How the Fed Is Trying to Fix Its White Male Problem

In St. Louis, meanwhile, attracting women has been a struggle.

“Since 2017, we made eight offers to female Ph.D. economists; only one accepted,” B. Ravikumar, the senior vice president and deputy research director in St. Louis, said in an email. “Making material progress on the numerator is a challenge, but one we’re committed to.”

Diversity extends beyond gender, and the Fed is making improvements — albeit slow ones — when it comes to hiring minority economists.

About 25 percent of doctoral-level economists were from those underrepresented groups in 2018, up slightly from 22 percent in 2013.

Iterative progress could help to crack open a door into economics, allowing others to follow.

“In the black community, it is seen as a degree you get to go into business,” said Kadija Yilla, 23, a senior research assistant at Brookings who studied economics at Pomona College and is currently weighing whether to go to graduate school. “It’s also the environment.”

Walking into an economics department filled with white men can be “daunting,” Ms. Yilla said. She has become involved with the Sadie Collective, a new initiative meant to support black women in economics.

The Fed sent representatives to the collective’s inaugural event this year, and Lael Brainard, a Fed governor, spoke. The central bank has also been sending economists to teach at Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, among other initiatives.

Janet L. Yellen, who was the Fed’s first female chair, often makes a case for greater representation on the basis of pure practicality. Women focus on different issues and have different economic priors than men, based on survey data.

“Beyond fairness, the lack of diversity harms the field because it wastes talent,” Ms. Yellen said at a Brookings Institution event last week. “It also skews the field’s viewpoint and diminishes its breadth.”

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