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People don’t always appreciate work on gender, but I think that it’s the most important work I could possibly do, says Professor Renée Adams

Renée Adams is a distinguished finance scholar who does research on the equality of women, art, and pricing
Renée Adams, University of Oxford
Professor Renée Adams

Renée Adams was born in the US and grew up in Germany. She has worked in Sweden and Australia, and now in the UK where the University of Oxford is her home university. ‘I have a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago, but when I went to find jobs, the only people interested in me were in finance departments. Thus, I ended up being a finance scholar.’ 

She is interested in group decision-making and how group identity (typically gender), information, culture, preferences, and values moderate decision-making. Her research can be categorized as being in the area of corporate governance, because she often studies these themes in the context of corporate boards. But she also explores these themes outside the governance setting, most recently in the art world. 

Renée Adams has close collaboration with the Department of Finance at the School of Business where Mikko Leppämäki, Director, Graduate School of Finance, has been her host for years. They met when she was at the Stockholm School of Economics at the beginning of 2000. Mikko was setting up the national Finance PhD program, and he asked her if she was interested in teaching an Empirical Corporate Finance class. As students gave her good feedback, Mikko asked her to come back, and she has been teaching every year since then in Aalto. 

‘It has been great to be part of the Nordic finance network and meet students from different countries and universities across the Nordic region. Mikko does amazing work in the PhD program. It was also a great honor and a great experience to be one of the honorary doctors in the School of Business Conferment of Degrees last year.’

When asked about how to attract female students to business schools and to choose Finance, Renée Adams says that there are no easy answers. ‘I recently wrote a paper called “The Inequality of Finance” that highlights that finance is more gender unequal than other fields, even STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) that are highly mathematical.’ She highlighted that attracting women to finance can be difficult because there are few female finance faculty members. ‘It is understandable that women may not want to enter a field where they only listen to the ideas of men.’ 

However, she thinks that if women realized that being in finance can give them the tools they need to change society, more women would choose finance. ‘As usual, I think education is part of the answer. We need to tell women about the possibilities that can arise from being in finance. Once they realize that finance provides tools for changing the balance of power in society and enacting change, I think more women would choose to enter finance.’ 

Gender biases in the demand for art?

Right now, Renée Adams is doing research on women and art, and she is looking at why paintings painted by women receive lower prices in auctions. She wrote a paper on this phenomenon basically showing that if the price is lower, it doesn’t mean that the quality is lower. 

‘What we show is that the price difference is driven by cultural characteristics, so in countries that are more gender unequal, the price difference is bigger. When the identity of the artist is truly uncertain, there is no gender discount. I provide evidence that buyer behavior helps explain gender discounts when they arise. My analysis highlights the role of non-visual information in the valuation of visual art. There is not very much transparency in the art market, so I think that it’s important to highlight these patterns.’

According to Renée Adams, Aalto has not only a great business school, but also a great art school. ‘I would really like to connect with people across departments here. I see it as a great opportunity to interact with the arts people who are basically in the same building. It’s a great opportunity to bridge different fields.’

New class on diversity and inclusion

Years ago, Renée Adams got into the theme of gender inequality. ‘I had that data on the boards of directors, and I said to my co-author that I have the data, why don’t we look at it. There is always a gender effect. You recognize patterns in the data that you have also experienced. Gender work is very hard to publish, and it’s very difficult to get funding. People don’t always appreciate work on gender, but I think that it’s the most important work I could possibly do.’

Renée Adams and her co-author published their first paper on gender in 2009, and they didn’t get it to any conference. They submitted it to many conferences, but it was not accepted anywhere. It was a paper about board gender diversity. 

‘I remember when I went to Taiwan, and someone came to say that he really liked my paper. I thought that he was talking about another paper, but then I realized that no, he was talking about the gender paper! First, no one know about it, and then, suddenly, it became very popular.’

Renée has started a new class in Oxford on diversity and inclusion, and it’s been very interesting. Almost no students want to take it, but the students who then decide to take it, are excited. 

‘We talk about policy evaluation, gender quotas (can they work, what will they achieve), and stereotypes. It’s evidence-driven, data-driven, and science-driven, and students really appreciate it. It’s an MBA and EMBA course. I’ve tried to do some marketing for the class, because it’s an elective, and it seems like people would rather take a class on corporate valuation than a class on diversity and inclusion, which has been disappointing.’

Further information:

Mikko Leppämäki

Johtaja, Graduate School of Finance (GSF)

Department of Finance

The Department of Finance at Aalto University School of Business is one of the leading finance departments in Europe.

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