It’s not every day that an undergraduate can bring forward an issue that has enough impact on a whole field that a national conference is organized to address it. But that’s exactly what Lauren Bouman has done.
The second annual Undergraduate Women in Economics conference took place on the Colorado State University campus on April 8, and featured a number of speakers from across the country. Bouman, a senior economics major, organized the event, which she had first proposed in December 2015.
Early on in her studies, Bouman had noticed that there were far fewer women than men in her field — her first class had 100 male students and one other female student — but her interest in starting a CSU chapter of UWE began after the Economics department participated in the UWE Challenge in late October 2015. The national organization provided funding to 20 selected schools to implement a method of detecting and quantifying the gender gap in the field.
As part of the challenge, CSU conducted focus groups within the economics department. These focus groups revealed that its gender disparity is even higher than usual.
“The national average is that for every three men there’s one woman, and at CSU the average is five to one,” says Bouman. “I think that’s a big thing to point out and recognize.”
After the challenge was completed, Bouman and other students decided to continue meeting on a weekly basis to discuss the issues further. They eventually became a registered student organization.
First national conference
After the formation of CSU’s UWE chapter, Bouman reached out to the founder, Harvard professor Claudia Goldin, with the idea of a national conference. After Goldin gave the idea some thought, the planning began in February of 2016.
Bouman had the opportunity to mold the content for the first conference, which took place at the University of Virginia in April 2016. While the first event provided a forum for discussion of the current issues, she felt the next conference needed to serve as more of a workshop to develop tangible solutions.
With the help of the chair of CSU’s Department of Economics Alex Bernasek, Bouman applied for a grant from the College of Liberal Arts to host the second conference here on campus, and planned the schedule to suit panels and group problem-solving.
“The second performance is the hardest,” said Tanya Avilova from Goldin’s office at the conference. “There’s not the same adrenaline as the first, and it’s not routine like the third, but that will not and should not stop us from being catalysts for change.”
Bernasek delivered the keynote speech April 8, making the point that there’s a need to “try to break that association of gender with value.” Economics is a well-paid, male-dominated profession, she said, and women deserve access to those same opportunities.
“Women do transform the profession,” Bernasek said. “They bring different perspectives and experiences.”
Cori Wong, director of CSU’s Women & Gender Collaborative, presented a workshop on gender bias during the conference.
“This is a really good example of an individual – in particular, a student (Bouman) – taking the initiative to positively impact campus and beyond,” Wong said. “When it comes to improving our culture and climate, it’s sometimes best to focus on our areas of interest, passion, and expertise in order to most appropriately respond to gendered inequities that are closest to us.”
She also noted how important it is for those in positions of power, such as the leadership in the department and the college to recognize and encourage creativity and leadership in others.
“When you’re the only person in a classroom that you can identify with, you don’t have a voice,” said Bouman, who graduates in December. “So I want to give women a voice, especially when they’re one of a few in a classroom of hundreds.”
Organizing both conferences has given Bouman insight to her career goals — she’s loved the people aspect and recruiting, and plans to pursue an MBA before starting a career planning corporate events and conferences.