attends public perceptions of that role, as well as the larger pay cheque that accompanies law, accounting, engineering and business management.
However, not only does economics suffer from a dearth of female practitioners, we all do. Their perspective would significantly change the "rules" by which the depressing science operated and instead of the publicly held perception that "we serve the economy" the inverse might become our reality: the economy serves the people.
And such a change would bring the male anti-environmentalists out of their comfortable closet; and such a change would bring economics to the kitchen table, and make poverty a real issue in all the capitals of the world, where it belongs. And such a change would also stress the importance of the human side of public issues, not only the abstract, intellectual, or objective side.
There is a place for the human stories in the public dialogue, and that place is not restricted to the "People" magazines, the tabloids or the family and life sections of the news papers.
We congratulate Ms Legarde on her appointment to the IMF and we will watch carefully just how her appointment shifts conventional opinion at the G-20 for example, in how such a group discusses fiscal and monetary policy and how co-operative the big powers actually become.
Increased collaboration could well be her greatest legacy.