Breaking the glass ceiling in economics and policy, one conversation at a time

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A collage of WiEP member headshots
Members of the Women in Economics and Policy group
Credit: Prerna Kundu

Interview with Prerna Kundu and Prashansa Srivastava, Co-Founders, Women in Economics and Policy, and Research Associates at J-PAL South Asia. Edited excerpts below.

Women in Economics and Policy (WiEP) was started by two J-PAL South Asia staff members as an independent project outside of their J-PAL work, with the goal of bringing together women’s experiences from the field of development economics and social policy. Over the last year, it has kept over 900 Indian women professionals from different backgrounds and experience levels connected through various activities and discussion forums. We speak to the co-founders on their journey so far.

Can you tell us about the work you have done so far?

We have come a long way from June 2020 when we started. WiEP members now interact on a biweekly or monthly basis, and sometimes even on a daily basis. We share a roundup newsletter of development research on women and gender every month, which features research on a wide range of issues including gender differences in time-use, female entrepreneurship, identity and social exclusion, and the gig economy.

Our focus is on encouraging knowledge exchange, for which we conduct discussion sessions and reading groups every month. So far these have covered topics like women’s employment in India,  gender bias in the judiciary, and more. Our larger aim is to create a space for members to seek advice, learn, and network, and we hope to expand our reach to include more cities and colleges in future.

What kinds of discussions has the group facilitated?

The group has served as a support system for many members. From navigating a difficult situation at work, to getting feedback on a job application, the members of the group have created a space to help each other. More systematically, we began with discussions with people who work in hiring, to seek their advice on dos & don’ts of CV writing, tips for salary negotiations as early career professionals, navigating social media in a professional setting (including #EconTwitter!), among other topics.

We feel that creating this space for young people has been important to WiEP’s success so far. The group is a widely accessible resource for getting new perspectives and accessing information which would otherwise just be passed through informal networks. It also gives a platform to women to connect with each other, learn about different organizations, discuss graduate school plans, and expand their personal network.

What are some barriers you have observed so far through your work? Can you tell us about the work you are planning in the future?

There is no denying that gender bias exists in the economics profession, and this extends from the number of female professors and PhD students to publication rates by women in top-five economics journals (with women making up only eleven percent of all authors since 1990). We set up the group with the dual purpose to highlight research by women and on women's issues, as well as to create a space for women to feel safe and seek advice. 

Role models and mentorship can go a long way when it comes to inspiring young women who are just starting out in this field, as well as in helping them navigate difficult and often toxic spaces. Since our group was set up during the pandemic, networking and mentorship opportunities for women have mostly been virtual. However, we hope to connect with more people to expand our network going forward.

Over the last year, we have realized the role that information and networks can play in access to jobs and graduate programs. Students studying in colleges in mid-sized cities often have limited information about the options available after graduation, or opportunities for gaining skills and experience needed in the job market. 

In order to bridge the gap in information between students from elite colleges versus those from non-elite colleges, we have been thinking about an information program that provides resources to students at the beginning of their education to allow them to access opportunities during their college experience. 

To do this, we launched a pilot of the “Young Women in Economics Program” with Punjab University and St Anthony’s College in Shillong. This program will focus on workshops around career opportunities after economics, introduction to data software, and job application or graduate school application preparation. Eventually, we hope to build on our learnings from the pilot, and launch the program in more colleges when the new academic year starts in July.

How have your experiences at J-PAL helped shape this initiative? 

Our experience at J-PAL played a big role in the creation of WiEP. Living together in Ranchi (a city in eastern India) as co-research associates (RAs) meant we had long discussions about being young women in the field in the living room of Shailaja RA apartment. We were also inspired by J-PAL affiliates such as Pascaline Dupas and Paul Niehaus, who set up social sector organizations alongside their research and teaching responsibilities.

Current and former J-PAL staff have been instrumental in helping us set up and run the network. Ayushi Srivastava (former J-PAL research associate) was one of the first people on our organizing committee, and played an important role in conceptualizing our vision. Anahita Karandikar currently serves as a director for WiEP, Sharvari Ravishankar works on the newsletter editorial board, and Prachi Shukla manages our social media. Through our experience with J-PAL we understand the value of a network, and the importance of bringing together people with different perspectives.

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