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Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.

The Academy and Women's History Month 2024

By: Marilyn Rubin

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By: Mary Guy

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National Women’s History Month has been observed in the United States since 1988 in celebration of the often overlooked contributions of women to the nation’s history, culture and society. This past year, American women have continued to trailblaze across domains including education, sports, and the military, taking positions historically held by men. One stand out is Claudia Goldin, who in 2023 became the first woman to be awarded a solo Nobel Prize in Economics for her work in tracking women’s labor force participation in the United States over centuries and illuminating the gender wage gap.

Goldin’s work, according to the Nobel Prize Committee, was key to revealing gender differences that in the past had been waved away as everything from temporary blips to statistical noise. Her efforts in combing through more than 200 years of data helped create a framework to discuss how everyone can have a hand in creating a more equitable society. “Thanks to Claudia Goldin’s groundbreaking research we now know much more about the underlying factors and which barriers may need to be addressed in the future,” said Jakob Svensson, Chair of the Committee for the Prize in Economic Sciences.

Goldin’s achievements in economic research parallels those of the first woman to receive NAPA’s Eliott Richardson Prize, Alice Rivlin, an Academy Fellow. From working on the incorporation and execution of the Marshall Plan in Western Europe, to becoming the first female director of both the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, Rivlin’s accomplishments helped clear the path for the American Century.

The life’s work of Rivlin and Goldin make a strong statement toward equity and inclusion across decades. In an interview, Rivlin said that she initially had wanted to study public administration at Harvard, but was rejected as a “woman of marriageable age.” That happened 70 years ago – and thanks to the work of Goldin, the impacts of those inequitable choices are clearer today.

The National Women’s History Month’s theme for 2024 is “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion,” recognizing women who have made outstanding contributions to furthering efforts to eliminate bias and discrimination from lives and institutions. Two such women are AcademyFellows Janice Underwood and Zina Merritt. Underwood, who was Chief Diversity Officer of Virginia and the first government-wide Chief Diversity Officer for the federal government, has recently been appointed Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, talent outreach and development for Walt Disney Company’s Disney Experiences segment. Merritt is the Chief Diversity Management Officer of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Underwood (2023) and Merritt (2022) are just two of the recently elected Fellows helping to grow the diversity of the Academy. In 2023, women accounted for 46 percent of newly elected Fellows and 33 percent of all Fellows. Compare this to 20 years ago, when women represented only 24 percent of new Fellows and 27 percent of all Fellows (see Figure 1). NAPA is not only becoming more diverse, but it is also becoming more inclusive. NAPA’s current president is a woman – just the second woman to hold this position – and four of the Academy’s six standing committees are chaired or co-chaired by women. The growing inclusion of women in NAPA is also found in their representation on its Board of Directors, the elected decision-making arm of the Academy. At the start of 2024, the Board’s President and 13 of its 19 members are women; 20 years ago, there was just one female member.

Women in the Academy 1967-2023
Note: In Figure 1, women as a percent of total Fellows do not account for deceased Fellows.

While the Academy is only a pebble in a large lake, women’s integration into its governance invites optimism. And the growing percentage of female Fellows bodes well for continued growth in the diversity of the Academy. Like Goldin and Rivlin, their contributions stretch beyond the horizon.

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