Economists have been answering questions that shape our world for centuries. Unfortunately, Black women have historically been excluded from the profession, absent among the decision-makers who bear incredible power over the world’s economy. Working hard to address the diversity problem in the field is ANNA GIFTY OPOKU-AGYEMAN: the co-founder of the only non-profit organization tackling the pipeline and pathway problem for Black women in economics, finance, and policy. In her eye-opening talks, she reveals how empowering Black women is an essential step in creating economic agency for everyone.
“I will unequivocally advocate for the dignity of Black youth, especially in fields that overlap with power — economics, finance, and policy.”— Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman
Named after the first African-American economist, Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander, The Sadie Collective is a non-profit organization providing Black women, students, and professionals in the fields of quantitative sciences with the resources they need to succeed. As one of the Collective’s co-founders, Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman works tirelessly to dismantle the inequitable power structures that have made economics an “ol’ boys club” for far too long—made up of professors and policy-makers who are largely white and male. The organization hosts a sold-out conference in Washington D.C. each year, a gathering that marks the only times in history where Black women in economics and related fields have convened. To date, the Collective has drawn wide support from leaders in economics, policy, and industry, including the first female Chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen.
As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, it’s become clear the economic downturn is poised to become the worst we’ve experienced since the Great Depression. The CDC already reports that racial and ethnic minority groups face a disproportionate burden of illness, and, as Opoku-Agyeman points out, the financial burden will be greater, too. Black women are more likely to be worried about money or fired from their jobs due to the pandemic, and Black-owned businesses are more likely to get hit by closures. How we respond to this crisis is absolutely crucial for all of our economic futures. “The policies that put money in your pocket—or don’t—are largely decided by people who do not care about the economic agency of everyone, but especially Black women,” says Opoku-Agyeman. “If we want to achieve an inclusive economy that works for all, Black women must have visibility in all things from money to policy to economics. And that begins with us having a seat at the table.”
Opoku-Agyeman often speaks on the role that social justice and anti-Black racism will play in paving the way for the next generation of scientists and change-makers. As an alumna of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which is one of the top producers of Black scientists in the country, Opoku-Agyeman understands the experience on a deeply personal level. She is the brainchild and co-founder of the #BlackBirdersWeek, a global campaign highighting Black nature enthusiasts and scientists, and her talks within the broader science community emphasize the structural underpinnings of academic institutions and scientific disciplines.
Opoku-Agyeman’s work has been featured in The Economist, Wall Street Journal, NPR, Forbes, and Newsweek. In 2019, she co-authored a viral New York Times op-ed with Dr. Lisa Cook, a former White House aide for President Barack Obama who is now a member of the Biden-Harris transition team, that focused on the underrepresentation of Black women in economics and related fields. Her expertise in diversity, equity, and inclusion within academia and the workplace is highly sought after by companies and campuses across the country, and she has given talks to organizations such as the Ford Foundation, Harvard University, and The Chicago Federal Reserve Bank. In 2020, Opoku-Agyeman became the youngest recipient for the CEDAW Women’s Rights Award by the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. Previous awardees include Vice Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Opoku-Agyeman is currently a Public Policy Doctoral Student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is an alum of Harvard University, where she was a Research Scholar in Economics, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where she received her B.A. in Mathematics and a minor in Economics.
Diversifying Economics How Economics Excludes Black Women and What We Can Do to Fix It
Before the 2008 financial downturn, Black and brown communities were experiencing early signs of declining employment and housing devastation. The trend was noticed by and reported on by minority economists, but unfortunately, their calls for alarm were largely ignored. What followed was a decade-long recession that not only cost millions of people their financial stability for generations, but made it even harder to achieve an inclusive economy for all. Black women were hit the hardest, losing the highest share of jobs compared to other women.
Sadly, we haven’t learned from the lessons of the Great Recession, says Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman—an emerging researcher on diversity, equity, and inclusion in both academic and corporate spaces. “COVID-19 is a new crisis but the way in which it ravages our economic and public health systems are key signalers of the deficiencies in how we have handled the economy and our society’s preexisting conditions.” Underpaid even before the pandemic, Black women are once again bearing the brunt of this economic crisis, revealing an ugly truth: when race and gender intersect, structural inequalities compound—inequalities that would be best addressed through recentering economic policy on Black women.
In this exhilarating, forward-thinking talk, Opoku-Agyeman introduces us to the concept of “Black Women Best” (coined by Janelle Jones, the Managing Policy Director of Groundwork Collaborative). It’s the idea that when Black women, the most marginalized group in the economy, have access to financial freedom and economic opportunity, the system will finally be working for all. Passionate, honest, and funny, Opoku-Agyeman shows us how we can put this idea into practice, and in the process, outlines what the next steps in our pandemic response must be in order to lift ourselves out of economic ruin.
Why Black Scientists Matter Making Academia Work for Everyone