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Foreign Policy

Why are there no extra girls economists on the United Nations?

May 17, 2021, 8:27 a.m.

It appears to be a golden age for women in business, a traditionally male-dominated area where women have recently been appointed to the top positions of the U.S. Treasury Department, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund – the latter twice in a row. The World Bank’s chief economist, Carmen Reinhart, is a Cuban American.

Why is the United Nations fighting to appoint qualified women economists? A senior United Nations trade and development representative said her agency is grappling with a shortage of female business applicants for doctorates, undermining her agency’s efforts to recruit enough skilled women to meet the UN’s goal before the end of the year to achieve gender equality in their recruitment practices decade. A number of women economists claim that there are many skilled women in the market and that the United Nations just doesn’t work hard enough to recruit women.

The best recognized female economists are generally underrepresented throughout the workplace. More than two-thirds of business doctorates in the United States are male, and only 40 percent of entry-level economists in Europe are women. This inequality is evident in large institutions. For example, the World Bank employs more women (53.2 percent of its core workforce) than men (46.8 percent). According to the World Bank, there are more men than women 784 to 514 among employees with “economists” in their titles.

At the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), a Geneva-based agency that promotes investment, development and trade in developing countries, the numbers are even more one-sided. At UNCTAD, women make up only 36 percent of the specialist staff, making them one of the worst UN departments when it comes to gender equality in the workplace. The head of UNCTAD is now trying to change this in order to recruit more women.

The pursuit of greater representation of women at UNCTAD is part of a broader drive by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to achieve gender equality for senior UN officials across the organization by the end of 2021 and by 2028, as the United Nations figures show that there are currently more women than men, 57 percent at the undersecretary level and nearly 50 percent at the assistant secretary general level. However, the representation of women in UN peace missions is falling sharply, particularly in Darfur and Libya, where less than a quarter of the staff are women, and in the UN Security Ministry, where only 22 percent of the positions are occupied by women.

To reverse this trend at UNCTAD, Isabelle Durant, a former Belgian politician and acting secretary general of UNCTAD, instructed her senior executives in an internal memo last month to remove the requirement that new hires have a doctorate and said this was limiting the limits of a pool of potential candidates. She also insisted that women be shortlisted for prospective recruits, that managers conduct training to identify potential unconscious biases against women in their recruitment practices, and that women in the lower and middle ranks of the profession participate in the “Prioritize” setting.

“We know that identifying a diverse and meaningful pool of qualified female candidates is a difficult task, and we find that statistics show that overall female economics graduates are still underrepresented,” she wrote in an internal memo to staff dated April 16. “Yet there is a sizeable pool of competent women economists, which is also reflected in the fact that many institutions dealing with economic development are run by women.”

The World Trade Organization is currently led by its first female director-general, a Nigerian-American economist, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who recently appointed two women to fill the organization’s four deputy chief executive officers. Only one woman has previously held an alternate position since the trade organization was founded in January 1995.

But while some UN agencies are struggling, many women economists say there are many qualified women with doctoral degrees but that the UN has done too little to find them, focusing on candidates from a tiny handful of elite universities in the US and Europe leave.

“I’m a bit shocked,” said Emmanuelle Auriol, a French economics professor at the Toulouse School of Economics. “I know a lot of women with doctorates who would like to join a UN organization.”

“It’s laziness, they don’t achieve,” added Auriol, who, along with a group of European economists, conducted a study on the representation of women economists.

Durant’s memo received from Foreign Affairs was sparked by complaints from UN headquarters that the Geneva-based agency was failing to achieve Guterres’ goal of achieving gender equality in the myriad agencies of the international institution. Ana Maria Menéndez, a senior political advisor to Guterres on the UN chief’s efforts on gender equality, recently expressed concern that UNCTAD is lagging behind most other UN agencies, ranking 36th out of 41 -Field UN secretarial divisions ranked. Durant said the trade and development agency performed poorly, especially among mid-level professional staff.

“I have been repeatedly brought to the attention of prejudice against women who are sometimes unconscious,” she said. “The stereotyping of gender roles is one factor that helps prevent women and men from being given the same opportunities.”

Some male employees have trouble characterizing their bias towards women. A male UNCTAD official said managers had recently hired as many female economists as men, but the historical divide placed younger men at an unfair disadvantage.

“Everyone understands the need for a diverse workforce, but what does that mean for men?” said the official. “We are dealing with problems that were caused by previous generations and are now falling on the shoulders of younger generations.”

The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for not having the authority to speak to the press, said Durant was guilty of her own outdated stereotyping of gender, referring to remarks she made at a women’s conference on which she said, “There is a gender difference in the way women and men lead and approach consensus building. For example, women are more likely to ensure that negotiations actually take place at the table and not on the golf course. “The younger generation of employees, he added, are not particularly interested in golf.

A second male UN official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, recognized the sensitivity of the fight against historical injustice. “There are definitely a lot of men who know that their chances of advancing to the next higher class are severely affected by the gender parity strategy,” he said. “There is no question about that. Most of us accept that, but some still complain. “

However, the official added that men are still receiving promotions to senior positions.

Men have traditionally dominated the economy, with fewer women than most other academic professions. For example, women made up 55 percent of all U.S. students in 2019, but only 34.1 percent of economists in 2020. This is the result of a survey by the Committee on the Status of Women in Business (CSWEP). In 1972, the earliest period for which CSWEP documented gender differences in economics, only 7.6 percent of new doctoral theses in economics were given to women in the United States, and women held only 2.4 percent of full professorships in economics. Janet Yellen, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, was the only woman in her graduate class at Yale University from 1971.

The proportion of female economists has grown steadily, but women are still underrepresented, especially in academia. In 2020, women made up 35.3 percent of students entering the doctorate. Economic programs in the United States, according to CSWEP report. An even smaller proportion of women – 27.4 percent – hold permanent professorships, and less than 15 percent of permanent full professors are women. In Europe, women make up a little more than 40 percent of entry-level positions in economic research, but they only reach 22 percent of full professorships.

“Are there too few female economists in international institutions? That has to be true, ”said Betsey Stevenson, professor of economics and public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. “Can you solve the problem by dropping your PhD? Requirement? I do not think so. To get the Ph.D. The requirement will result in men with more qualifications than women and this will likely result in unequal work dynamics. “

Stevenson said the UN must search harder, interview more women, expand its job advertisements and consider hiring at less prestigious universities. “I know a lot of women who have their Ph.D. and won’t be inundated with job vacancies, ”she added. “There are many, even if they are underrepresented.”

In a phone interview, Durant admitted that her agency had to do more to identify and recruit qualified women, saying that women make up only 30 to 35 percent of all applicants. She said UNCTAD generally only recruits from a handful of US and European universities. Most employees who come from other parts of the world typically graduate from the same major US universities.

Addressing men’s concerns about being denied opportunities, Durant said she understood “how delicate it can be for men at levels where gender equilibrium is not achieved. However, combating this inequality is our responsibility and duty. “

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