I attended a Kilby ScholarChips broadcast this week where the economist, Dr. Susan Athey of Harvard, was interviewed. What an amazing experience to hear about a young economist and how she has changed the thinking in her field. Even better was what I learned about the value of diversity in business. Have you ever had a gut feeling that you were being questioned why you, as a woman, were part of team? Maybe it was more overt. I hope not, but if it ever happens to you, what I learned today will interest you. There’s actually a business case that says that diversity is good for business.
The Kilby ScholarChips broadcast is a unique program for middle and high school students to inspire them to study math and science. The broadcasts are sponsored by the Kilby Foundation where you can learn more about them. The foundation’s mission is to identify and celebrate extraordinary individuals who have made significant contributions to society through science, technology, innovation, invention and education. It also honors Jack Kilby, the inventor of the integrated circuit.
The organization that I’m a member of,IEEE, an engineering organization, helped sponsor the broadcasts. If you’ve noticed that we need more kids studying math and science so we can maintain our competitive position in business, then you’re not alone.
The broadcasts are live, audio visual conferences. Kilby Laureates are interviewed by the Kilby Foundation founder, Victoria Downing, who IEEE honored as a visionary leader. Then the broadcasts are interactive with students at their schools across the country asking questions of the Kilby Laureate. Today’s program had Dr. Athey discussing her work in economics.
Dr. Athey is a talented scholar who is considered an expert on auctions. At the age of 36, Professor Athey received the very prestigious John Bates Clark Medal. The Clark Medal is awarded by the American Economic Association every other year to an American economist under the age of forty who has made “the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.” She received the award because of her insights into the behavior of auctions and changes in them as a result. She was also the first woman to receive the award.
One of the students asked about Dr. Athey’s work and how she became an economist. She talked about some of her early observations as a student at Stanford when she was getting her Ph.D.
She noticed that some of the economics faculty enjoyed basketball and played pick-up basketball games. The faculty was male. Often students would participate in the games. The students who played were all male, too. It turns out that these students were pretty savvy. The same professors playing basketball assigned internships to students. Guess who got the best internships? The guys who played basketball. Athey recognized this situation could be seen as an economic problem where discrimination was having an impact. (Female students really couldn’t participate in a basketball pick-up game.) She was able to demonstrate mathematically that with more open situations, the pool of talent increases and the best outcomes occur for the organizations that hire interns. She could prove that better interns came from considering both men and women. That’s a creative mind.