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Brainard says lack of diversity holding back field of economics

Lael Brainard, a Federal Reserve governor, has warned that economics classrooms across the country are whiter and more male than those in other departments and their homogeneity is holding back the whole field.

Ms Brainard, a former Obama administration official who is believed to be a leading candidate for Treasury secretary under Joe Biden, appealed for economics to broaden its workforce after allegations of rampant discrimination and misogyny.

Speaking at a Federal Reserve careers event, Ms Brainard called for inclusion to start in classrooms and expand to think tanks, government agencies and businesses that hire economists.

“We need to make it a national goal to catch up to medicine, science, engineering, and other fields in developing robust programmes, conducting ongoing evaluation, and constantly adapting to improve the inclusivity of economics and our ability to recruit and retain diverse talent,” she said.

“We want to be known within the profession as a place where minorities and women are confident they have the opportunity to make an impact and feel they are respected and heard by leadership.”

Just 10 per cent of the economics PhDs awarded in the US in 2018 went to black, Hispanic and Native American students, Ms Brainard said.

Her intervention came as questions of diversity and inclusion in the economics field are being debated more openly than in the past.

Leading economists of colour discussed the field’s diversity problems at a panel hosted by the Allied Social Science Association earlier this year and moderated by former Fed chair Janet Yellen.

According to a 2019 study conducted by the American Economic Association, students of colour that proceed with economics feel discriminated against and have less job satisfaction, while other professions lure gifted students of colour by being more welcoming.

Ms Brainard on Tuesday challenged her peers to work with other economists who are different from them, citing research that found ethnically diverse groups are better at problem solving than same-ethnicity groups and that the papers they write are cited more often.

“Economics is a powerful field that influences public policy and the economic opportunities facing all Americans,” Ms Brainard said. “We should not be satisfied until the people in our field and those sitting around every economic decision-making table represent America in all its strength and diversity.”

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