Economics is one of the most influential disciplines and plays a determining role in the way the world functions. The inherent belief of economics that open competition can help use resources in the most efficient way has resulted in this social science charting out the course of policies and impacting countless lives thus. Further, this has also led to economists routinely directing the way of running both public policies as well as business operations.

Unfortunately, the very principle of ‘open competition’ has been observed to find lesser application in this discipline’s academic and professional space, with a miserable record on gender equality.

Women have undoubtedly been under-represented in the profession of economics all over the world. Several macroeconometric studies have found key evidences that suggest how gender equality has a positive impact on economic growth, but there has been a lack of research indicating the vice versa. This is a dismal scenario since women have historically been observed to show a strong inclination towards social sciences.

The common narrative is that women have a higher EQ than men and their ability to empathize, socialize, and build relations and networks is better. The modern-world economics requires such skills, and therefore all domains have been seeing gradual incorporation of and better acceptance for women in recent times.

The neoclassical perspective

The neoclassical synthesis, which allegedly dominates mainstream economics today, has been criticized since long for having an inherent bias, pointing how women were invisible in the initiatives taken within development and modernization theory, and subsequently the policies. While the ideas of scarcity, competition, and exchange assume significance to quite an extent, the model is considered ‘universal’ and legitimizes a set of problematic and identity-blind assumptions.

The mainstream economics is primarily driven by analysis of rational choice, competition, efficiency, and cost-benefit. But it overlooks the intersectionality of determining factors like sex, race, ethnicity, class, nationality, and sexuality, along with the non-market variables. Moreover, the skewed economic logic and analysis have led to a disproportional burden of unpaid labour, occupational segregation, feminization of poverty, unequal pay, and rate of return on human capital investment.

Therefore, it has now become imperative to incorporate the determining factors and widen the understanding of rationality to include the intersectional economic agents influenced by both market and non-market variables. Moreover, there is a severe need for conducting a gender analysis of mainstream economic theories to break the cycle sustained by the male-centric roots and their subsequent application.

Through equal opportunities, access to services and resources, and equal legal and political representation, the realm of economics will not just address the gender issues but will also pave the way towards holistic development.

Battling the apathy

Women economists have since ages been driven to address the challenges posed by mainstream economics by dismantling assumptions and bringing gender awareness to the fore. Emerging as autonomous agents, women started exercising rational decision-making to battle the apathy of neoclassical economic models towards the marginalized. They have begun undertaking various roles in this discipline to reinforce a more objective understanding of the scenario.

From Sadie Alexander who raised questions against the devaluation of household work some eighty years ago, to Ester Boserup who helped pave way for the UN decade for women from 1975 to 1985 through her writings on the role of women in economic development—women have been making extensive efforts towards the inclusion of the diversity. Even Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has extensively written on gender, family, and feminist economics.

Research conducted by Forbes on ‘Diversity and inclusion’ showed that decisions that were made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60% better results. From this, it was concluded that a thorough understanding and productivity can be achieved by realizing how significantly diversity influences decision-making. Women in this field have acknowledged and are continually addressing this differential impact of diversity not just amidst organizations but on the society at large.

The modern-day scenario

As women in economics are gradually unravelling issues that have remained invisible in the realm of policy for decades, there has been a mandate in all domains and sectors. The recent appointment of Gita Gopinath as chief economist of the International Monetary Fund stands as a sturdy example. The presence of women as leaders in integral positions as well as at root levels in the world of economics has been witnessing a gradual rise. With a steady shift towards behavioural economics from the neoclassical, the field has finally opened avenues for women to engage and thrive.

A new generation of well-acquainted and aware women economists is marking its presence not just in the academic aspect but also in the policy world. They have begun showing interest towards lucrative job roles in sectors like data analysts, investment banking, market and research roles, strategy consulting, corporate economics research, treasure strategy and research roles, transfer pricing, and capital markets and research roles, to name a few. Moreover, with concrete measures like work from home opportunities, better maternity policies, and bring your child to work environments etc., organizations are doing their bid towards encouraging women participation in the field of economics.

Amidst a rapidly emerging supportive framework, women are finally emerging as a significant part of the world of economics, challenging the mainstream and closing the gender-gap, slowly but steadily.

The author is Associate Professor & Dean (Faculty), Meghnad Desai Academy of Economics.