For International Women's Day we spoke with Associate Professor Federica Romei to explore what led to her career in Economics, and what she thought could be improved upon to welcome more women into the field of Economics.
What led you to a career in Economics?
Well, this is a difficult question. I was very lucky: I initially wanted to study medicine, then, at the very last minute, I realized that I would have never passed the University entrance test for Medicine, since I was not studying for it. Therefore, I picked Economics, instead, without knowing much about it. In Italy, it is not common at all to study Economics during high school, so I had a very vague idea of what it was. When I started my studies, I realized that I liked Economics a lot. I realized that it is a mix of math and social science. Therefore, very soon, I became passionate about it. I am very happy that I have not become a medical doctor, in the end, since I have a big phobia of needles.
Why aren’t there many women in the field of economics?
I do not think that is a general problem of Economics. There are some fields where there are more women. In general, I think that in my field, Macroeconomics, there is a lot of selection. It is a field close to power, such as central banks and policy institutions. Therefore, it probably attracts people who are somewhat attracted by power. This type of person is often a highly self-confident man. A poorly-kept secret is that these men also struggle or have difficulties in their academic life. However, when they do it, they they tend to keep it very private. Maybe they have been taught to behave like that. There is a famous book, "How to not be a boy" by the comedian Robert Webb that states what are the rules for being a man: Don't Cry; Love Sport; Play Rough; Drink Beer; Don't Talk About Feelings. Therefore, what students see are a bunch of people who are very self-confident, where there is little space for failure or difficulties. The same is true for the women who succeeded in this field. Many of them are very strong women. This does not mean that they do not struggle, either, just that they do not show it. Therefore, students feel that this field is full of "alpha" individuals, mostly men, and less self-confident ones have some difficulty to find their role model. They maybe feel that they do not belong to Macroeconomics because they have doubts, because they do not feel that their research is good enough, because they are scared to present in front of what they perceive as an aggressive audience. The truth is that many of us have the same fears, we just do not communicate them properly.
What motivates you in your work?
I love my independence and I am also very curious. Therefore, doing research is perfect for me. I do not need much motivation since I really like my job. I still find it amazing that someone is paying me to do it
What do we need to change for women to take up space in the field of Economics?
Many things need to change. First, we must have more women starting a PhD. Again, this is also field-specific. In Macro, this is certainly true. Therefore, it is not helpful that we are moving towards a pre-docs/Phds/post-doc system. This means finishing the PhD later and later and makes it difficult to raise children and raise a family, especially for women. There is much more that can be done. For example, we must work to make the environment more friendly and inclusive.