Driving change: Nadine Riedel on economics and gender equality


In celebration of South Africa's Women's Month, SA-TIED is spotlighting exceptional women with the 'Breaking Barriers, Building Economies: Women in Economic Policy' campaign. Among these leaders is Nadine Riedel, whose journey in economics and economic policymaking reflects an unwavering commitment to addressing complex challenges.

Nadine Riedel's academic path, spanning Germany and Ireland, led to a PhD in economics at the University of Munich, where she specialized in public economics. Her research delved into the intricate dynamics of global corporate taxation, showcasing her dedication to effective economic solutions. In this interview, she shares more about her career journey, the importance of gender inclusivity in economics, and her involvement with SA-TIED. 

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

Riedel: There certainly have been moments and experiences that influenced my commitment to gender diversity. Witnessing the flourishing of female students and researchers in economics underscores the power of role models and representation. I firmly believe that gender equality is imperative in all aspects of life, including policymaking. Different social groups must be represented to ensure comprehensive perspectives. While efficiency concerns have historically dominated economics, the field is evolving to account for inequality, reflecting a broader societal shift.

The prevalence of economic challenges globally, especially inequalities, highlights the urgency of diverse voices. Female researchers contribute valuable insights, addressing complex issues and enhancing the quality of economic discourse. As a mentor and role model, I've aimed to demonstrate that academia offers a remarkable opportunity to address socioeconomic issues. 

In your opinion, how does gender inclusivity in economics contribute to more inclusive and sustainable economic growth? 

Riedel: Gender diversity in economics and economic policymaking is not only a matter of social justice and equality, but it also plays a crucial role in fostering more inclusive development. There is a growing body of scientific evidence highlighting the positive impact of gender diversity on economic outcomes. One important aspect is the distinct spending patterns of women, particularly their allocation of resources towards health and childcare. Numerous studies document that women tend to prioritize these areas, which improves well-being and human capital development.

Furthermore, insights from the political economy literature suggest that women in leadership positions often make different decisions compared to their male counterparts. Research has shown that female policymakers tend to emphasize social welfare issues, public health, and education, contributing to a more balanced and comprehensive policy agenda.

Promoting gender parity in economic and academic spheres requires a multifaceted approach. Addressing the gender gap in economics education is paramount, especially at advanced career stages where women's participation declines due to work-life balance challenges. Providing practical support, mentoring, and counseling for women academics navigating family planning and career progression can contribute to retaining talented women in academia.

Documenting instances of gender discrimination and wage inequality has been instrumental to raise awareness and drive policy change. Empirical evidence showcasing disparities in various domains of life underscores the urgency of gender-related policy measures and encourages greater commitment to equality.

Incorporating gender-related topics into curricula and disseminating research findings in policymaking are essential steps toward advocating for gender diversity. By creating a space for dialogue and education, institutions can foster a more inclusive culture and encourage the integration of gender considerations into decision-making processes.

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

Riedel: The SA-TIED programme makes substantive contributions to evidence-based economic policymaking by bridging leading academic scholars in South Africa and across the globe, policymakers, and tax administrators. This collaboration not only enriches our understanding of economic dynamics but also directly informs and enhances tax policy and administration strategies in South Africa.

One of the remarkable facets of the SA-TIED programme is the establishment of the data lab within the National Treasury. This data lab serves as an invaluable resource, providing researchers like me access to rich and comprehensive datasets. This wealth of data facilitates rigorous analysis and research on critical policy issues, allowing us to generate evidence-based insights that have the potential to guide and shape effective policymaking decisions.

Moreover, the SA-TIED programme plays a significant role in promoting gender diversity in key policy positions. By fostering an inclusive environment that actively seeks to engage and empower scholars from diverse backgrounds, including women, the initiative is contributing to reshaping the composition of decision-making bodies in the economic policy sphere. This commitment to gender diversity is evident in the programme's emphasis on capacity building and inclusivity, ensuring that a broader range of perspectives and experiences are brought to the table.

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

Riedel: One key consideration is to determine whether the underrepresentation of women reflects personal preferences or systemic discrimination. Evidence underscores that gender-based discrimination persists across various domains, including economics. Increasing awareness about these disparities is crucial, helping dispel misconceptions and driving a collective commitment to rectify them.

Legal frameworks play a pivotal role in combating discrimination. Enforcing stringent laws against gender-based bias can send a strong message and set the stage for change. Government agencies and organizations need to implement measures that ensure gender parity in recruitment, promotions, and leadership positions. This includes embracing diversity in panels and decision-making bodies to amplify women's voices and perspectives.

Quotas, though often debated, can be a transformative step in cases where certain groups, including women, have faced historical disadvantages. While quotas can be contentious, they serve as temporary interventions to break down entrenched biases. By creating pathways for women to access influential roles, quotas create visible role models, challenge stereotypes, and inspire more women to pursue careers in economics and policy.

Moreover, fostering a culture of inclusivity requires continuous effort. Mentorship and sponsorship programmes can help women build networks, gain visibility, and access opportunities. By showcasing successful female leaders, these initiatives offer tangible examples of what women can achieve in economics and policy roles, further motivating and empowering them.

What message would you like to convey to young women considering a career in your field? 

Riedel: To young women considering a career in economics and economic policy, I'd like to convey that this field offers not only intellectual allure, but also the chance to influence policies that touch countless lives. Economics equips you to shape strategies for growth, equity, and societal betterment on a significant scale.