Suvi has an amazing insight in working in government and the public service. Currently a senior economist at the Department of Treasury and Finance and has been working in the Victorian department for over a year. She also has experience working in the Productivity Commission and the Essential Services Commission. Some notable projects include the National Water Reform Inquiry as well as focusing on the Schools’ Policy Group more recently.
What attracted you to the field of economics?
Economics is an excellent framework to understand how the world works and how to influence outcomes. While economics can be perceived as the simple study of money and markets, it is much broader than that, and as a social science, it is about how we, as a society, function and perceive value. As Dr Leonora Risse describes, ‘people think that economics is about finance, money and profit, but actually, economics is about understanding how governments and businesses and everyday people make decisions to optimise well-being’.
In high school, my humanities teacher also taught VCE economics and he introduced me to the gapminder dataset, which sparked an early interest in economics. Studying Health and Human Development at the VCE level was another amazing way to learn about policy and how it helps people. I loved pursuing a combination of arts and STEM subjects at high school and I thought a double degree in arts and economics at Monash University would provide a natural transition into university life. I later dropped my arts degree to focus solely on economics, as it provided strategies to align incentives and address some of the world’s most pressing problems - from climate change to poverty alleviation. Economics gives you the skills to make a significant positive impact on the world.
What does your current role at the Department of Treasury and Finance working on the Early Intervention Investment Framework entail?
The Early Intervention Investment Framework (EIIF) is an innovative new way to guide funding towards initiatives that provide timely and targeted support to vulnerable Victorians. The framework encourages evidence-based decision making through the two requirements for EIIF initiatives; avoided cost estimation, and annual outcomes reporting. The first involves calculating the avoided costs to the Victorian Government – estimating how much an early intervention program will reduce future acute service use and future costs to government. The second is annual reporting on outcome measures. As a result of these two requirements, the framework improves outcomes for vulnerable service users and will reduce pressure on the acute service system in the future. The framework is the first of its kind in Victoria and was introduced in the 2021-22 budget.
My current role involves a combination of data analytics and communicating insights. In terms of data analytics, I have verified departmental estimates of avoided costs and supported departments to prepare avoided costs. This involved close collaboration with departments and using the Department of Treasury and Finance’s (DTF)’s in house model. The model manipulates linked administrative data on Victorian Government services such as health and education and uses R and excel to estimate avoided costs. Our avoided cost estimates fed into advice to decision makers on funding decisions. My team also had a role in supporting the Department of Education and Training to develop their EIIF proposals to support vulnerable students.
You have an incredibly impressive career spanning several government Commissions, the Department of Education and the Department of Treasury and Finance. What is your proudest achievement of your career thus far?
This was the culmination of a year of work which included modelling in R, conducting consultation in a remote community in the Northern Territory, and trips to Canberra to present the findings and recommendations to key ministerial and departmental staff.
It was incredible to have achieved that at such a young age.
The Women in Economics Index 2021 has shown that on average 36% of jobs in economics are held by women globally. What do you think needs to change in order to get this number to 50%?
The lack of female representation in economics in Australia is concerning – particularly as other OECD countries such as the United States of America and Germany have made great strides in female representation in economics at the highest levels of business and government. As Danielle Wood, National President of the Economics Society of Australia, described, Australia has ‘had a female Prime Minister but not Treasurer, a female CEO of a Big 4 bank but not a Chief Economist, and a female Chief Scientist but never a female at the helm of the Treasury, Productivity Commission, ASIC, APRA or the ACCC’.
The lack of women in economics has negative implications on policy and the millions of lives that it affects. Research has shown that women bring innovative perspectives to the economic discourse and more balanced policy recommendations, and that having too many similar individuals reduces your range of perspectives.
To have equal gender representation in economics, we need to address four key issues; building a pipeline of qualified female economists, increasing the visibility of women in the profession, ensuring that economics is a supportive environment for women and considering intersectionality in implementing these recommendations.
First, to build a pipeline of qualified female economists, we need to encourage women in high school and university to study economics. The Reserve Bank of Australia found that women were much less likely to study economics than men, both at high school and university. To address this, the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Women in Economics Network have published a range of educational and career resources to increase the uptake of economics by women. The Department of Treasury and Finance introduced its Mentoring Women Program where female economists provide tailored advice to university and high school students. This advice can range from choosing your university subjects, understanding the job opportunities available in economics and policy, how to apply and interview for internships or graduate jobs, the art of networking, and boosting your overall confidence in your ability to become a professional economist.
Second, there needs to be greater visibility of women in economics, particularly in high profile roles. The Women in Economics Network (WEN) aims to change the perception of economics and ensure that young women have role models in economics. To achieve this, WEN has created a list of female economist speakers that journalists can reach out for advice on economic issues. WEN also runs media training for female economists. The increased media coverage of female economists aspires to change the perception of the profession, so that that when young women envision an economist, they can see themselves in those roles. I have been fortunate to work alongside incredible female economists and leaders throughout my career who have inspired and mentored me and demonstrated that there are no limits to my potential. I hope that every woman gets to experience this.
Third, the field of economics needs to become a more supportive environment if it wants to retain women. While economics has come a long way, there is still more progress to be made. To improve the retention of women in economics, organisations could implement policies that improve the hiring of women in senior leadership roles. For example, DTF delivers a leadership development program for women at the Senior Economist and Manager levels to increase gender balance in senior leadership.
Fourth, intersectionality should be central to implementing all the recommendations above. It is important from both a business and moral perspective that our leadership reflects the diversity of the community that we serve. This means that women who face the intersectional impacts of sexism, racism, classism, ableism, transphobia and/or homophobia need to be included in the movement to reach gender parity. The implementation of diversity policies across the public and private sectors has played a role in the progress we’ve seen in recent years. This has included the creation of employee-led diversity networks, diversity and inclusion leadership teams within Human Resources, and the development of frameworks which are implemented and regularly reported on. These have all contributed to seeing more women with disabilities, women of colour, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women as well as women and non-binary people in the LGBTIQA+ community in leadership positions in the public service.
What advice would you give to young women hoping to get a job in the field of economics?
If you’re interested in a career in economics, I would recommend the following five actions:
First, I would recommend pursuing an honours degree in economics. As per the Economic Society of Australia, an honours degree is the typical qualification required to become a professional economist. It signals your interest and capacity to undertake rigorous economic analysis and will give you a competitive advantage over other applicants. I personally found it to be one of the most rewarding years at university where I made lifelong friendships and consolidated my skills in economic research.
Second, I would volunteer for university clubs and societies to strengthen your internship applications – particularly the Economics Student Society of Australia to demonstrate your commitment to economics, and the pro-bono consulting companies for project experience.
Third, I would pursue an economic internship to apply your skills in a professional setting and gain relevant work experience. DTF offers summer internships which are an excellent way to make a significant impact and develop a well-rounded skillset during the early stages of your career. The internship provides exposure to a wide range of the Department’s work in economic policy and includes a project where interns provide recommendations to solve a long-term policy priority. At DTF, interns can submit their preferences for qualitative or quantitative work, and DTF will assist interns to build their skills. It is also an opportunity to build your network within the department and across government.
Fourth, I would recommend speaking to economists in the industry by attending events by the Economics Student Society of Australia (ESSA) and the Economics Society of Australia (ESA) to build your networks.
Fifth, I would apply for graduate jobs in your final year as most employers recruit their graduates one year before they start working.