Strategies for an Inclusive Environment

Lack of critical mass

Within Economics departments, it is hard to bring about changes to policies and culture if women and minorities do not have a sufficient critical mass of representation. For female students, the lack of female peers, professors, and potential advisors, may increase the stress burden during the Ph.D. The professional growth of women economists may be hindered by a sense of loneliness and non-belonging.

Boys’ club

In environments that are traditionally male-dominated, some social events may involve male-type activities, with the consequence of excluding female members of the community. Social interactions, however, increase feedback and co-authorship opportunities, just to name a few. Being systematically left out from boys’ clubs may harm women’s career opportunities.

What are the messages we give to students?

What kind of message do our Departments’ policies and norms transmit? Do we convey which behaviors are unacceptable?

Field and subfield choice

Women should not be choosing their research area on the base of the environment they would end up in. We should not have female economists avoiding a field (or subfield) because it is perceived as more aggressive, or because of the lack of mentors and peers of the same gender.

Find allies among the leadership

It is important to find someone within the department leadership who can advocate for an inclusive environment, and to organize groups/activities/events to bring awareness and suggest changes.

Institutionalizing roles—such as “chair of an organization” or “professor advising a women’s group”— can help those involved feeling more entitled in carrying on these activities. Moreover, if these roles get to be considered as service to the department, the advising burden for female professors will decrease.

Crucially, departments should avoid having only women taking care of women’s issues. Every member of the department can contribute to creating a more inclusive environment in which women and underrepresented minorities can thrive. Let not create some sort of “segregation” among activities carried out by male and female professors.

Include diversity talks in the first year

At the beginning of the first year of the Ph.D., there are many introductory meetings: a “diversity and inclusion talk” would show the department’s commitment to the matter. It would set a common ground for an inclusive culture and environment and bring awareness about the difficulties that women and members of minorities may face. It would also help minority students to feel more included and more comfortable reporting inappropriate behavior.

Have culture conversations and department surveys

Department meetings about culture can help to set standards and norms of good behavior and build a sense of community. Department climate surveys can provide a safe opportunity for everyone to voice their opinions and concerns in an anonymous way.

Bring cohorts together

Increasing opportunities for interaction for students of different cohorts can help to overcome issues related to the lack of critical mass. 

Have more social events

Increasing the number of social events organized by departments will increase the chances that also those usually left out are part of the community.

If there is no in-house help: Go to CSWEP

There may be cases in which you can’t find allies within your community or you fear retaliation. Please contact CSWEP and use the many available resources!

Pedagogy and Admissions

Confidence Gap

Sometimes it is the case that women are less confident than men. This might lead to less involvement and lower sense of belonging.  

The role of undergraduate classes

Women can be discouraged from going into male-dominated fields, because of the lack of peers and female instructors. 

The choice of topics covered in principles courses is of great relevance in attracting students to the field.


How students are evaluated does affect performance and, especially in first-year classes, could influence students’ major choices.  

Ph.D. Admission

In many universities, several cohorts are still characterized by large gender disparities and specifically female underrepresentation.

Undergraduate Classes

Increase students’ interaction with female faculty/instructors. 

Reorganize topics covered in the earliest classes: several fields are not part of the program until later on in the major. 

Try to make principles topics attractive to students with different interests, backgrounds, and comparative advantage.


Proactively encourage participation by women and create inclusive discussions in the classroom.


Favor open-ended questions to multiple-choice once. Stress clearly that not getting an A in a class is not an indicator of poor performance and instill a growth mindset in students.

Changing Ph.D. Admission Criteria

Recognize multiple aspects of a student’s application. Consider weighting more RAship experience rather than, for instance, to real analysis coursework. The high math background requirements may be penalizing female students who are less likely to take math classes, while not necessarily increasing the quality of candidates admitted.

Advising and Mentoring

Finding the Right Mentor(s)

Students struggle in finding the right mentor. A positive long-term mentoring relationship requires both a research and a “personality” match. It may be hard to understand which professor could be the “right” mentor only on the base of in-class interactions. Frequently, students find it difficult to go and meet with professors to discuss very early-stage research ideas and start developing a mentoring relationship.

Little Guidance

In many departments, there is not any real guidance on how and when to choose a mentor. In some cases, students just discover that they need to have a mentor at the end of their second year when they finish their coursework and they need to fill up some administrative form. But when the classes are over, is even more difficult to find occasions to meet with professors and start developing a mentoring relationship. At the same time, professors are also frequently given very little guidance on what their role as a mentor should be. 

The absence of clear rules may end up imposing unequal burdens on faculty members. The lack of the diversity within the faculty may result in female faculty members having an excessive number of students to advise.

Having a Structure

In advisor-graduate student relationships, regular meetings (e.g. weekly or bi-weekly), both individual and as a group (with other advisees of the same professor), are an effective way to keep everybody on track. Group meetings, i.e. meetings in which students discuss their research in an informal environment, allow students to give feedback to others and cultivate a collaborative environment. 

In senior-junior faculty mentorships, informal lunches and short presentations can be another effective way of structuring interactions and create opportunities for feedback.

A Minimal Set of Expectations

Having a structure also means having a shared and clear minimal set of expectations. The fact that a professor has been assigned to be someone’s mentor doesn’t mean that he/she shouldn’t also be open to listening to other students/faculty ideas. On the other hand, students should respect the minimal set of rules (e.g. meeting dates) and participate constructively.

Honest and Constructive Feedbacks

Ideally, people should be honest but constructive. Part of the advisor role is to be able to tell his/her advisee that a certain project is not working out, but doing it constructively, not humiliating.

Job Market and Hiring

Family Planning

Frequently, the end of the Ph.D. coincides with the time of marriage and family planning decisions. Balancing career objectives, location constraints, and family can be knotty, especially for women.

Department Fit

How can a candidate obtain information about a potential employer’s attitude and culture towards women and minority groups? 

Personal Information in Interviews

What information should a candidate volunteer and what information should they refrain from providing even if asked about?

Difficulties in Hiring Minority Job Market Candidates

Smaller departments face larger obstacles in hiring minority job market candidates. Anecdotal evidence suggests that an offer from a lower-ranked department to a minority candidate is more likely to be rejected as compared to an offer to a non-minority candidate.

AEA Interviews Setup

Conducting interviews in hotel rooms can be distressing for some people. Minority candidates may be intimidated by an all-man interview committee. 

Seminar Culture

Dealing with the aggressive and confrontation seminar culture and coming across as assertive but not abrasive seems to be especially challenging for women.

Family Planning and Department Fit

JOE could provide advertisers with a questionnaire about diversity and inclusion policies and faculty gender composition. The advertisers would then decide whether to post the questionnaire together with the job ad. It seems a good idea for female candidates to try and meet with female faculty members during flyouts. 

Personal Information in Interviews

Increasing the number of signals available to candidates would help with location constraint and may benefit smaller departments.

ASSA Interviews Setup

As proposed by Kathryn Holston and Anna Stansbury, ASSA meetings could take place on university campuses. To mitigate all-man committees, volunteers or paid minority representatives could put in an appearance at interviews. 

Seminar Culture

Ideally, summer booth camp targeting the special challenges faced by women on the job market could be organized for candidates in nearby universities. They would also help to create networks to share information about potential employers’ effort to increase diversity and inclusion.


What is the objective of a seminar? This is the question that should guide our critical assessment of the seminar culture in economics, and the first step towards finding effective solutions to improve it. A seminar primary scope should be to learn about someone’s research and provide useful and constructive feedback. A seminar should stimulate audience thinking and be a source of productive ideas about how to address a given research question most effectively. Everyone should walk away from a seminar feeling enriched and stimulated.

Incentive Structure 

Frequently, research seminars take place in environments that reward aggressiveness and incentivize seminar participants to challenge the speaker and expose his/her weaknesses. This produces a destructive, intimidating environment whose effects can be particularly detrimental for women, especially when facing an audience that is largely composed of men.

Negative Externalities

The detrimental consequences of an aggressive seminar environment go beyond the direct impact on the speaker. Frequently, for example, graduate students report feeling intimidated and disincentivized to ask questions in research seminars.

Competition and Power Dynamics 

Seminars are a key part of professional advancement in academia. Often, audience behavior varies according to the power dynamics (e.g. young professors being challenged more aggressively than seniors, excess aggressiveness in job market seminars, more senior people in the audience asking “patronizing” questions to younger presenters).


Departments could adopt general guidelines on seminars’ scope, rules and best practices to be shared with the academic community. Guidelines should be widely circulated and could be printed and hanged in seminars’ rooms. For example, in internal workshops, the department could suggest a “this is our paper” approach: during the seminar, everyone behaves as if the paper presented is their own, trying to give as much constructive and useful feedback as possible.


Setting some simple rules, such as the “first 10-minute no-interruption” rule and the “raise-your hand” rule, can prove to be an effective step towards the creation of a more productive and non-intimidating environment.


Each seminar series should have a designed moderator (e.g. the seminar organizer) who informs the participants of the seminars’ rules and monitor their observance. Should the moderator find a question excessively aggressive or prolonged, they would intervene and invite the person asking the question to wait for the end of the seminar to discuss more with the speaker and let the seminar continue.


Departments could organize specific training sessions for Ph.D. and Faculty at the beginning of the year to review seminar guidelines. Department Chairs and leaders have a key role in stressing the importance of these issues and leading a process of change in the general culture. 

Peer Pressure 

Peer pressure can be a crucial enforcement mechanism to lead to a shift in the incentive structure and a change in the general seminar culture. No one likes to be the one person behaving inappropriately. 

Co-authorship and Group Work

Guidelines from departments, dean/ and/or professional institutions could include

  • Letting junior coauthors be first author;
  • Having junior coauthor present (or co-present);
  • Having gender-neutral informal events.

Ask for a letter from coauthors.

Harassment and Reporting Systems

  • An important part of avoiding harassment is to make sure everyone understands what is harassment and what isn’t.
  • Legal definitions are not that complex but aren’t necessarily known to people and need to be communicated.
  • The more difficult thing to communication is what constitutes legal but undesirable behavior.
  • The extent of “normal” physical contact, the nature of discussion, the way disapproval is expressed, etc., can vary greatly across countries, making it harder to be clear what is and is not acceptable.
  • On the other hand, it is important not to let claims of cultural differences be used to excuse the inappropriate.
  • There are obvious disincentives to reporting offenses by people with power.  How can we overcome these disincentives?
  • Title IX requires faculty and staff to report sexual harassment to designated authorities.  Some argue that this may impede students from confiding in faculty or staff.
  • Clearly, without reporting, we can’t address the problems.  But we have a classic public good problem: those who report can bear a much larger share of the costs than of the benefits.
  • One approach that has been discussed is to make use of anonymous reporting systems.  But these can potentially be misused or abused.
  • Given the incentive issues mentioned above regarding reporting, we should expect under-reporting and need to identify indirect indicators.
  • Are women avoiding certain groups/units or certain faculty?
  • Do PhD students in some groups show more signs of stress than others?
  • A potentially valuable way to combat harassment is to create an institutional culture which refuses to accept inappropriate behavior.
  • Can your institution be one where colleagues can genuinely work together to avoid behavior that they may not recognize the effects of without help?  Can inappropriate behavior be flagged as a form of working together so that we can all “be better” as opposed to policing and punishing?

Tenure, Retention and Life Balance

Lower Tenure Rates 

Women are tenured at a lower rate than men.  There are many reasons behind this gap, some can be at least partially addressed by Departments. 

Service Requirement and Contract Negotiation

Women are faced with more service requirements (non-promotional tasks) as departments demand female representation. 

Women are also less likely to negotiate teaching assignments/service/salary, etc. Usually end up with a “worse deal” that will hamper their tenure chances and also make them more likely to leave. 

Further, women tend to have lower salaries.

Sparse Network

Women have fewer networks, usually are less known to tenure letter writers. Boys’ club results in male assistant professor having better information on “how to get tenure” in their institution or on strategies to have a stronger case.

Allocate service more equitably

Women are less likely to say no and more likely to volunteer. Therefore, allocate certain tasks randomly or by rotation. If the department values female representation in several committees, compensate large service contributions with teaching reduction

Be wary of Teaching Evaluations 

Be aware of biases in students’ teaching evaluations and come with alternative ways of evaluating a course/instructor, for example having colleagues visit lectures. 

Diverse Seminar Speakers

Make the effort to invite a diverse group of seminar speakers to extend women and minorities’ networks.

Correct Hiring Biases

When looking to hire tenured faculty, do not reject women under the assumption they are less mobile.


Have formal mentoring / reviews to give annual feedback to assistant professors and to discuss tenure strategies.


Be transparent on how salaries are determined. In public universities where salaries are public, the gender gap has gone down.