When It Comes to Gender Imbalances, Academia’s Ignorance Is Self-Serving

The Ravina vs. Columbia case illustrates that challenging the status quo can be immensely costly. We economists should collectively think about how we can further both human dignity and science by becoming better scientists in life, not just on paper, argues Renée Adams in this op-ed.

 

 

In a profession dominated by men, there are not enough people with guts. Enrichetta Ravina, a female finance professor who took Columbia University to court and won a retaliation case, is one of them. The outcome of the case is significant for many reasons. One important reason is that the trial brings evidence to light that we can examine to gain a better understanding of flaws in our profession.

 

The finance profession is surprisingly—or perhaps not so surprisingly—unscientific when it comes to issues pertaining to gender and the power seniors have over juniors. Academics who would scoff at the use of anecdotes or opinions in research can be quick to disparage the quality of women’s work without having read it. Academics who are quick to point to the importance of controlling for “unobserved corporate culture” when analyzing firms can be equally quick to challenge the idea that culture may matter in the academic profession. Academics who are willing to entertain the notion that analysts are biased find it inconceivable that academics may be biased. Academics who demand transparency and good governance from boards and firms do not demand transparency from their own profession and never question how it is governed. Although finance academics must publish or “perish,” many academics do not even know how the journal editors of their main professional journals are chosen.

 

“Finance and economics may be worse than other fields because economists believe in market efficiency—which may seemingly justify the status quo and inaction. But just because a market is in equilibrium does not mean it is efficient.”

It is convenient to be ignorant. Examining evidence and trying to make sense of it is hard work. But being ignorant and enabling bias may also be self-serving. Competition in the profession has increased dramatically over time with the inflow of women to the field and the increased emphasis on American-style tenure standards in Europe and now the Asia-Pacific. Evidence compiled by AFFECT suggests a lower bound of roughly 5,700 finance academics vying for space in the top finance journals in recent years. Research tells us that increases in competition can engender bad behavior by incumbents. The academic finance profession is no different in this regard. When seniors do not dispel the myth that juniors can only publish with a senior author, they are protecting their own interests to meet publication targets. When women are singled out for disparagement, male dominance is protected.

 

Finance and economics may be worse than other fields because economists believe in market efficiency—which may seemingly justify the status quo and inaction. But just because a market is in equilibrium does not mean it is efficient. Stifling good ideas because of who proposed them or creating incentives for people to do research they perceive as more pleasing to those in power leads to fewer and less diverse ideas. The Ravina vs. Columbia case illustrates that challenging the status quo can be immensely costly. The threat of retaliation is real. But challenging the status quo is immensely important. Having guts should be rewarded. Every finance academic should read the case material of the Ravina vs. Columbia case, a summary of which is available on AFFECT’s website. After that, we should collectively think about how we can further both human dignity and science by becoming better scientists in life, not just on paper.

 

Renée Adams is a Professor of Finance at University of New South Wales (at Oxford University as of September 1) and Chair of the AFA’s Academic Female Finance Committee (AFFECT) 

 

Disclaimer: The ProMarket blog is dedicated to discussing how competition tends to be subverted by special interests. The posts represent the opinions of their writers, not necessarily those of the University of Chicago, the Booth School of Business, or its faculty. For more information, please visit ProMarket Blog Policy.