Mentoring programs help female economists secure tenure-track positions

April 16, 2020

There remains a dearth of women in economics, with far fewer females securing tenure-track jobs and publishing academic research than men. Past research points to several barriers contributing to this "leaky pipeline" including: access to mentoring, social networks, and implicit biases.

Many groups, including the American Economic Association (AEA), are working to change this through workshops and other endeavors. But do these efforts really have an impact?

Research from Princeton University shows that an annual AEA workshop for female economists was effective in retaining women in academia and helping them to achieve tenure in the top 30 to 50 ranked schools in the country. These females also published more academic papers.

"It's remarkable that a two-day intervention could have such an effect," the researchers wrote in the study, which was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

The authors of the study included Janet M. Currie, Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University and the co-director of Princeton's Center for Health and Wellbeing. Currie's co-authors included Donna Ginther of the University of Kansas, Francine Blau of Cornell University, and Rachel Croson of Michigan State University.

The researchers designed and evaluated the experimental two-day CeMENT workshop (now the Workshop for Faculty in Doctoral Programs) under the auspices of the AEA's Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (CSWEP). The program is aimed at mentoring female faculty in tenure-track positions at Ph.D. granting economics departments in the U.S. or at institutions with similar research expectations.

In the national CeMENT workshops, senior female economists volunteer their time in order to transmit knowledge about what it takes to be successful. The workshops also help junior women to build peer networks of junior faculty who are working in similar research areas. Each workshop lasted two days, and was held in conjunction with the AEA annual meetings.

For the purposes of this study, the co-authors looked at the difference between a "treatment" group -- where women participated in the workshop -- and a "control group" in which the women did not. The two groups were randomly assigned from the pool of applicants. They mapped these groups to tenure status and academic employment, as well as to publications and grants. The dataset they obtained covered six cohorts of program participants. These individuals were observed four to 14 years after attending a workshop.

The workshops were especially helpful in building ongoing and lasting professional relationships, the researchers found. Many women who participated in the program kept in touch with the contacts they made at the workshops for years afterwards, using each other for support and advice. This helped them in terms of job placements and academic publishing.

"Our results speak to the importance of having mentors and peer networks, and suggest that women in economics often face difficulties in developing these relationships. We hope these results will inspire others to step forward with additional ways of tackling this persistent problem," the researchers wrote.
The researchers are grateful to the National Science Foundation (SBE-0317755) and the AEA for their financial support of the mentoring workshops and to the National Science Foundation (SES-1547054) for funding this evaluation.

The paper, "Can Mentoring Help Female Assistant Professors in Economics?" first appeared in NBER as a working paper and was not peer-reviewed or subject to the review by the NBER Board of Directors that accompanies official NBER publications. The article will be appearing in the Papers and Proceedings of the American Economic Association in May 2020.

Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

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