Frustrations from harassment in the economy take a distinct turn online

Frustrated with official reporting channels, women are taking to Twitter to make accusations of sexual harassment against leading economists in their field. Supporters say the explicit airing of names previously confined to informal networks of whispers — a tactic reminiscent of the height of the #MeToo movement in 2017 — is necessary to remedy the inaction, while others worry that Twitter is far from the best vehicle for addressing these claims.

The saga began when allegations against two high-profile male economists surfaced on social media last week. Jennifer Doleac, an associate professor of economics at Texas A&M University who studies crime and discrimination, named the researchers on Twitter, where she has more than 50,000 followers, after receiving emails and direct messages related to the allegations.

“I participate in these kinds of conversations,” he said Chronicle. “And so I felt I should say something about how this is troubling, mainly because we in the professions don’t have the ability to address these allegations.”

His initial post was widely circulated among economists on Twitter, prompting a flurry of responses, with many describing their own experiences with harassment and praising the public airwaves, while others expressed concern about how the accused were named.

Doleac said he has received dozens of allegations against several economists in his inbox over the past week. He has since tweeted the names of three more economists he says he has made allegations against. Doleac has encouraged victims to come forward with their allegations.

Our official institutions have promised change and failed to deliver.

The development comes three years after what many saw as a breakthrough in a profession that has long struggled with gender diversity. Revelations of discrimination reached a fever pitch when female economists called for stronger action from the American Economic Association in 2019 — two years after Alice H. Wu, then a student at the University of California, Berkeley, prompted a report on gender stereotypes in economics. professional conversations about hidden misogyny in the industry.

The response was strong. Prominent male scientists have acknowledged harassment in the field. AEA conducted a study which found striking evidence of gender and racial discrimination, and then announced measures to prevent harassment and establish a reporting mechanism. The organization established an anti-harassment code, appointed an ombudsman, and introduced professional consequences to members who violate the code.

Doleac, who was among the women who called the association to action in 2019, said the measures felt like an important turning point at the time. But he’s since become disillusioned with the association’s investigative process — and doesn’t trust universities’ Title IX offices to hold harassers accountable. AEA has recognized the limits its research capacity as a professional organization.

“What’s happening now is the result of simmering frustration and anger that has been building for a couple of years when our official institutions have promised change and failed to deliver,” said Doleac, who said he was involved in an AEA investigation into one of the cases. of the scientists he publicly named as a supporter of the complainant. “We have stopped waiting or relying on our institutions to protect us.”

Justin Wolfers, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who has written about gender issues in the field New York Times, said the conversation unfolding now looks different than it did a few years ago. At the time, he said, the furor was directed at the industry more broadly and did not focus on sexual misconduct or include publicly naming alleged harassers. “I think this moment is very literally a MeToo moment.”

Wolfers said there has been little formal institutional response, but the public conversation is making parts of the business community pay much more attention to the issue. “It feels like I’m waiting for the next shoe to drop,” he said.

Doleac said he expects action from the AEA. “I’m looking for evidence that the current system is not just inadequate, it’s backfiring, and a public commitment to change it and come up with something else,” he said. “I love the economics toolkit. I believe there are solutions to this, and I hope that all this will also lead to my colleagues taking this more seriously as an academic and research question – how do we build better institutions?

AEA’s media contact did not respond chronicle’s comment request.

The Economic Science Association, a professional organization for experimental economists, issued a statement Monday in response to the allegations, condemning “scientific and personal misconduct” and encouraging people with information about such behavior to report it to the organization.

The group also said it was announcing a project to encourage research into misconduct in professional settings and mechanisms to prevent bad behaviour.

While I think we should certainly be reporting and investigating and doing our best to limit the power of bad actors, I don’t think we should be doing that on Twitter.

Catherine Eckel, the association’s ethics officer, said the group can keep reports confidential and advise accusers on how to proceed. But as a professional organization, it lacks legal power. “All we can really do is kick someone out of our club,” he said. And that is up to the Executive Committee. Eckel said his organization encourages people to report to the AEA where the consequences for the accused may be more professional. “Getting that ban is a big deal,” he said.

Eckel said she has seen firsthand how risky it can be for a woman’s career to report sexual harassment to a university — and how often attempts to formally report misconduct fail, often because accused researchers find jobs at different universities to prevent their cases from progressing. .

“For a long time, we’ve felt frustrated that we couldn’t do anything,” Eckel said. “Many of us know who the bad few are. But the fact that this kind of thing should be limited to just a network of whispers is just extremely frustrating.

However, he says that if he could remove last week’s accusations from Twitter, he would. “While I think we should certainly be reporting and investigating and doing our best to limit the power of bad actors, I don’t think we should be doing that on Twitter,” he said. “I think it’s unnecessarily traumatic for a lot of people.”

Doleac said he would prefer reliable processes to deal with these types of allegations: “I think it would be better for everyone involved.” Making accusations on social media or the press is a last resort, he said. “I feel like we’re backed into a corner where our institutions are clearly failing to keep women safe in the academy, and so we feel like that’s our only option for prosecution — especially the worst offenders.”

Wolfers admitted that such issues are not easy and there is a growing feeling that official institutions have failed to protect women from sexual harassment. “Nobody thinks it’s a good solution, but it might be the least worst solution,” he said.

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