The field of economics is a very complicated one focusing on the behaviour and interactions of economic agents and how economies work. Here, seminars serve as the platform through which researchers spread new work, practitioners test out new theories, and young people network and find jobs. However, new research from the Northeastern University shows that men and women are treated very differently at such seminars. It was found that on average, women are asked between three and four more questions during presentations than their male counterparts, and are more likely to receive suggestions and clarifying questions, as well as hostile questions.
Modestino is an associate professor of Public Policy, Urban Affairs, and Economics and associate director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at the Northeastern University. The study is the first systematic analysis of the culture of economic seminars, who also represent Stanford University and the University of Michigan. Modestino and her colleagues presented their findings at this year’s American Economic Association meeting. The data was collected from 467 seminars with 342 presenters across 20 economics departments, consisting of 118 women and 224 men. They enlisted a group of 93 graduate students from more than 30 colleges and universities to track the number and quality of questions each presenter received. The graduate students used an online platform developed by the researchers to map the seminars in real-time in order to protect their identities. They collected quantitative data such as the start and end time of each interaction, the number of interactions, and who asked the question; as well as qualitative data such as the type of question and its tone.
They found that roughly one in 20 talks had a particularly disruptive audience member and one in 10 had two disruptive audience members. Those disruptors were “mostly male,” according to the study. Also, men asked four times as many questions as women during seminars and women presenters received 12% more questions than men. The researchers noted that more questions can throw off the flow of a presentation or interrupt the particular argument that’s being made. They plan to continue studying such long-term implications, but hope that this first step illustrates the differences in how women and men are treated in the field.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman