Female Economists Push Their Field Toward a #MeToo Reckoning
Stories of harassment and discrimination, long shared in private conversations and email chains, began to be aired more publicly last year with allegations that Roland G. Fryer, a prominent Harvard economist, had harassed and bullied women in his university-affiliated research lab. The New York Times reported last month that a Harvard investigation had substantiated some of those claims while other investigations are continuing.
The economics association last year approved its first code of professional conduct, which calls for “equal opportunity and fair treatment for all economists” regardless of sex, race or other characteristics. The association also created a standing committee to address diversity, and is surveying its members about harassment and discrimination.
But many economists, particularly younger ones, pushed leaders here for more aggressive action. Hundreds of graduate students and research assistants have signed an open letter calling for more explicit codes of conduct, stronger enforcement and better systems for reporting abuses, among other reforms.
“We shouldn’t have to rely on whisper networks to protect us from abuse and inappropriate behavior,” they wrote. “And we don’t have the power to discipline our supervisors, or even our peers. You do. Please, listen to us.”
Some of that frustration bubbled over in the A.E.A.’s formal business meeting Friday evening, a usually dry affair in which members hear reports on the association’s finances and similar matters.
“There’s just a ton of anger and resentment around how the profession has been,” Elisabeth Perlman, 34, an economist with the Census Bureau, said at the meeting. She added that the profession must also address the misconduct that was allowed to go unchecked for decades.
Meeting attendees also expressed frustration with what they said was the association’s response to the allegations against Mr. Fryer, who had been due to join the A.E.A.’s executive committee this month. After the Times article was published, the association issued a two-sentence announcement that Mr. Fryer had resigned, but made no other public statement.