When asking myself, what balance for the better means, it is not easy to find an answer. As a researcher, I think about hard facts first. Balance for the better means, for instance, that women and men are paid the same for the same work1. Moreover, everyone has to have the same opportunities and has to face the same requirements to develop their careers, which, hopefully, will lead to more women in leadership positions in the future – also in academics2. Governments and institutions have to pave this way by using the tools available to them. Here I am thinking about governmental initiatives like laws for gender quotas or parental leaves, events encouraging women to develop their careers, or providing day care for children.
But balance for the better does not just refer to governments, institutions, or legislation. For me, it is something with a strong individual component, something that can be actively lived and nourished. Therefore, I am happy that I have also found my individual strategy of achieving my personal balance for the better. For me it is exchanging with other female researchers about what it means to be a woman in economics, and talking about problems and situations one faces within the profession. Over the last years, I was lucky to meet so many intelligent and inspiring female economists and I realized that so many are struggling with the same challenges as I do. For example when it comes to the question of what is the right way to appear as a female economist. Not easy to find an answer, as female role models are still relatively rare in our profession. Hence, when starting as an academic, it was not so easy for me to find a woman who gave me, simply speaking, an idea of what works and what not. Yes, there are great male academics who can serve as role models for both genders; however, for some issues, their guidance is limited, as they simply do not face the same situations or problems like I do as a woman.
Let me use teaching as one concrete example. When I started my teaching activities, I realized how different students reacted to male and female lecturers. My perception was, and still is, that female teaching abilities are differently valued and examined compared to the ones of male colleagues – especially from male students. Students, it seems, are still more used to male lecturers (this may be no big surprise, since they are the majority), and therefore their reactions towards me are sometimes, let’s put it this way, interesting: I am challenged about contents, receive strange mails and comments, and also lecture evaluations include things that have definitely nothing to do with the topics I teach or with characteristics a lecturer should be judged for. Just to state two key words - outfits and attractiveness. Some situations really caught me by surprise, especially at the beginning of my career. I was really wondering, if I was doing something wrong. But then I started to talk to other females and was surprised that everyone, really everyone, I was talking to had at least one similar story to tell. Talking and exchanging views about strategies to overcome such situations helps me a lot and gives me confidence.
Another example is, when I am the only woman in a board, committee, or meeting. I found and find it challenging to fulfill the role of a female economist. I want to represent us women, and our problems, opinions, and perceptions (which are likely to differ to those of our male colleagues) in the best possible way. On the other hand, I also do not want to be “too loud” or too demanding, in order to not be stamped as the one “fighting for female rights”. It feels really difficult for me here to get it right, also because for me it still seems that some male colleagues just are not able to see what problems women are facing.
Something related to what “role” to choose is what outfit to wear, especially for important presentations or interviews. This may sound not so important, but as we know that how we look influences how others perceive us, it is a topic that should not be neglected. I used to think I am the only one who spends time figuring out what is the best outfit to look like a professional economist (so like someone having a still perceived male profession), without neglecting a female touch. It was so much fun to find out that – hey, this is something so many other women are also not sure about. For men the choice of outfit is easier – whatever suit always does the job. But as a woman you have many more options (or let me put it this way - possibilities to get it wrong) and also, I personally do not want to just be a male copy of myself. I am proud of being a woman, but still I do not want to stand out too much. Tricky what to do.
Well, there are also other topics I will not be able to cover in this post. In the end, I think there are many different aspects needed for an overall balance for the better. While many of these aspects relate to policies and institutions, others are linked to culture, to general perceptions of women, and to one’s own coping strategies. For me it is a relief that I also have found my personal way of a balance for the better by exchanging with other female researchers, irrespective of career level. This makes me feel that I am not alone with the challenges I am facing as a woman in economics on a daily basis, and this makes me stronger.
1. OECD. Gender wage gap (indicator). (2019). doi:OECD (2019), Gender wage gap (indicator). doi: 10.1787/7cee77aa-en (Accessed on 07 March 2019)
2. OECD. Share of employed who are managers, by sex (database). (2019). Available at: https://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=54752. (Accessed: 7th March 2019)