Carnegie Mellon University

undergrad econ alumnae

December 04, 2018

Undergraduate Economics Supporting Female Students

Historically economics has been a male-dominated field. Even today less than a third of first year Ph.D. students in economics worldwide are women and that number falls to just 14% for tenured full professors, according to reports from the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession.

At Carnegie Mellon, the undergraduate economics program is actively challenging this lack of gender diversity. Over half of all junior CMU economics faculty are female and 50% of the graduating 2019 class are women.

Encouraging Women in Economics 

Kathleen Conway, Senior Academic Advisor and Program Manager of the Undergraduate Economics Program, and V. Emily Stark, Assistant Teaching Professor of Business Communication, approached Dong and three of her economics classmates to work on providing more resources to female economics students at the Tepper School and Carnegie Mellon at large.

“Without the same support system and role models that their male peers have access to, female students in economics can struggle to find their place,” Conway said. “We want to make sure the challenges our female students are facing get the same consideration as the similar challenges of women in other STEM fields.”

Allysa Dong, a senior economics major, and her classmates — Amelia Gilson, Ana Rottaro, and Megan Yelsangikar — responded by creating Equilibrium, a club intended to build a sense of community among female undergraduate students in economics. In October, Equilibrium held its first club meeting, gathering about 20 students to discuss plans for the coming year and challenges that the organization can help to address. “We’re happy that a lot of sophomores came to our first meeting, and we were discussing what classes they should be taking, whether they’re thinking about graduate school or their job search,” Dong said.

Economics Alumnae Career Panel

In their sophomore year, economics majors participate in an Economics Colloquium course, where they discuss research from faculty and students, hear presentations on economics from economists outside academia, and attend talks on leadership and professional identity exploration.

For one of the course sessions this fall, Conway planned a panel of alumni working in a variety of fields. This year’s panel consisted of five women who had completed degrees in economics within the past five years. Gujri Singh (BS 2017), is a Business Development Analyst in Institutional Asset Management at PNC. “Kathleen knows I love giving back and staying engaged with the undergrads, so when she reached out to me to participate, it was a no brainer,” she said.

Singh noted the difficulties in working in a male-dominated environment: “I have to constantly prove that I can play on the same field as the boys. I am lucky that I work with some really powerful women, but on the whole, we all are constantly trying to prove ourselves,” she said. “CMU equipped me with the belief that I could do literally anything that I want to do. No one can tell me what is possible and what my professional limits are because CMU never tried to limit me.”

Mary Stadelman (BS 2014), saw being one of only two female financial advisers at Northwestern Mutual as an exciting opportunity. “People naturally have a different perception of me as a young female when wealth management is traditionally handled by older males,” she said. “I’ve only ever seen the advantages of being unique, and over time the landscape has changed. I am no longer one of the only females in this industry.”

Stadelman has participated on several panels for the economics program. “I want to give some insight into the process of finding internships and a career path after graduating and help take some of the pressure off a process that is usually very overwhelming for students,” she said. “We’ve all heard the statistic that men will apply for a job when they fit 60 percent of the qualifications while women will only apply when they fit 100 percent of them, and I would love for women to have the support that helps to instill confidence.”

Framework for the Future 

Yelsangikar hopes that Equilibrium can continue to provide opportunities for economics students to learn about the career paths available to them. “I feel like that was a big question for me when I came in,” she said. “You can go into data science; you can go into consulting; you can do marketing. You have so many opportunities.” 

“I think because there’s no straight career path, you do have a lot of opportunities, but you don’t realize you have those opportunities,” Gilson said. “I am currently applying to grad school, and there are certain aspects I wish I’d started sooner, classes I wish that I’d taken earlier, that I was not even aware of as a sophomore. So if we can provide that support from the beginning, I think it will be a game changer.

The seniors are working on recruiting younger students to the organization. “We really want our vision to be carried over, so we’re trying to attract as many underclassmen as possible,” Dong said.

In addition to providing resources for career planning, Equilibrium is planning to host social events so that economics students have an informal environment to build relationships. “One of our goals is to form a bond and a sisterhood,” Rottaro said. “We’re hoping if people feel comfortable sharing feedback with us, we can contribute to positive change in the program.”