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Brief Exposure To Charismatic Career Women Inspires Young Women To Choose Male-Dominated Field

University Network

Originally Posted: Feb. 8, 2018

Top female college students were more likely to consider majoring in economics when exposed briefly to inspiring and charismatic women in the field, according to an easy and inexpensive study led by Danila Serra, assistant professor of economics at the Southern Methodist University (SMU).

The study was funded by the Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge, which was created by Harvard University economics professor Claudia Goldin to address the the gender gap in economics majors. Currently, the national average is just one female student for every three male students, with SMU falling below at one female student for every four male students.

The study was conducted by Serra and Catherine Porter, associate professor of economics at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, after SMU was randomly chosen as one of 20 universities to participate in the Challenge. Each university was given $12,500 to develop a program that would test the effectiveness of a deliberate intervention strategy to recruit and retain female majors.

“The gender imbalance in economics has been in the news a lot lately, and much of the discussion has been very negative,” Porter said in a statement. “This study offers something positive: a cheap way of improving the gender balance. The results can hopefully be used by other schools in order to redress the low numbers of women that major in economics – women have a lot to offer and should consider economics as a subject that is interesting and varied for a career.”

In designing SMU’s program, Serra was influenced by her own experience as a Ph.D. economics student at the University of Oxford.

“As a student, I had met many female professors in the past, but my own experience taught me that inspiration is not about meeting any female professor — it’s about meeting that one person that has a huge charisma and who is highly inspiring and speaks to you specifically,” she said in a statement. READ MORE