Women in Economics: Kristen Broady
This 31-minute podcast was released July 21, 2021.
“There are so few Black female economists … I feel like my perspective is quite different from many white male and female economists that I’ve seen,” says Kristen Broady, a fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and professor of financial economics at Dillard University. She talks with Mary Suiter, assistant vice president and economic education officer at the St. Louis Fed, about her research on race and gender and promoting historically Black colleges and universities.
Suiter: Hello, I’m Mary Suiter, and you’re listening to the Women in Economics Podcast Series from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Today I’m joined by Dr. Kristen Broady, fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and full professor of Financial Economics at Dillard University on leave.
Kristen, thanks for joining me today. Tell me about your work at Brookings. What did you do as the Policy Director with the Hamilton Project?
Broady: Hi, Mary. Thank you so much for having me. Dr. Wendy Edelberg is the director. I served as the policy director. In that role, I shepherded a lot of the policy proposals and economic analyses and commissions papers and worked with authors and just kind of organized that process.
Suiter: OK, thank you. You have an impressive career in academia. You were dean of the College of Business at Dillard University in New Orleans. Previously, you served on the faculties of Howard University, Alabama A&M University, Dominican University, Fort Valley State University, and Kentucky State University. You also were an HBCU consultant for the television series The Quad, which aired on BET. Could you talk to me about the important role of teaching and also serving as that consultant for historically Black colleges and universities?
Broady: Sure. I think the importance to me was that, when I was an undergrad at Alcorn, I had a lot of Black professors. All of them weren’t African American. And I didn’t have any professors in economics that were women that had Ph.Ds. And so, I didn’t see the representation. And so, I’m thinking, “If I’m at an HBCU and I’m not seeing that, what is it like everywhere else?” Right?
I mean, we were kind of told, “Oh, math is hard, and it’s so hard to get into economics. And maybe you want to just do something easier.” And that just didn’t work for me. I went into economics partially for those reasons, and because I wanted students like myself to see that sort of representation.
Suiter: OK. And talk a little bit about your experience with The Quad and serving as a consultant.
Broady: Sure. So, The Quad was and is still my very favorite television show ever. So, for those who haven’t seen it, it is based on a fictional HBCU in Georgia. And Anika Noni Rose, who is my favorite actress, was the star of the show. Felicia Henderson was the producer of the show. She had worked on shows like Moesha and Family Matters in the past. I’m sure people have probably heard of those.
And so, I watched the first season religiously. I watched each episode two or three times. It was just the greatest thing in the world, having been a professor at two Georgia HBCUs. And so, I had written a paper called “Dreaming and Doing at Georgia HBCU’s: Continued Relevancy in ‘Post-Racial’ America.” And so, I would tweet the show like during the first season. All of my friends knew don’t call me, don’t text me, because I’m going to be tweeting the show.
And so, when Felicia Henderson followed me on Twitter, it was like the greatest thing in the world. Like she followed me, oh, my God. And so, I DMd her, and I ended up sharing my paper with her. And then I didn’t hear anything, right? So, I was like still just, “Oh, wow.” And so, then her assistant reached out to me and said that she wanted to talk to me. I talked to her.
She said that she had shared my paper with the whole team and all of the actresses and actors. And so, I ended up becoming a consultant. It was the wildest thing in the world. I got to go to set, meet all of my favorite stars. But I think the importance of it was just being able to kind of contribute to the accuracy of the representation of HBCUs, and I think that that show did that fairly well, and I’m sorry that it ended, so…
Suiter: That is so fun, and not something you’d expect because you have a degree in economics, right? So that’s exciting.
Broady: At all, at all, no. [Laughs.]
Suiter: Wow. So, I know you studied criminal justice at Alcorn State University. You got your MBA at Jackson State University. And you earned your Ph.D. in business administration economics also at Jackson State. You talked a little bit about why you chose economics. Could you talk a little bit about how the tools of economics help you solve policy questions and solve problems that are important to you?
Broady: Sure. So, I think I started out in criminal justice. I originally wanted to be a state trooper, not because I was really into putting people in jail or anything like that. It was quite the opposite. I think there too, there just wasn’t a lot of representation in terms of Black women. And I felt like I could make a difference in terms of police reform, helping people, et cetera, from the inside. Right? So, of course that ended up not happening.
I went on to law school and then, deciding that that wasn’t what I wanted to do, getting the MBA and so forth. But I think just from some of the projects that I worked on in undergrad and criminal justice, having taken microeconomics and statistics and econometrics and all of those classes that I never would have taken had I just gotten an MBA or had I gone to law school, learning the mathematical and analytical application helped me to better do research on the topics that I cared about.
Suiter: What are some of the topics that you’ve done research on?
Broady: So, they’re varied. I like to disaggregate data to look at race and gender as much as possible. So, I’ve looked at obesity and social inequality to determine why certain places have higher obesity rates, either counties or states. I’ve also looked at automation and jobs at risk of being automated by race and by gender.
I try to promote HBCUs wherever I can, so that’s where “Dreaming and Doing at Georgia HBCUs” came in. And I think the sort of wildest paper was “Passing and the Cost and Benefit of Appropriating Blackness” after we first heard about Rachel Dolezal. And so that paper looked at why white people would want to become Black or appropriate Blackness. That was a paper with Sandy Darity, so…
Suiter: Wow. So, tell us a little bit about that paper. What did you find?
Broady: We started with passing in the normal sense, so starting from right after slavery why people of African descent would want to pass for being white. Like what were the benefits of that at different points in time, immediately after the time of enslavement, during Jim Crow and after that?
And so, looking at that, it’s like, “Well, why would a white person want to pass for being Black?” And so, what we looked at is, is just the socioeconomics of being a poor white person. First is being a light-skinned or someone who’s considered a light-skinned sort of well-to-do Black person and what the benefits would be. Right?
And so, it’s like you could get various scholarships or various fellowships, as Dolezal did. There are all kind of benefits that could be available to a Black person that may not be available to a white person, or there’s also the physical characteristics of white people, some of them wanting to get tanned or wanting to get lip implants or other types of implants that they think are more like Black people. Right?
And so, for someone, you know, if you feel like you’re a white person that’s not standing out in your environment and you feel like you may stand out better as a Black person, right? It doesn’t make sense to me personally, but there have been a few standout cases that we looked at over time. I’m sure there are more, but that was kind of the thought process and the reasoning behind that paper.
Suiter: That is fascinating and, again, something that you get a degree in economics, you don’t think about studying. So those are the kinds of things I want our listeners to hear about, the very broad and important things that can happen when you use economics to answer questions and solve problems. You talked a little bit about disaggregating data in your research. Why is that so important?
Broady: I listen to the jobs numbers when they come out, people talking about it on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, or wherever—it’s like, “Oh, the economy is doing well. The unemployment rate is down two percentage points from last month,” et cetera.
But, when you really break it down and when you particularly look at the rates for Black and Hispanic people, particularly women and teens between the ages of 16 and 19, you see massive, massive disparities, right? And so, my question always is, “Things are going well, or things are going not so well for whom?” You can’t just look at the overall rate.
So, generally, when I’m asked to talk about the jobs report on TV or on a podcast or for whomever, I always like to say, “This is the overall unemployment rate, and then this is what it is for these various groups.” Because if you don’t know who’s having a problem, then you can’t try to pose solutions for those people.
Suiter: Yes.—That’s great. And part of being data literate, is understanding the data in that way, that you aggregate it to understand who is affected and how. So, thank you for that insightful answer.
As part of the Hamilton Project, one of your reports was “Race and Jobs at Risk of Being Automated in the Age of COVID-19.” So, I wondered if you could talk a little bit about that. Who are the workers who benefit from automation and are least likely to lose their jobs? And the flipside of that what occupations and people are most likely to lose their jobs?
Broady: Sure. So, this report is the second version of a report that I wrote when I was with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies with the support of Spencer Overton. And so that first report looked at the 30 jobs that were at high risk of being automated. The second report, I updated the data to 2019, and I also looked at jobs at low risk of being automated, which is what you’re talking about now.
I looked at BLS data that had data for women, white people, Black people, Asian, and Hispanic workers. If it didn’t have a data point for all of those, then I left it out. So, I ended up with 220 jobs that had that full demographic breakdown and also had an automation risk score assigned by Frey and Osborne, who did the research on risk scores. So that’s the original dataset. Looking at the 30 jobs that employ the most people that have the lowest automation risk scores, the first one is elementary and middle school teacher.
And in 2019, there were a total of 3,604,000 of them. The automation risk score is .44, which means that if you looked at an eight-hour day, what skills are necessary? What does that person do all day? And so only .44% of that job could a computer do. The rest of it you need a person, which means that there’s a very, very low risk of being automated. And the reason is there’s a lot of critical thinking. You’re dealing with young children. And so, a computer couldn’t predict what those children are going to need. Right? They couldn’t do the sort of social, physical interaction, helping them, playing with toys with them, teaching them, those kinds of things.
Another one, registered nurses, 3.2 million, automation risk score .9. Chief executives 1.6 million, automation risk score of 1.5. Then we’ve got first-line supervisors of office and administrative support, marketing and sales managers, physicians, and surgeons. So those are some of the top jobs that employ the most people with the lowest automation risk score.
I want to summarize that. I’m going to just say for the 30 with the lowest automation risk scores, there are 22,121,000 people in those jobs. OK?
Broady: So, when we go to jobs that are at high risk of automation, the 30 of those employ 36,271,000. So, we see that there are more people in the 30 jobs that employ the most people at high risk of automation. The first one is cashiers—3,164,000. That job has an automation risk score of 97. So, 97% of that job could be automated. Hence, we’re seeing more and more automatic checkout machines, and I guess the risk part doesn’t mean that a company is going to replace those jobs with a computer or machine.
It just means that it can. It means that we have the technology to do so. So, the top five there are cashiers, retail salesperson, secretaries and administrative assistants, laborers, and freight and stock material movers. And then the next one is construction laborers. Those jobs have automation risk scores of 97, 92, 96, 85, and 88, so all very, very high, which means that some type of machine or computer could do that job.
The last part is that Black people are overrepresented in 11 of the jobs at high risk of being automated. Hispanic workers are overrepresented in all of those, plus two additional ones. However, Black people are only overrepresented in five of the jobs at low risk of being automated, and Hispanic people are not overrepresented in any.
Suiter: So, clearly, there are high risks to people of color in this process. So, what recommendations did you make, or do you have for remediating or preventing future job losses related to automation? Is there something we can do?
Broady: Some economists who I really like, and respect say that we don’t necessarily need more training, that we need to provide jobs for people, or we need to provide various sorts of stimulus. I think we do, right? Like we do need to provide those financial supports, but I also think that we need more training, particularly at HBCUs.
And I guess from working at Brookings and seeing students coming in that know how to use Stata, that know how to use R, where at the schools that I’ve worked at, some of them are ready to learn Stata and R, but some of them are not. Right? All of them don’t come in prepared for that. And I’m not saying it’s their fault, right? I guess my thing is HBCUs take students a further distance in terms of preparation than PWIs in general. Right?
So, my thing is, fund HBCUs. Provide more unrestricted funds so that they can do any remediation that’s necessary. So, I’m thinking about when I was at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, there were these courses 099, 089, or whatever, for students that weren’t ready for college algebra or weren’t ready for those college English classes, to get them ready. And funding has been drastically decreased for those classes, right? Because they say that, if you come in and you’re not prepared, you’re less likely to graduate.
And my thing is, HBCUs can get them ready if you provide the funding. Right? So, take off some of those restrictions. Let students attend classes in the summertime. Let them go back in terms of the learning outcomes in order to get them ready. Right? Don’t just say, “If you’re not at point X, we don’t think you’ll get to point Y.” Let the schools and the professors do that. Right? Say, “Ultimately, these are the things that you need to know and be able to do to get a degree and function.”
Let the schools figure out how to make that happen. Right? Don’t tell them what they can and cannot do—so that you do have more people that get out with the skills that are ready for these jobs. And I think the next thing is providing on-the-job training so that people continue to be ready. We need to have lifelong learning not because people aren’t prepared or because they don’t have the skills, but because technology is changing so drastically and so fast.
Instead of hiring some new people, why don’t we continue to train and prepare the people that are already dedicated to these jobs? Provide them the health benefits that they need. Provide them the time off that they need, the childcare, the transportation. Provide broadband if they need it. So, provide all of those wraparound services to the people that we already have instead of replacing them with new workers or off shoring those jobs to a place where labor may be cheaper.
Suiter: Some of those things you mentioned, we’ve clearly seen in the pandemic the need for those wraparound services. I can’t go back to work regardless of the job if I don’t have adequate childcare as a woman, right? So, we’re seeing some of that play out in this pandemic. So, I think those are great recommendations.
So, the ultimate goal of this podcast series is to inspire and encourage more women and underrepresented minorities to study economics and pursue careers in those fields. And there are a couple of things that you mentioned—having someone tell you math is too hard, and I have that experience with some teachers as well. But, what do we do to bring more women in, and why is it so important to bring more women and underrepresented minorities into the field? And then how do we help them excel?
Broady: The first how is going to where they are and helping more of them to get ready. And so I think that means maybe people like yourself or other people that work at various branches of the Fed talking to high school students—not just college students, but talking to high school students about what you do, what the Fed does, or what various think tanks do or what college professors do, or just telling them what economists do, because many people don’t know. Right?
The next step, is talking to college presidents and deans, like business school deans or social science deans wherever economics is located if there is an economics major particularly at HBCUs, to say these are the things that we expect of an intern or an RA or whatever those incoming jobs are. Don’t just post the position and show up at jobs day, because you don’t know if the students are going to be prepared. Right? And they don’t know what you want.
So, if you want students that can do R or use Stata or that have taken certain classes, those classes may or may not be offered currently. So, giving money maybe to say, oh, OK, we want you to know R or Stata or SPSS or MATLAB or whatever it is—we’ll fund it. Right? It’s not that expensive to get a perpetual license for a school. Here, it could be $5,000. It could be $50,000. Whatever the amount is, we will sponsor a Stata license for you. We offer these trainings in Haver or whatever it is that your professor could come to. Right?
That doesn’t seem like a heavy lift to me, so that then you have professors that can teach the students. And it’s not always sending someone in from the Fed, because that to me seems presumptuous or condescending. Right? Like, prepare the professors if they’re not prepared to teach the student. They're going to be the best at it anyway. And then they can continue to do that, so you don’t have to keep sending someone in. So that’s number one. Prepare the students with what you want them to know and be able to do.
Don’t just expect them to come in knowing or that the school is going to magically know what you want, because they don’t. Then they are prepared, so you’re not hiring someone that is not of a benefit to you. Right? Like you may say, “I want to hire a Black female economist, but she’s not prepared, and so now I’ve got someone that is not beneficial to me,” which causes resentment in others. Right?
It’s like this person got a job because they are a Black woman. And I’m a white man, and that’s an immediate conflict. You’re going to immediately have resentment. So have people that come in prepared, number one. Then support them. And then too, if there are issues related to harassment, discrimination, et cetera, deal with it, and just provide the same sort of support to everyone. Right? Provide equity to everyone.
Suiter: I really appreciate your response. So, our mechanism at the St. Louis Fed and at several other of the Federal Reserves is train the teacher, train the educator. Right? So, we don’t send people into classrooms for the very reason you said. Teachers and professors know how to teach.
What we try to do is provide them with the content and classroom resources so that they can go in and teach that content. We call that our multiplier effect, right? We teach one and reach many.
And I also wanted to share with you that the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Philadelphia, and St. Louis are undertaking a project called Federal Reserve Education Fellows. And we’re starting with fifth grade teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers to provide content, curriculum materials, and an understanding of what a career looks like if you get an economics degree, whether it’s a bachelor’s degree, a master’s, or a Ph.D., because we’ve looked at research that says kids have to see themselves in that career early. Generally, when you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they only know what they’ve seen. So, if we aren’t showing them that in fifth grade and middle school, it may be too late by high school.
So those are just some of the things that we’re trying to do, but we agree with your model. And I think your comments about bringing in people who are prepared, so help prepare them. And I loved your idea about sponsoring R or Stata. That’s insightful.
How do the tools of economics—how can they help an underrepresented minority change the world, be the change they want to see? How can economics help us do that?
Broady: So, I think there are so few Black female economists, and I guess, being one of them, I feel like my perspective is quite different from many white male and female economists that I’ve seen. And the first thing is just the disaggregation, right? Like, “Have you looked at HBCUs?” when I read papers on higher ed. Like it’s beyond just the R1 or the Ivy League, that there are all of these other schools that you just never hear about.
And when I’ve been asked to review papers or attend authors’ conferences, anytime there’s something about education and I’m looking at the numbers, it’s like, do you know that there are schools that are ranked lower than what you’re talking about, that, you know, will accept students with lower ACT and SAT scores? And if you consider them, your whole model would be different. Right?
So, I think having those insights can change things. Or McKinsey and Company had done a lot of work on automation, right? Like I cite them heavily. But where is the breakdown for how this is affecting Black people and women? There may be some small mention of it. But that was kind of a breakthrough, right? So, my original Joint Center paper got so much publicity.
Like I thought it was a joke at first. When journalists started calling me, I was dumbfounded. Right? So just having those insights can really change things. Like that paper got attention. It was quoted by Congressman Bobby Scott with the 115th Congress that it would not have been there without the Joint Center. Right? So, things like that make all the difference in the world.
Suiter: So, having your voice heard by a group of people who’ve never listened before, maybe they’ve never heard it before.
Broady: Right, and I think the other thing is that, as a dean or as a department chair or as a vice provost or whatever else I’ve been, I’ve been able to participate in hiring decisions, right? And I want to be as fair as possible. But I have a different outlook on the skills that a person has received or thinking about if they are going to have childcare concerns and how we can help them with that; if they may have difficulty moving, how much is it going to cost them to move?
Just those kinds of considerations, where someone else may have said, “Oh, this person has children. I don’t think they’re going to be able to do the job,” and not considered them. Or their degree isn’t exactly what we’re looking for. But they do have these classes. They have done this research that would be a value to our students. I’ve been able to increase diversity at the places that I’ve worked in that regard.
Suiter: What challenges have you faced as a Black woman, in economics? And how have you overcome them?
Broady: I can say this now, and it feels great. I’m not going to name any schools. But I came out of the closet fairly late professionally. At a couple of the schools that I worked at, they had like LGBT groups for students reluctantly. I don’t think the students knew that. I don’t think the community knew it.
But just from internal meetings at a couple of schools, it was shocking to me, that like thinking about who the advisor was going to be for the LGBT students’ group and how there was pressure on those people, because it’s like, “If I advise this group, will they think that I’m gay?” Right? “Because if they do, then that may mean that I don’t get tenure or that they try to get rid of me.” Right? I’m not saying me personally.
Or there were conversations at one school about whether the dean that they wanted to hire was gay. Some people thought that he was, and some people thought that he wasn’t. And I think that, if the people who thought that he was really knew that he was, he probably wouldn’t have gotten the job. You hear about situations like that, but nobody wants to believe that. It’s like, “Oh, it doesn’t matter, and no one cares.”
I’m sitting in these meetings where people are saying, “Look at his eyebrows. Think about the way he walks when he came to the interview. I don’t want that around our students.” I heard that. And I didn’t have tenure. I was a department chair and a dean without tenure. I had decision-making ability on the one hand, but I didn’t have tenure.
And so, the very same people that could have been voting and approving my tenure, right, were the ones who could have unseated me, because, as a department chair or a dean, you serve at the pleasure. And so, I think, going to a school where they were welcoming and where I did get tenure, that made all the difference in the world. Having tenure, even if they weren’t welcoming, it’s like, “Well, I have tenure. You could do things to make my life miserable, but you can’t fire me without cause.”
But, at the same time, that place was very open and very welcoming, and it literally made all the difference in the world—where I could say, when someone says, “Oh, you know, my wife has a watch like that,” and I could say, “Yea, my partner does as well.” It’s just the mental health piece, et cetera. Or I think times where I’ve gone into the white world, as I call it, because I’ve spent so much time at HBCUs, there it’s more about race. Like they’ve never cared whether I was gay or straight.
But either race or the fact that I went to an HBCU, right, that I must not be prepared to do the job, that I must be first generation. And I’m not; I’m fourth generation. My mom has a master’s degree. My grandmother had a master’s degree. And they couldn’t imagine that, right? Like my mom went to University of Chicago. My dad is an architect who went to U of I. And he’s 81, right? So, considering what they went through and that you would think that I’m not prepared, just because of the color of my skin.
But I think that getting tenure, having publications, has meant that those two things have mattered less. And I don’t think that’s fair, right? Because I think about people who were like me, who are incoming professors, who don’t have tenure, who have not been in administrative positions, who don’t have parents like mine, who don’t have resources—they’re still suffering sometimes silently.
Suiter: One comment that I have to make is I think the disingenuous diversity and inclusion at any institution is more harmful than just—
Suiter: —than anything, right? If we’re going to claim diversity and inclusion, it needs to be genuine and real, not what you described. So, thank you for sharing that with us. Is there anything else you’d like to say today about women in economics?
Broady: So, my advice is always be prepared to leave. And it’s not just to willy-nilly quit a job or to always be looking for some better opportunity. Well, I think that’s a good thing. But I guess by that I mean start saving money as early as you possibly can. And I understand that’s not possible for everyone.
But if you can save, have some money set aside. And it may not be six months, like they say, “Oh, you need to have six months of your income.” That’s just not possible for everyone. So, save what you can. Build networks with people that may be mentors or allies. Try not to burn bridges if you don’t have to, such that you have money set aside and a network of people that can help you if you need to get out of a situation, be it a job or relationship or any other type of situation that doesn’t fit you or you it, you can leave.
Suiter: That’s great advice.
Broady: That’s my life. It took me years to be able to do that, right? Like I’ve been in positions where I couldn’t leave a job because I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t afford to move, didn’t have another job lined up, and so I had to deal with whatever it was. But, as I’ve gotten older and saved more and built more connections, it feels better when you know you can get out of a situation. It may make it easier to deal with it or fix it, or to actually leave if it doesn’t suit you. That’s the advice that I like to offer.
Suiter: That’s great advice. Kristen, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s really been a pleasure talking with you.
To hear more from the Women in Economics Podcast Series, visit StLouisFed.org/womeninecon. That’s one word, StLouisFed.org/womeninecon. You can also stream Women in Economics on Apple Podcast, Spotify, and Stitcher, or ask your Amazon device, “Alexa, play Women in Economics from Tunein.”
This podcast features conversations with women and underrepresented minorities who are making their marks in the field of economics. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.