Women empowerment: Closing the gender gap in economic sector

Sk. Shamim Iqbal | Published: May 23, 2019 20:57:32 | Updated: May 28, 2019 22:17:20

A new generation of well-acquainted and aware women economists is marking its presence not just in the academic aspect but also in the policy world. They have begun showing interest towards lucrative job roles in sectors like data analysis, investment banking,  strategy consulting, corporate economics research, and capital markets, to name a few. Moreover, with concrete measures like work from home opportunities, better maternity policies, and bring-your-child-to-work environments etc., organisations are doing their bid towards encouraging women participation in the field of economics.

Economics is one of the most influential disciplines and plays a determining role in the way the world functions. The inherent belief of economics that open competition can help use resources in the most efficient way has resulted in this social science charting out the course of policies and impacting countless lives thus. Further, this has also led to economists routinely directing the way of running both public policies and business operations. Unfortunately, the very principle of 'open competition' has been observed to find lesser application in this discipline's academic and professional space, with a miserable record on gender equality.

Women have undoubtedly been under-represented in the profession of economics all over the world. Several macro econometric studies have found key evidences that suggest how gender equality has a positive impact on economic growth, but there has been a lack of research indicating the vice versa. This is a dismal scenario since women have historically been observed to show a strong inclination towards social sciences.

The common narrative is that women have a higher EQ (emotional quotient) than men and their ability to empathise, socialise, and build relations and networks are better. The modern-world economics requires such skills, and therefore all domains have been seeing gradual incorporation of and better acceptance for women in recent times.

The mainstream economics is primarily driven by analysis of rational choice, competition, efficiency, and cost-benefit. But it overlooks the inter-sectional determining factors like sex, race, ethnicity, class, nationality, and sexuality, along with the non-market variables. Moreover, the skewed economic logic and analysis have led to a disproportional burden of unpaid labour, occupational segregation, feminisation of poverty, unequal pay, and rate of return on human capital investment.

Therefore, it has now become imperative to incorporate the determining factors and widen the understanding of rationality to include the intersectional economic agents influenced by both market and non-market variables. Moreover, there is a serious need for conducting a gender analysis of mainstream economic theories to break the cycle sustained by the male-centric roots and their subsequent application.

Through equal opportunities, access to services and resources, and equal legal and political representation, the realm of economics will not just address the gender issues but will also pave the way towards holistic development. Emerging as autonomous agents, women started exercising rational decision-making to battle the apathy of neoclassical economic models towards the marginalised. They have begun undertaking various roles in this discipline to reinforce a more objective understanding of the scenario.

From Sadie Alexander who raised questions against the devaluation of household work some eighty years ago, to Ester Boserup who helped pave way for the UN Decade for Women from 1975 to 1985 through her writings on the role of women in economic development-women have been making extensive efforts towards the inclusion of the diversity. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has extensively written on gender, family, and feminist economics.

As women in economics are gradually unravelling issues that have remained invisible in the realm of policy for decades, there has been a mandate in all domains and sectors. The recent appointment of Gita Gopinath as chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stands as a great example. The presence of women as leaders in integral positions as well as at root levels in the world of economics has been witnessing a gradual rise. With a steady shift towards behavioural economics from the neoclassical, the field has finally opened avenues for women to engage and thrive.

The neoclassical synthesis, which allegedly dominates mainstream economics today, has been criticised since long for having an inherent bias, pointing how women were invisible in the initiatives taken within development and modernisation theory, and subsequently the policies. While the ideas of scarcity, competition, and exchange assume significance to quite an extent, the model is considered 'universal' and legitimises a set of problematic and identity-blind assumptions. Amidst a rapidly emerging supportive framework, women are finally emerging as a significant part of the world of economics, challenging the mainstream and closing the gender gap, slowly but steadily.


Sk. Shamim Iqbal works in R&D Division of a leading commercial bank.


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