Carol Newman's journey in economics and advocacy for gender diversity

August 2023

In celebration of South Africa's Women's Month, SA-TIED is spotlighting the women driving change within the field of economics. Through the ‘Breaking Barriers, Building Economies: Women in Economic Policy’ campaign, we highlight their achievements, challenges, and invaluable contributions. Carol Newman is one such changemaker who embodies the essence of the campaign. As one of the leads for SA-TIED´s work stream on enterprise development, Newman demonstrates exceptional leadership skills and is committed to evidence-based economic policymaking. Her interview offers insights on pivotal moments, the importance of gender diversity, and the transformative potential of mentorship.

Could you share with us the story of your journey in economics and how it led you to your current role, particularly your involvement with the SA-TIED programme?

Newman: I studied economics at Trinity College Dublin, where I graduated with a PhD in 2001. Shortly afterwards, the Department of Economics hired me as an Assistant Professor, and I am now a Professor in Economics at the department. My research is applied in nature, and I seek to answer policy-relevant research questions that form an evidence base for economic policymaking.

I began research in developing countries in 2006. Since then, my focus has been on understanding the constraints to economic development and how policies can alleviate those constraints and improve economic outcomes. I am particularly interested in understanding how firms behave and how policy can improve productivity and create good jobs. My interest in this research area led to my involvement in the SA-TIED programme. My research is related to South Africa since 2013.

When I was hired by Trinity College Dublin, I was the second-ever woman researcher to join the department, and the first in 20 years. Unfortunately, I do not think that this is a unique situation for women in the profession. What was very important in my early career was the fact that I had male colleagues who were very supportive of my career development, ensured an inclusive environment, and gave me space, time, and resources to undertake my research and teaching.

The challenges associated with being a woman in a male-dominated profession became more obvious to me as I moved into leadership positions. As a woman, you must work harder to have your voice heard. The only way to tackle this is to take one challenge at a time—be strong and persistent. It is important to call out biases and not be intimidated by them. Biases are often unconscious and highlighting them is the only way to address them in the long run.

Throughout your career, are there any defining moments or experiences that influenced your commitment to advocating for gender diversity and inclusivity in economic decision-making?

Newman: Strong women role models have been very important to me. While there are fewer women than men in this profession, there are great examples of amazing women in the field who are making significant contributions, both in terms of their research and work in the policy arena, but also in terms of their engagement in promoting gender diversity and inclusivity. Observing their outstanding contributions to research and policymaking and hearing their words of advice for women in the profession has had an important influence on my own commitment to advocating for gender diversity. Prominent women leaders in major institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank exemplify the capacity of women to excel as leaders in this field. Furthermore, organizations like UNU-WIDER and networks like the Partnership for Economic Policy, of which I am a member, emphasize the critical role of women in research and policymaking.

In your opinion, how does gender diversity in economics contribute to more inclusive and sustainable economic growth? What approaches have you used to advocate for gender parity in your work?

Newman: Many of the structural shocks facing the global economy have a disproportionately negative effect on women. Take for example, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the war in Ukraine—each of these crises have a more negative effect on women than men. Also, social problems such as poverty, unemployment, and violence, all affect women more than men. The woman perspective is essential for fully understanding these effects, but also in developing solutions. Having women in leadership positions and contributing equally to the decision-making process is key to ensuring that this perspective is considered.

Policies have a different effect on men and women, so policies should be implemented through a gender lens. It is important to have women at the table in key decision-making roles to ensure their voices are heard. It is not only women that need to be advocates for women. Men need to be, too. Raising awareness about the extent of gender inequities, how women are discriminated against, and unconscious biases against women are key to tackling this issue, and this is a message that needs to be conveyed by both men and women, particularly those in leadership positions.

The benefits of gender diversity in economics and economic policymaking go well beyond ensuring that women’s issues are addressed. Studies show that a greater presence of women in policymaking is linked with greater financial resilience and a large body of evidence shows that having more women in leadership leads to better firm performance in the private sector.

In my own work, I believe that an important way to advocate for gender parity is to provide mentorship to women students and junior colleagues. By supporting them in their career journeys, I hopefully empower them to reach their full potential and not get disheartened by the challenges associated with being a woman in this profession.

As a contributor to the SA-TIED programme, how has this platform supported your empowerment and facilitated your contributions to evidence-based economic policymaking?

Newman: The SA-TIED programme continues to form an important part of my research agenda and has allowed me to undertake cutting-edge research that has helped advance my career. SA-TIED also provides a valuable network of like-minded researchers and policymakers, providing a forum for engaging first-hand with policymakers.

SA-TIED considers the gender angle in all its activities and this is important, not only in terms of promoting women, both at the very junior level and those in more senior research and policy positions, but also in terms of the example that it provides for other institutions engaged in research and policy.

What do you believe are the critical steps needed to achieve equal representation of women in economic policy positions?

Newman: Equal representation of women in economics should be the norm. Change is required at all levels of society in relation to the social norms around the role of women. Social norms are difficult and slow to change. Policymakers, institutions, and private companies have an important role to play in removing barriers to women´s participation at all levels. This includes fundamental rights such as access to basic schooling and health care, participation in higher-level education and professional careers, and equal representation in leadership positions.

There are constraints that all women face in terms of their career development, regardless of their field or profession. One of the key factors is the additional burden on women due to care and household responsibilities. Policies which support women to enter and remain in the workforce are important, such as, for example universal childcare provision and access to parental leave. There is also a need for a change in the social norms around caring and household responsibilities; an equal distribution of these tasks within the household can make a big difference in improving opportunities for women.

Speaking from my own experience, we see a fall-off in women participating in economics at all of the critical levels, from bachelor’s to master’s, master’s to PhD, and PhD to faculty positions. Several recent studies try to understand why this is the case. There are, for example, studies that show women are treated differently in economics seminars, and are subjected to a more patronizing and hostile environment than men and are given less credit for co-authored work, particularly when co-authoring with men. The profession acknowledges these biases but is challenged to address the root causes.

As someone who has achieved notable success and impact in economics, what message would you like to convey to young women considering a career in your field?

Newman: A career in economics, whether it is in research or policymaking, requires hard work regardless of gender. It requires persistence and resilience. Women do face greater challenges for the reasons highlighted above, and so often require even more determination to succeed than their male counterparts. I would encourage women to feel empowered by this rather than disheartened or intimidated. Social norms around gender equality are changing and all women who participate in research and policy, or aspire to do so, contribute to breaking down the barriers. I would encourage women to seek the support of colleagues, both men and women, in their career journeys.