Feminist Economics and the Future of Higher Ed with Professor Joyce Jacobsen

Episode 74 of Yes, and Marketing

Marketing requires creative, thoughtful minds as much as (or more than) any other field, and building creative and critical thinking minds is what liberal arts degrees are all about.

In this episode, Steve sits down with Professor Joyce Jacobsen to talk about both marketing and liberal arts, in addition to some of her most recent research in economics. Currently the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Dr. Jacobsen was also Steve’s economics professor at Wesleyan in 1994 and a major influence in his career. 

In their first conversation in twenty years, Steve talks with Professor Jacobsen about:

  • Her research in feminist economics and how understanding it can level up marketers
  • The economic principles all marketers should know
  • What the rest of the world can learn about remote work from academia
  • The trends in higher education she’s most excited about
  • What businesses should look for when hiring the next generation of college grads

Tap through the chapters above to listen or read on for our highlights from the conversation.


???? Name: Joyce Jacobsen

???? What she does: President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

????️ Find Joyce on the web: Hobart and William Smith | LinkedIn | Twitter

???? Get smart: “Economics isn’t just about efficiency. It is also about equity.”

Top Takeaway

What is feminist economics? ????

Feminist economics, Dr. Jacobsen says, is more than just looking at topics like the gender pay gap. It also looks at how the field of economics came to be and the consequences of it being created, largely, by men. “Like pretty much all fields of study, economics was developed in a period where there were very few women in academia,” she explains. This has led to economics historically overlooking certain topics, especially those involving the informal or unpaid economy.

She gives a few examples: “Topics like, what are people doing outside of paid labor? Why do we measure what we measure when we think about what gross national product is?” Feminist economics, as a field, is bringing these topics back into the discussion to reconsider what we’re talking about when we talk about economics.

Episode Highlights

On the prevalence of gender-typed occupations

“One thing that’s really striking is how systemic it is that women and men have these separate spheres and areas. It almost doesn’t even matter what the job is, so much as that society seem to think it’s important to have this level of separation…

A simple example is we think of clerical work as being a relatively woman dominated occupation in this country, but in many other countries, historically clerical work was actually a male dominated occupation.”

What we can learn about remote work from academia ????

“As an academic, I always found very freeing and invigorating to choose on a given day, ‘Okay, I’m going to work at home so I can really finish this process, but this other day, I’m gonna make sure I’m in so I can talk to students and colleagues,’ and how you manage to coalesce so that when you’re in the office, it’s a day when you can also interact with other people. In academia, often in the middle of the week—Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday—tends to be the more interactive days on campuses, and often Mondays and Fridays, particularly in the afternoons on Fridays, a little less.

So whether workspaces also come to that understanding of, maybe it’s a three day week when everybody’s in the middle, or it’s a four-day week where Fridays are kind of swing.”

The pros of flexible scheduling

“For me, the freedom of academia of being able to say, if I needed to go to the dentist, I could do it during the middle of the day and then come back in because I knew I was going to be working at night anyway—if that starts moving over more to other workplaces as well, I think that will help women a lot in workplaces, if we can go to a more flexible schedule. 

I try to be very conscious of that in my own job. If my assistant says, ‘I really need to go to a school conference or I have to take my kids to the pediatrician,’ I was like, sure, because I know there’s other times she’s having to work at home for me now.”

What separates economics from the rest

“The thing that has always separated economics from other social sciences, including psychology, has been the use of a central paradigm.

…That has always made it easier for economists, even when they’re disagreeing with each other, to converse with each other because they understand the central paradigm—whether or not they agree with it or take it as the main descriptor of what actually happens in the world.”

The rise of behavioral economics

“I think for people that are interested in marketing, [behavioral economics] is obviously a very important area. It shows systemic ways and systematic ways in which people’s behavior deviates from the rational model in ways that you can actually measure and utilize. 

I think many marketers were doing that already subconsciously, but now there’s more research that links to that idea of things like fixating on focal points, and the asymmetry of treating losses versus gains—things like that.”

Impossibility theorems 101

“Impossibility, theorems are ways that they can prove that you aren’t going to be able to fix something. One of the most famous ones is about voting—that it’s impossible to design a voting system that accurately exhibits all preferences for the group of people actually voting.

Other impossibility theorems are about things like distribution—that it’s not always possible to have particular situations or distributions be stable. So there are a lot of things that say, here’s what we can tell you you can’t do, rather than theories that say, ‘This is how you can make things work better.’”

The skills that matter most when technology changes

You want people to be articulate, to understand how to analyze different situations critically, to be able to write clearly, to speak clearly and to be able to absorb information quickly and synthesize it and act on it. And those are all things we develop in the traditional liberal arts setting.”

What a liberal arts education is all about ????

“You’re going to live in different places. You’re going to have different jobs, but you’re always carrying your head around with you. And we want the inside of your head to be an interesting place for you to be because that is going to be with you your whole life. And the more you can be interesting to yourself and know how to interest yourself, that is going to bear you through life more than anything else.”

One area for colleges to improve

“One thing that colleges need to do more of for students to help them synthesize what they’re thinking about and what their concerns are, is how to dialogue with each other—including people that have different views. I do worry that some views get pushed down or aren’t allowed to be articulated.”

What makes a *true* safe space

“There’s a lot of pressure, both internally and outside, that makes it very hard to create colleges as what I would call a truly safe space, where people are able to talk about particular issues without fear of ad hoc attacks on their person.”

One question she’s thinking about right now

“How much do you want colleges to be a separate space or an insulated space from political factors and from the legal system, and how much is that actually a useful or a good thing to have those interventions from outside?”

Top Quotes

????️Dr. Jacobsen:

“Economics isn’t just about efficiency. It is also about equity.”

“As an academic, I was always comfortable with the idea that home and and work are compatible.”

“The challenge is separating out the advocacy from the dialogue and the listening.”

“Learned people often are more humble because they think they don’t know things.”

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