Women comprise around one-third of the economics profession in Australia. This figure has not budged for several decades and there are indications that women’s share of students in the education pipeline is shrinking. Women’s underrepresentation in economics is evident across the public, private and academic sectors, and is most acute among senior levels.
In response to the persistent underrepresentation of women in the economics profession in Australia, the Women in Economics Network (WEN) was created in 2017 as a nationwide, multi-sectoral association for female economists in Australia, as part of the Economic Society of Australia (ESA).
Though still in its infancy, WEN’s impact is evidenced by an increase in women’s share of ESA membership from 25 per cent to 40 per cent within a year of WEN’s creation. Female memberships with the ESA rose by 90 per cent.
To support broader global efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in the economics profession, this paper provides a statistical picture of women’s representation in economics in Australia and the evidence-based steps taken to establish WEN and to design its initiatives.
WEN’s impact is evaluated across a range of quantitative and qualitative metrics. The evaluation includes a case study of WEN’s mentorship program for university students that was delivered as a behavioural intervention and evaluated as a randomised control trial. Drawing on practical experiences and research insights, the paper also identifies some of the challenges encountered and the lessons that can be shared with similar organisations globally that are pursuing diversity and inclusion goals.
Table 1: How would you rate the value of WEN’s services and activities? Source: Survey conducted by Women in Economics Network Australia, September 2021. Sample of 115 responses, comprised of 71 members and 44 non-members. Rows sum to 100%.
|Highly valuable||Moderately valuable||A little value||Not much value|
|Promoting contributions of female economists||62%||26%||8%||4%|
|Advocacy for greater representation of women in economics||56%||31%||10%||3%|
|Seminar/webinar events on economics topics||51%||30%||12%||7%|
|Mentoring programs and annual mentoring retreat||50%||23%||12%||14%|
|Media and public speaking register for female economists||44%||36%||15%||5%|
|Professional development workshops||40%||39%||10%||11%|
|Australian Gender Economics Workshop||38%||33%||22%||7%|
|Professional networking opportunities||37%||32%||19%||11%|
|Career and study information for students||37%||34%||19%||10%|
|Outreach activities with schools||36%||30%||22%||12%|
|Social media pages||31%||31%||27%||10%|
|Special sessions at Australian Conference of Economists||26%||33%||34%||7%|
|Provision of general information and resources on website||26%||43%||23%||7%|
- Duygu Yengin, University of Adelaide
- Leonora Risse, RMIT University
- Rebecca Cassells, Commonwealth Treasury and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre
- Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute