29 Mar 2019 17:28 IST

Why women economists shine in today’s shared economy

IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath

There are more women in economics today, making a special mark in emotional intelligence competencies

Last October, Gita Gopinath was appointed as the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, the central global body fostering global monetary co-operation. Being the first woman to be appointed to the coveted post, it was a perfect addition to Gita’s achievements as an outstanding economist and a motif for something far greater: the spotlight in the world of economics turning back to women.

The presence of a vast number of women in the world of economics, that too at critical positions, is nothing new. However, the companies they represent are largely ignored. For instance, Joan Violet Robinson was the main disciple of Keynes and a key observer and participant through many economic transitions. Her contribution, altering traditional methods of economics to suit real economic conditions, has been crucial. Yet, for Joan and many other women economists like her, the gender demographic graph was never in equilibrium.

Under-represented women economists

The world of economics has not been particularly divisive on the basis of gender, as it has on other parameters, such as political views. In fact, a study was conducted by two economists, Karen E. Dynan and Cecilia Elena Rouse, in Harvard University in 1995, to examine why women are under-represented in the economics profession, did not yield any conclusive reason why women are reluctant economists. Yet, the numbers were skewed for a long while. Fortunately, the scenario is changing.

Economics, it is said, is the perfect representation of social sciences. A 2016 study by Korn Ferry Hay group, which surveyed 55,000 professionals from 90 countries, revealed that in 11 out of 12 emotional intelligence competencies, women consistently outperformed men.

Considering that economics is, in fact, the study of understanding human behaviour under certain constraints, it is no wonder that women have a better understanding of the grey area between psychology and rationality that the subject treads. Of late, jobs in this field need professionals to be able to network well and build good relations — areas in which women have predominantly fared better.

A subtle gender bias

When Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in 2009 for her pioneering work on how communities manage common resources, it further validated the thought that women can indeed view certain situations from a more empathetic perspective. She challenged the popular view of common resources being more prone to degradation as they belonged to nobody. But her research showed that, over a long term, communities manage common resources better and institutions of co-operation can function well without government intervention.

Her viewpoint holds all the more relevance in the shared economy world of today. However, the very fact that she is the only woman to have won the highest prize in this field also shows that there might be a subtle gender bias or too few women took up the subject previously.

As behavioural economics begins to take precedence over the conventional approach, the field would need higher participation from women to broaden its horizons and thrive. Studying economics also opens a lot of avenues for women in allied professions such as investment banking, corporate economics research, treasury strategy and research, analysts in data analytics companies, capital markets and research roles, strategy consulting and transfer pricing roles.

Along with every other sector, there is a strong mandate in the economic community to be more inclusive, and events such as the historic appointment of Gita Gopinath give a considerable boost to such positive change.