Women in Economics: Susan Pozo

January 20, 2021

This 15-minute podcast was released Jan. 20, 2021.

Susan Pozo, professor of economics at Western Michigan University

“We have a perspective, and we need to bring that to the table,” says Susan Pozo, director of the Global and International Studies program and professor of economics at Western Michigan University. She talks with Andrea Caceres-Santamaria, senior economic education specialist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, about her work in Uruguay, Spain and the United States, and her research on immigration.

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Transcript:

Andrea Caceres-Santamaria: Hello. I’m Andrea Caceres-Santamaria, and you’re listening to the Women in Economics Podcast Series from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Today I am joined by Dr. Susan Pozo, director of the Global and International Studies program and professor of economics at Western Michigan University. Welcome, Susan. How are you?

Susan Pozo: I’m very good. Thank you.

Caceres-Santamaria: Great. Thank you for being here with us today. So just a couple of questions. We want to learn more about you. First, you have a degree in foreign area studies, Latin America from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in economics from Michigan State University. How did you choose economics, and did your studies at Columbia in foreign area studies influence you in pursuing a Ph.D. in economics?

Pozo: Well, when I first went to college, and Barnard College, which is the women’s college of Columbia University is where I was studying, my thought was to become a diplomat. And so that’s where, of course, I ended up studying international studies with a focus on Latin America. I took a lot of literature courses. I loved literature, but I also realized that in order to get a degree or a career in diplomacy that I probably needed to have some economics, and so I started dabbling in economics, and then I loved it. It was great. I loved the math in economics. I loved statistics. I loved working with data, and there it was. By my senior year I said, “Economics it will be.”

Caceres-Santamaria: Wow. That’s great. So even just loving math and data, that’s really great. And I think it’s really wonderful that you wanted to become a diplomat and understanding how economics plays an integral role in that. So going from there and your experience in getting your Ph.D., what was your experience like as a woman earning a Ph.D. in economics?

Pozo: Well, I would say that it was all right. I think that we did have supportive professors and supportive graduate students, though there were a few hiccups here and there. But for the most part, I think that I was well-received in the program. Maybe the biggest problem was going onto the job market in the end. I’d say that that was a little bit more problematic. I got a lot of interviews. And my male colleagues were a little jealous and thought that maybe being a woman that I was being promoted a little more than they were for some reason or other, and I thought that that was making maybe some assumptions that weren’t necessarily appropriate. But for the most part, I had a pretty good experience in graduate school.

Caceres-Santamaria: And so what positions were these specifically? Were they academic positions?

Pozo: Yes. I went into the academic job market.

Caceres-Santamaria: Okay.

Pozo: I went, and it was quite interesting. It was quite a whirlwind going all over the country.

Caceres-Santamaria: So currently you are the director of the Global and International Studies program and professor of economics at Western Michigan University. And throughout your professional career, you have spent time in Uruguay and Spain as a researcher and visiting scholar. Can you explain some of the differences in working in those countries versus the United States?

Pozo: Well, I think that the academic set up in both countries is different from here in the United States in the sense that careers are a lot more set whereas here in the United States, the college experience for someone who is studying at the undergraduate level is a lot broader. In terms of working though, I’d say in terms of doing my research, I really didn’t see that much of a difference at all. I think that I had great colleagues in both places, and I had an absolutely wonderful experience.

You know, maybe what I could add is why I went to those places. And, you know, my sabbaticals—I feel very strongly that it’s important for me, particularly my area of expertise, to get to know as many different places as possible. I think that we end up really learning a lot not only about ourselves, but about the profession. And it’s really great to go and really live in a place and see, well, how are transactions undertaken? You know, how do people interact with one another? What are the attitudes that people have regarding immigrants and native born individuals? This is why I try to live somewhere, because I want the whole experience. Now, it probably has to do somewhat with my overall background, my life experiences where I actually had a lot of experience living in different countries. But I really believe that it’s important that we have this broader view and that helps us in our own jobs to bring as much to our jobs as possible, whether that be interacting with people from different areas, or bringing ideas from other countries and other cultures, or understanding those other cultures.

Caceres-Santamaria: I think it’s wonderful how you didn’t just go and, you know, get done what you needed to do. It sounds like a really immersive experience which you had by living in those countries and just seeing the everyday actions of people and interactions and, as you mentioned, specifically transactions. So even going on that, I see much of your research and publications have a focus on topics that discuss the impact and experiences of immigrants in the economy. Can you tell me about your experience in researching this topic, specifically anything that has stood out to you in your research about immigrant women?

Pozo: Well, I think that the reason that I got into the area of studying immigration, through my initial specialization, which was foreign exchange rates, which was international finance. In studying international finance, what you end up doing is you end up teaching about the balance of payments. And on the balance of payments, there is one item, workers’ remittances, which if you went to all the textbooks a long time ago, they mentioned it and they never talked about. But this was something that stood out because I recognized from my childhood when I was living in Venezuela, the remittances that were being sent by really the undocumented immigrants at that point who were living in Venezuela from Colombia who would send their remittances back to Colombia. So this is an international financial flow of sorts. And so it was really through that that I ended up bringing to the table this idea that remittances are a really important economic force that we need to study. So 10 or 15 years into my career, I switched from studying exclusively exchange rates to studying remittances.

And I’ve worked a lot on what are the determinants of remittances and what are the impacts of remittances on receiving economies. And one factor with respect to the determinants of remittances that I’ve always been intrigued with is the idea of uncertainty, which is something that I bring from international finance and how uncertainty ends up motivating immigrants to remit either to smooth fluctuations and income in the home economies, or maybe to also self-insure oneself, to have savings, for example, in order to be able to cover themselves in a rainy day.

So I think that women are an important force in international migration. Some countries tend to send more women than men abroad. But for other countries, the gender split favors men. I’ve never really studied closely women’s remitting patterns. I’ve only really studied the family’s remitting patterns.

Caceres-Santamaria: It sounds like overall, your studies on remittances, so I’ve read, have made a pretty big impact on understanding how they work and I think even clarifying a few things for people in terms of the impact that they have and why families do that. Why do you think it is important that more women and minorities enter the field?

Pozo: Well, I think that’s a no brainer. Women and minorities have to enter the field because we have to bring our perspectives, because we have different perspectives. We’ve been treated differently throughout our life to some extent. That goes without saying. And as a result of that, we have different perspectives, and we need to bring those perspectives to the table. One point that I would like to make about that: When I was in graduate school, I was told that you should never research what you are. So if you’re a woman, you shouldn’t research women in the labor market. If you’re Hispanic, you shouldn’t be researching Hispanics in the labor market. And the reason was that, well, because then you’re going to be suspect as not being totally unbiased in that perspective. And that blew my mind, because I said, “What do you mean?”

We know. We have a perspective, and we need to bring that to the table. And I think that that’s really an improper. I think that I was misguided in graduate school in that regard. Maybe I came a little bit later. I came a little bit later to doing more in terms of my own background, but I surely know that a lot of the things that I research have everything to do with what I have experienced in my lifetime, which is why I think it’s so important for me to open up new areas by living in other countries and having and experiencing, because it’s that experience that I can bring to the table and translate to economics, answering important economic questions.

Caceres-Santamaria: Wow. From what I see is that you just took it on head on by saying, “I will not only study it, but I will immerse myself in it and do a lot of great research and work that has impact on it,” so that’s great. And so what challenges have you faced as a woman in economics, and how have you overcome them?

Pozo: The challenges that I have—of course, it’s always a little bit of a challenge to raise a family and stay active, but it certainly is not insurmountable. It takes a little more planning, and it takes sometimes having support of family members. But I remember at one point when I had my first child that I was asked by the chair of my department whether I was going to be quitting work now. I said, “No. I’m not quitting work now.” I was reading Barro in the hospital bed after I gave childbirth in order to prepare for my classes that were starting in four weeks. No, I wasn’t going to quit. I think that there were certain expectations and attitudes. But, I just would flat out say, “Well, no, of course I’m going to continue.” I don’t know if the expectations that people had ended up swaying me in any way. Maybe they ended up swaying me to being a little bit more deliberate in my output and in what I was going to do. I think that things are considerably better than they were when I started out in economics as a freshly minted Ph.D. in 1980.

Caceres-Santamaria: I think the fact that you’re pointing out that things are much better now, I think, for the young women that are seeking Ph.D.s, it’s very encouraging for them to understand that while it’s, you know, from what I see, still male dominated, but nonetheless, women are able to stand out more such as you have with your work, that they can too.

Pozo: Yeah. Well, I think that the problem that women face sometimes is that they don’t have enough role models. I think that that’s the biggest issue, the role models, having enough role models. We don’t have enough.

Caceres-Santamaria: Right. So that’s a perfect segue to my next question, actually. How do you mentor women in economics, and are you doing things to help draw women into the field?

Pozo: Well, I hope being a woman professor that I do. I hope that by my writings I do. I hope that by participating in formal mentorship and mentoring programs that I do. I love mentoring women, and I have mentored many women in our program and also outside of our program, who, I think, have become successful through their own work, but I think that it was nice that I got to play a small part in their careers.

Caceres-Santamaria: So is there anything else you’d like to discuss about women in economics?

Pozo: I think that it’s a great field. I’ve had so much fun in this work. I have had so much fun going from topic to topic. I’ve had so much fun meandering through. I think that one thing that sometimes people misconstrue is that, well, you pick a field and it’s going to be a straight arrow from X to Y, and it’s not necessarily that way. There are hardships. There are changes that people make in terms of what it is that they would like to research, what it is that they’d like to do, what it is that they’d like to study, what they want to do with their career whether it be academic or business or government or research, and that’s perfectly fine. I think that enriches us all, that if we’ve had experiences in one area and move onto another, we bring those experiences to the table. And diversity is important. Diversity in thought, diversity in experiences, diversity in background is paramount. I’m directing the Global and International Studies program, which is an interdisciplinary program, and because of my belief that we really do need to bring in different perspectives.

Caceres-Santamaria: Great. Well, thank you so much for sharing all this information. And I personally couldn’t agree with you more in terms of diversity and perspectives and bringing to light all of these great points. So thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

Pozo: Well, thank you.

Caceres-Santamaria: To hear more from 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 Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher, or ask your Amazon device, “Alexa, play Women in Economics from TuneIn.” Thank you for joining us today, and thank you, Dr. Pozo.

Pozo: Thank you.

In this podcast series, we highlight the studies and careers of women and underrepresented minorities making their marks in the field of economics. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis or of the Federal Reserve System.