A Macro Issue Is Brewing For Women in Economics

Picture of Samantha Hoppe By Samantha Hoppe

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Women in economicsThe entertainment industry and politics have felt a long overdue reckoning from the #MeToo moment, weeding out harassers and abusers out of positions of power in their industries. Some argue that the world of economics has gone largely unscathed so far, but not due to a lack of incidents.

Despite the wider #MeToo movement, many women in the financial advisory industry who have been sexually harassed are still reluctant to come forward and report the abuse.

Related Blog: Sexual Harassment in Hollywood and the Similarities to the  Everyday Workplace

It’s no surprise that sexual harassment is an issue in financial services, as shown in many surveys. In a new WealthManagement.com survey, nearly 62 percent of respondents who were harassed or witnessed harassment said they did not use the protocols those firms have in place to address the incident. That number is nearly 66 percent for women.

There are many reasons respondents did not report incidents. Some feared they would be socially excluded within the office, or that their offender would retaliate. In some instances, the offender was the victim’s manager, making matters more complicated, or they worked in a culture where that their complaint would not be taken seriously.

Read More: Understanding Workplace Violence against Women

“The culture was such that I did not believe management would do anything,” wrote one respondent of the WealthManagement survey. “When I mentioned it to management in my annual review (not a formal complaint or filing), they laughed and said it was ‘the nature of the beast.’”

Nearly 80 percent of financial advisers in a recent InvestmentNews survey said sexual harassment is a problem in the financial advice industry. More than 60 percent of the 345 participants in the survey were male.

Three in 10 advisers said they'd personally experienced sexual harassment — including assault, unwanted contact or requests, or suggestive remarks or messages — in the workplace. Five in 10 said they'd witnessed or experienced sexual harassment in the industry at least a couple of times.

Have enough changes been made to address sexual harassment in workplaces?

In 1996, nearly 2,000 women joined a case against Smith Barney Inc, for sexual harassment and pay discrimination. This case, nicknamed the “boom-boom room” suit, gained public attention and exposed the sordid antics of Wall Street.

Twenty years later, this change is less obvious.

“You may no longer have strippers coming for afternoon entertainment, but that doesn’t mean you are treated as an equal,” said Anne C. Vladeck of the New York employment law firm Vladeck, Raskin & Clark. “It’s not quite as blatant as what went on in the boom-boom room, but it’s still there in a way that makes it very hard for women to succeed. Companies on Wall Street are just not changing.”

“If it’s a high producer within the firm who’s doing the harassing, you’re going to find a lot of the times that there’s even less stomach by the firm to go after that person and hold them accountable precisely because they are making the firm so much money,” says Eric Bachman, a principal with Zuckerman Law, where he is the chair of the discrimination and retaliation practices.

Many in financial services chalk it up to an industry norm, an ingrained culture, one where victims are trained to develop a thick skin and move on.

Women have been told time and time again, either verbally or through inaction, that harassment isn’t a big deal. You should just put on thicker skin and get over it.” says Alan Moore, co-founder of XY Planning Network.

“And so we haven’t given women a way to actually end the harassment without basically having to quit their job and move on.” He continues. Rather than speaking up, some victims choose to go to another firm or, in some instances, leave the economics world altogether.

Read the Latest Workplace Violence Statistics

In the early 1990’s inappropriate behavior toward female colleagues was embedded in the industry culture. In today’s culture this behavior still persists in a more closeted, one-on-one fashion rather than industry-wide.

Female advisers agreed that while the industry atmosphere for women is better today than in the past, it is probably still worse than in most other industries because of the high ratio of men to women. For example, of the more than 83,000 professionals holding a certified financial planner designation at the end of 2018, only 23 percent were female, according to CFP Board statistics.

On March 18, 2019, the American Economic association (AEA) released the results from the survey of 9,000 economists about the professional climate in economics. According to the AEA, the findings demonstrate that many members of the profession have suffered harassment and discrimination during their careers. This includes overt acts of abuse and subtler forms of marginalization. A full analysis remains to be done, but the results are cause for concern.

The 47-question survey was sent in November 2018 to more than 45,000 current and former AEA members. 9,000 responded, about 20 percent of those who were asked, which is a high rate for a voluntary survey.

Leaders in the economics field are appropriately “concerned and disturbed” over what the survey revealed. Janet L. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chief who will take over as president of the association next year, said the raw numbers made the extent of the profession’s problems clear. She said that survey results show showed “an unacceptable culture” in the profession. The AEA Executive Committee has agreed to take additional steps that include establishing a formal policy on harassment and discrimination. Economists that violate the new anti-harassment code will face professional sanction, including the potential loss of prestigious awards.

The New York Times Reports that “Nearly 100 female economists say a peer or a colleague has sexually assaulted them. Nearly 200 say they were the victim of an attempted assault. And hundreds say they were stalked or touched inappropriately” according to the survey. Half of the women who responded to the survey said they had been treated unfairly because of their sex, compared with 3 percent of men.

Survey Finds Employees Aren't Aware of Critical Workplace Safety Procedures

People of color and those who don’t identify as heterosexual are also far more likely to report disrespect in the field. The survey reports that only 14 percent of black economists and 25 percent of gay and lesbian economists agree that they “are respected within the field.” Women and other minority groups are making substantial strides of progress and leadership roles in many STEM fields. However, economics remains dominated by white men.

  • 48% of women experienced discrimination based on sex
  • 69% of women felt that their work was not taken as seriously as colleagues
  • 48% of women have not presented a question or idea to avoid harassment
  • 23% of women have not applied for or taken a job to avoid harassment

“It’s bad for economics,” Mr. Bernanke said. “It’s very unfair to those who are suffering that discrimination, because economics is a fascinating and interesting and lucrative field, and we don’t want to be excluding people for no good reason. We appear to be dissuading talented people from entering the field.”

According to the New York Times, the survey, if anything, “probably understates the problems. Despite efforts to reach former members, it left out many people who left the profession after facing discrimination or harassment, or who decided against becoming economists at all.”

A “discipline-wide reporting system” to document abuse has been called for by many young economists and upcoming leaders in the field. Instances of harassment and abuse often cross institutional lines. The newly created ombudsman position is an attempt to address this challenge by the AEA.

Women said the results were not, on one level, a surprise, confirming what many have experienced. But they said there was value in having numbers that show how widespread the problems are.

What other employees are saying about workplace safety

As economists, numbers are important. Rave recently conducted a workplace survey that reflects similar high levels of abuse in surprising fields like economics. We've compiled the results from several corporate fields in our annual survey: 

2019 Workplace Safety and Preparedness Survey

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Written by Samantha Hoppe

Sam Hoppe is Rave's Digital Marketing Specialist. She works closely with the Rave team on emails, blogs, and the website. Favorite topics include state and local government issues, emergency management, current events and feel-good stories. A New Jersey native turned Bostonian, you can find Sam exploring new bars and restaurants or enjoying live shows across the city.

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