Research Officer at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) since August 2019 and before that, Economist at Reserve Bank of Australia for five years.
Helen Hughson has contributed to research on tax policy (including the work of the UK Wealth Tax Commission), inequality, and migration, in her role as a Researcher at the London School of Economics. Previously, she worked for five years at the Reserve Bank of Australia on labour market and international developments, and co-authored working papers on household responses to monetary policy and the market for overnight cash in Australia. Helen holds a MSc in Economics from University College London.
Tax policy; inequality; migration
Thank you so much for joining us on Discover economics. How did I get here? So just who are what is an economist, there's an economic lens for every topic that you can possibly think of The Economist and our podcast are motivated by a desire to change the world. And their belief that better data and better understanding are key to achieving this change. I'm very excited and enthusiastic about learning more about what economics can offer us as a society. And what are the options when it comes to careers for young people. It's been an absolute delight to do this series. And to learn more to indulge my noisiness and to get to ask so many questions. The questions I'm hoping you as listeners will also have wanted to ask to thank you so much for listening. So in this episode, we've got Helen Hughson. Helen is our research officer at the London School of Economics, where she has contributed to research on tax policy, inequality, migration, including the work of the UK wealth tax commission. Previously, she worked for five years at the Reserve Bank of Australia on labour market and international developments, and co authored working papers on household responses to monetary policy, and the market for overnight cash in Australia. Helen has an MSc in Economics from the University College London and I already have so many questions. Usually, that's what happens. Rarely, someone's bio, and I think so many different things here. So welcome, Helen, thank you very much for joining us. Thanks. It's a pleasure. So I'm going to dig into my noisiest questions first. I hope that's okay. Could you tell us a little bit about what were you like at school? First of all, where did you go to school? And what were you like as a student? Well, I'm Australian. So I went to school in a place called julong, which is about an hour outside Melbourne. And I was a total nerd at school I, you know, studied hard. I did lots of math subjects and lots of music, I was very lucky to grow up in a household that valued and put a lot of emphasis on education. So I was a big part of my life. Brilliant. Now, you mentioned music there. And I knew that this is something we just talked about, just as we came on. And I'm very glad you did. But singing is a big part of your life as well. So did that start at school than I'm presuming, as you did your mixture of maths and music? It did. Yeah. I mean, I'm, I'm from a musical family. I've played piano since the age of five. And I've been singing in the choir since the age of 10. And nowadays, I combine my work in economics with some singing as well. So I think professionally around the place mostly as part of as acquires or small concerts, I love it. And what's it's interesting, because I did music at higher or a level in England, I remember that one of the things I loved about it was the little bit of the mathematics. Like, which, which isn't the thing that appeals to everyone. But that was the bit because I started it quite late. Actually, in school, I didn't do it from a very young age, I was kind of jumping in and there was like finding the bits I was familiar with, and to be able to look at the sheet music and all that side of things and look at the patterns of it all. So I can definitely see how like the both sides might be really appealing. Definitely. I mean, I think there's a lot about music, and particularly in the way that's notated. That's very mathematical, or people kind of also think about it as a language, which in a way matters as well. You know, I can't just say, a way of communicating different ideas in a sort of agreed on set of codes. Yeah, there's definitely all those aspects of music as well. Amazing. And I'm jumping ahead a little bit here, but I suppose as well, but that kind of kind of mix discipline, if you like, has come up in previous interviews about being so important in economics, because you've got all the data in one place and being able to look at things from different angles. And then of course, there's so much research goes into kind of early and younger, younger years education about the mix of Arts and Science and, and all the different disciplines and how it really helps with outcomes, I suppose in later life. Would you agree with that? Have you find found that? Absolutely. I mean, like, as an economist, I haven't done any sort of digging into it. So I can't give you an expert opinion on it. Certainly the stuff that catches my attention as a musician. Yeah, there's a lot of studies is that kids who have music as part of their activities at school do so much better not just at music, but English and maths and a whole bunch of other skills. It's it's really, it's incredible skill development for her for building confidence in kids, her building kind of our camaraderie or learning how to work with others. And it just gives people so much expressive potential as well. It's a wonderful thing. Yeah. And one of the things that has also come up in some of these conversations is the importance especially when we talk about diversity in economics of if you are going to walk into a room where you are the only person who looks like you, the only person from your background walking into that room that takes a certain amount of confidence. And if you're early on in your career, or you've just graduated, or even if you're you know trying to find out more just as you're leaving secondary school and you're not sure what you're going to do next that there's a certain amount of presentation and confidence about walking into that room that as opposed things like music and Dance and Drama and those kinds of things might also be really helpful with. Yeah, that's true. I mean, I So, wisely what I do now is working with other people, but there's certainly no, I have to go through situations all the time where as a singer, I'm on my own, either doing a solo, surrounded by the rest of the choir or going for an audition that's always on your own rather than with other people. So it's just having a lot of practice of the focus or being on you and having to deal with that's probably a good thing. To get used to, if you want to get to a job interview, I guess. Yeah, absolutely. And also like getting getting those thoughts forward. But again, I'll I'll pause and take a step back, because, as always, I've jumped way ahead. So when you were at school, was economics a subject for you? Was it one of your main subjects, it was not something that was available to me as a study option at school, I think it is a subject but in tutorial, where I grew up, there's a lot of schools have a lot of flexibility in what subjects they choose to teach. And it wasn't an option at my school. And I'm not sure I even would have chosen it. If it was to be honest, I went to university and did a, what's called a commerce degree, which is kind of anything from economics, to marketing, to management, basically, all kinds of aspects of business, I'm using sort of air quotes business, because of course, economics is not really about business. But that's just how it works at this at the university that I attended. And the only reason why I studied economics was because it was a compulsory first year subject, I thought I, what I really wanted to go into business and make a lot of money. And then I did my first economics class. And I was like, Oh, this is actually really interesting. And I think way more useful than, than a lot of the other stuff that I was kind of learning about and definitely appealed to my kind of maths brain, but also appealed to me is kind of a way of, of looking at the world. So it was that was the only way that I discovered economics. It wasn't through school, it sort of help that I'd done a bit of maths, but that only really became apparent. So we'll use down the track, he just sort of appealed to me, as I say, as a way of looking at the world. Wow. Well, that's really interesting. And again, not uncommon, necessarily, I think, to people who end up in economics, because everyone we spoken to has, you know, a diversity of experiences brought them to where they are. And it doesn't always include you in economics or through school. And some of them it doesn't even involve doing economics until they're a postgraduate for some people. Absolutely. And it's interesting to me, as an outsider, if you like that, the people I've spoken to a big part of their success, it seems to come from that kind of mixed building blocks, if you like, to what got them to the place where they are now in economics, and reading out your bio. And as you can see my kind of so many questions, as we're going through the different things that you've done, you have done a lot of work that is, I suppose, related to business, I suppose. But it is separate. Like if we're looking at things like wealth, tax inequalities in tax policy, that's obviously a big, big subject for for business leaders, as well. So although it may be, you know, the economic side, when you first discovered it might have seemed quite different. Do you feel like your degree and how you kind of came to the things at the same time has influenced the route you've taken? I think so I mean, I probably the only thing that's in common with a lot of the work that I've done is that it's sort of economics, it's kind of under this umbrella of economics. Now I've worked in some pipes in the wilds working in the Reserve Bank of Australia. So that's the equivalent the Bank of England. So central bank is talking about monetary policy every you know, every every month, what do we do with interest rates we do we raise interest rates, we lower interest rates. And that's just like the complete opposite end of economics and a lot of the stuff that I am doing now, it's very macro very close to finance and a lot of kind of that sort of world. And I don't really do all that much of that anymore. I do a lot of work on inequality and kind of thinking about more sort of micro but not really micro stuff and kind of policy issues. I guess economics can really encompass a whole range of different fields and different skills. So yeah, I think that the diversity of experience and we really, really useful as well, and what kind of led you from the Bank of Australia, sort of Reserve Bank of Australia to kind of the next steps, like you said, into the inequality research and that and that side of things. I'm not sure I've got an inspiring story, to be honest, I want to study and I did a master's degree and I just found found this job that I have now at LSE working with a couple of academics on a whole range of issues, but usually with a core focus on tax, and they were looking for someone with the skills that I had, which I had developed through my work at the RBA. And that's okay. There's no pressure to have an inspiring story. Don't worry. I was talking to someone the other day about, you know, when you go for a job interview, and interview skills and how you have to be the most excited about this job that is right in front of you right now. And sometimes you're doing that interview because you just need to pay your bills, but some employers are 200% and I'm sure I'm sure both teachers parents and students listening will definitely you know, relate to that. But students please know that when you go for an interview, please act like it is the most exciting opportunity in front of you whoever is interviewing, you know So this is a difficult question. And I don't mind if you want to loop back to it, but I've been asking all of the guests. So with your work so far, and I say so far, because obviously you've got many, many, many decades story of, you know, this in front of you, what would you say you're most proud of like any of the programmes or projects you've been involved with to date, I think there have been a few things that I'm proud of, for different reasons. So being involved with the wealth tax commission last year was really, really exciting piece of work. So for a little bit of background, this was the team of academics, who basically said, you know, the, there's a global pandemic going on, we're in a really unprecedented situation, the government spending a lot of money to try and keep everybody afloat, not questioning whether or not that's a good thing or not, that was not a part of the agreement. But probably, there's going to be a lot of calls as the dust starts to settle about whether a lot of calls for things like a wealth tax, because it's sort of one of the things that caves that a lot of people's like the idea of, you know, it sounds good, let's tax the rich, make them pay more, etc. And they thought about it for a little bit and thought, well, this is a good idea. You know, it sounds like a great idea. But do we actually know that? Like, has anybody actually done any work? And when I started to dig into it, I thought, actually, nobody's really thought about whether this would work in the UK, in the UK context, since about the 70s. Like, there really hasn't been a big piece of work that said, Oh, is this idea or not? So they thought, let's do that, you know, like, it wasn't kind of a often economics, I think, can get accused of applying the same set of tools to any old subject and just kind of abstracting away from a lot of real life difficulties. And that was definitely not the case with this project. They had a whole bunch of practitioners, you know, like tax lawyers, tax accountants really digging into the detail of like, how would this work? You know, how, if you're trying to tax somebody wealth, that's all very well, if you look at the money that I have, in the bank account, you know, or, you know, taxing someone's house is a little bit difficult to do, you have to establish how much it's worth. But you know, like, there are pretty well established methods for doing this. But what about when you are trying to tax somebodies art collection? How much is that worth? Like? What's the kind of base of the tax that you're applying to? And how would you tax someone's business that they don't sell any share, you know, their private business that nobody else owns? You know, you could get wildly different valuations around that. What how do you tax a startup? Is it worth absolutely nothing now, and it might be worth millions and millions of pounds in a couple of years time it had taxi. So all these quite complicated questions that sort of exists at the sort of almost the boundary of economics and between economics and real life, which sounds like an odd thing to say, as an economist, but I think anybody who's actually worked in economics, sorry, that's a really long winded way of saying he really did have his work. And just being involved in seeing people getting involved in answering those questions was was really interesting. Yeah, I guess, there were even more questions that you could ask about that sort of thing that I that I realised before I even got started. And that's always a really fun piece of work to be involved with, you know, the further in you get, the more questions you have. And the more interesting it gets. I mean, that is really interesting, because it's one of those things that, like you said, on the surface, everyone is quite enthusiastic about it. But this came up in our interview with Wil Paige, you know, the unintended consequences. And I think this is one of those areas where you have to be nervous of unintended consequences everywhere, obviously, especially when we're talking about monetary policy. But especially this because people can be super enthusiastic about tax the rich, I'm not against it. However, you're setting up policies that are about the way the whole population is taxed. So there's funny things that might happen along the way. So I mean, talking about unintended consequences. One of the other big questions is, what's your tax base? Do you tax absolutely everything that everyone anyone owns, you know, anything that could possibly be valuable? Lots and lots of people will say, Well, no, you shouldn't tax the house that somebody lives in, because we have make all sorts of exemptions for people's primary residence for tax purposes. And actually, when you think about it, you know, that sounds like a good idea on the surface. But when you think about it, if you go, Okay, well, what's the difference between my friend who owns a property? And my friend who has the same amount of their money, invested in their own private business, and rents? Why should my rent a friend, be paying a wealth tax on their business wealth, and my home earning friends not be paying, you know, the wealth tax on that wealth, even though they are as wealthy as each other? You know, all of these sorts of kind of complexities start to come out and then you think, okay, are we going to tax people on an individual basis or as couples? And if you go as couples, then you know, there's just all these kind of extra complications that end up in people trying to work their way around the rules. Yeah, it was fascinating. It was really interesting. And it's funny to me because I've met accountants and business owners over the yours who you can tell with some of them that actually, it's like the most exciting challenge in the world, there's all just some new rules, I can try and work my way around. Sometimes it's just about, hey, look, you're a bit bored. We haven't changed these since the 70s. Here's a new game for you to play. Again, this has come up before, but what I love about these types of conversations, and I hope that students listening, realise that the outcome of some of these conversations and projects and things that you're working on is, you know, have real life implications for people that they in their families in their communities, you know, that are very, very close to them. And it's so funny how you might hear things thrown around that you just don't think about as a young person, like I remember my mom talking about, like, children's allowances and stuff. And I just never thought about it as a kid. And now talking to my friends who were maybe made redundant after COVID, I mentioned to them well, I know you don't need that particular tax credit. But did you know that if you, you know that it's related to paying your National Insurance, so if you do, etc. And I feel like there's so many implications to some of these things that are not even about the tax itself, or the credit, if we're looking at it the other way around. Sorry, that was a bit mixing my metaphors there. But you know, and we're talking about the tax system, if you like, and there's also been talk on the podcast about, you know, an economic literacy. I think this is a big part of that, because, well, we've got, you know, you guys looking at the tax implications and potential reform, or changes, at the other end, people have got to understand, you know, it's, we're talking about taxing the wealthy in this context. And clearly, we would expect, if you've got a certain amount of money, you've got an accountant, you've got a lawyer, you've got people who are expert in that field, so that's fine. But then we've got a whole load of people in the middle who may well be impacted, but don't necessarily have those expertise to hand. And and what do we do about making sure that everyone has a certain level of economic literacy if you like, but and I'm hoping that if nothing else, you know, from these conversations, you know, maybe parents, teachers and students listening, it might go there, and maybe try and find out a little bit more about some of these systems, because they do impact us very heavily. Absolutely. And I wanted to ask maybe a bit of a silly question, because I personally don't know what this means. But I was intrigued with your work Reserve Bank of Australia, where the market for overnight cash now, that throws up all kinds of imagery. It's not dodgy black market deals, or pawn brokers or anything like that. It's a very specific and very sort of technical aspect of monetary policy. So how banks set interest rates, which is basically controlling the way that the bank, the Reserve Bank, the central bank lends who are the banks and that banks lend to each other overnight, and their cash rate or think it's called the cash rate here, or the sort of target rate, the monetary policy that you hear announced on the news after, after the Bank of England had their meeting. That's the rate that those that the central bank is targeting in this overnight market. And basically, this this is another piece of work that I would say that I'm pretty proud of, although for a completely different reason. And remind me to come back to that if I don't, it basically, the people within the Reserve Bank, where I used to work have have a set of beliefs about how this market works. But when we started thinking about it, we thought actually, nobody really knows, you know, we haven't checked that this is how it works. This is kind of what we what we think, and what people who work in private banks have told us, but you know, they could just be telling us that because we're because we're the RBA, you know, so we actually dug into the data and really dug into the details about how these overnight trades are made, what time of day they happen, what the interest rate that tends to, like they're being traded for happens, usually usually is like, is it exactly at the rate that the central bank is trying to target? One of the interesting things to come out of that paper actually, was that a lot of the banks weren't really following what we would expect more weren't doing in terms of going from multi day loans. So I'm sure that any student listening to this podcast will be familiar with the concept of simple and compound interest. So simple being you just add on the same amount of interest each day and compound being like, okay, the interest that the interest that you had to pay yesterday, we add that onto the whole principle of the loan, and then we charge you know, we calculate the interest again, and so it starts to compound. And we found to our great surprise that a lot of the banks weren't doing that in Australia when a single overnight loan became a multi day loan. And that was quite surprised. So quite a few things, firstly, about, you know, the way that the market worked in terms of the interest rates and also the way that this kind of compound rates were happening. I didn't even we didn't even think to check for it. It was just something that I kind of built into our code to say okay, this is one way that my interest might work up and then suddenly appear that all these banks are lending with simple interest over long periods of time rather than compound interest, which is a bit of a financial stability risk. But so yeah, that was, again, very technical, very specific. But I have an interesting piece of work that was useful in a very specific set of circumstances. And the reason why I'd say I was quite proud of it is because it was a big one of the pieces of work that I've done with the largest amount of data. So we had, we had a basically the history of the transactions that we thought made up those overnight loans, so the initial loan payment, and then the repayment the next day, and that was a very big dataset, something like 7 million transactions that we had to kind of like filter through time figure out, these things look like an overnight loan. This isn't like knowing this will be something else. So we forget about it. Wow, that is a lot of data. And also, again, forgive my ignorance. But surely that's then also related to the wider loan market, you know, when the bank start, you know, if they're not charging compound interest in that kind of first stage of money of monetary transactions, and that potentially has a knock on and I don't understand enough to know whether it's good or bad, but potentially that has a knock on influence to what happens when they then loan further or sell loans back and forth between banks, between countries, the buying and selling of debt, I suppose. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that the overnight rate or the cash rate, that, you know, that is of interest that the central bank sets is kind of the the floor the basis for a lot of lending. Probably most, you know, the rates that people pay on a mortgage, most interest rate loans, all that sort of stuff, as soon as you they're not going to be the same number. But as soon as you move that interest rate up or down, then those other rates tend to move in in secret that which is kind of the basis of monetary policy. So yeah, it's it's an important market to understand. Yeah, definitely. for Central America. Yeah. But also, this is something that we know when we're talking about economic literacy, you know, the buying and selling of government debt, and the debt of our country is something that comes up on the front page of newspapers across the world to an audience that, you know, I'm part of the audience that doesn't really understand what it means. And it can be thought of as a terrible thing, or a brilliant thing, with just a little bit of a shift of angle, if you like from the journalist, one of my pet peeves is people talking about government debt, as if it's the same as household debt. And it's just, it's, it's just completely without wanting to get too political. It's completely um, it's an absolutely terrible comparison, you know, governments, so households don't have the ability to kind of raise money by taxing other people, they don't have the ability to grow at at almost 0% Do you know, it's just a completely different question to what a household faces and I understand that people kind of want to make that translation to people who don't have an economics background. But then what happens is that, you know, anybody looking at that article, quite rightly draw the conclusion, wow, the government's got all of this debt. I could never cope with all that much debt. So what's the government doing? You know, it's, it isn't it lends a certain narrative? And I guess I don't think you need to be political about it. Because in my lifetime, there's certainly been every government that's been in place, I think there's been there's been a narrative around that debt in one direction or another. I think that everyone is involved with it. And it's one of the things actually, that I love about the Discover economics campaign, if you like, is that, you know, even beyond just trying to encourage more diversity into economics as a field, but just really encouraging that economic literacy, I think across the population is an incredibly positive thing for everyone. I think I'm sure it would make your life easier as an economist. If you knew that everyone had that kind of base level. It would save me a few awkward conversations with my family who still don't seem to know what it is I do, which is fine. Being an economist, I think is never really being able to explain your job to anyone. 100% I mean, look, I work in digital skills, and I still like my family still don't really understand why I fix all their issues, though. They know that I'm basically IT support for everyone. So there's that there's that element in terms then of your experience in the workplace. If you've worked in some very, let's say traditional large, you know, economic organisations, financial institutions, what has that experience been like? Because something that I remember, as a student, I certainly as a school, you know, a school pupil, rather than a university student is I had no idea what an office environment was like Never mind the differences between different industries. And as a student at University, I was lucky enough to work in office jobs during the day and various other which thing and bar work at other times. It can be a little bit of a culture shock, I think when you come into the office environment, but then I think as you get older, you also see that there are differences between industries and not just what's expected and what you wear and what what's the style guide For the companies that you're going into, but beyond that, just the culture. So be interested to hear, you know, what has been your experience in some of these really big kind of traditional organisations? Yeah, I mean, I also had no idea of what to expect because neither of my parents worked in an office, my mom's a music teacher, and my dad's a pharmacist. So they've got various sort of like different lives. So somebody's going into an office, you know, nine to five each day, I wasn't familiar with the whole, you know, full time work, fairly defined hours, take your lunch kind of aspect of things. My introduction to it was, again, doing an internship at uni while I was an undergrad, I did an internship at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which is the Australian Consumer regulator, I can't think off the top of my head, what the equivalent is here, but I think maybe here, they're broken up into lots of different industries, whereas the I triple C just kind of covers everything. Oh, right. Okay. Yeah, my first experience with kind of a big policy well, sort of public institution, and then the RBA, was, was similar, while probably on a larger scale, you know, like one building with 1000 people in it and a very kind of a very conservative in the sense of kind of slow to take on change institution, which I think a lot of kind of public places where people sort of public is in public institutions where people are a lot of economics graduates end up working, you know, so here like the civil service would, or the Bank of England would be equivalent, a lot of them are sort of just very sort of slow moving institutions. Economics has an invite a reputation as being a very male dominated environment. So that that has been my experience, I'll be honest, like going through, I was probably one of maybe my sort of undergrad economics classes would have been maybe a third girls. And then by the time I got to my final year, we do sort of a, an optional fourth year in Australia, which is like your honours year. So honours is not like here, you know, Honours is sort of like your mark. And in Australia, it's actually like you you've chosen to take on an honours year. So you either have your normal degree or Your Honours degree. That sounds like it's the same as Scotland, I think we've got a very similar system, right? Yeah, there were 10 Girls in a class of 40. And often I would be in classes where I was the only girl and and I think probably going into the Reserve Bank, the the numbers are about the same. So maybe about a quarter girls, women, I guess I should say about so it can be because economics can be quite sort of fact dominated. I think that people can get an impression that it's very sort of straight talking and very direct. And if you don't have the facts at your fingertips, then you might as well just not really, you know, you've got do not really have anything, particularly to contribute to the discussion. And I have small, just a bit of a sense that maybe women in general, less comfortable operating in that environment than the men just because I know we bring up what girls are socialised differently. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Which I'm hoping that students listening or thinking are now thinking that's not my experience. But for me, it was like I was definitely socialised that way as a kid. And it's interesting to me, a lot of women my age, like I was diagnosed with ADHD last year. And that's a lot. And a lot of women, my generation are being diagnosed now. Because it was the behaviour that people were trained to pick up on was socialised out of us very early, we weren't allowed to act that way. And it's interesting to hear you talk about that, you know, so I just want I want students listening to realise that we're not seeing that that is, you know, that women are inherently like thought one way or the other. Only, there's a lot of women like, say, my, my generation who, yeah, like maybe would have acted a certain way, or would have felt comfortable in that environment, but weren't really allowed. If not makes, I mean, I don't sure it makes sense to you melon, but yeah, absolutely. I'm hoping that this is so weird and alien to students listening that we don't have to worry about them. But yes, I totally understand. I don't know if it's helpful. But I found I almost got myself into a habit of talking over people in certain environments, which sounds like a terrible thing to have to do. But like, I was in an environment where I would constantly find myself being talked over by usually older male colleagues. And I thought, Okay, well, I'm constantly giving into this, you know, I'm letting myself be talked over because I stop, and they keep going. So I kind of got myself into a habit of doing this sort of quite antisocial thing. And it felt very uncomfortable to me, of continuing to talk, just kind of pushing back on it. And that was kind of my way of getting through some of those kind of awkward situations. And it's, I maybe that's helpful if anybody feels like they have been socialised in this way and therefore they can't like it's a learned it's a learned behaviour. So you can kind of learn your way out of it in some in some ways. 2% Yeah. 100% And that's really interesting note, I work I'm from Aberdeen. So I've worked in the oil industry in quite a lot of other male kind of dominated environments. And it's interesting to hear you say that because I find myself sometimes taking on certain behaviours. And what was what was interesting to me is how much the men I worked with didn't care if I like they weren't offended, or the thing that I was worried about, like, oh, I can't speak over people, or I can't do this because you're socialised. To think that that is just rude. He didn't care or didn't notice that I was particularly being rude. And I'd be interested to hear what your experience was like, How did people react when you were doing this thing? That obviously took a big effort on your part? Yeah. It's really interesting. I've never thought about it. I don't think anybody reacted. I don't think anybody kind of pulled me aside afterwards and said, Hey, that was a bit rude to be, you know, talking over Peter like that. Not actually Peter, just saying for so you know, nobody ever did that. I think it was a lot more of a big deal for me than it was for anybody else. Yeah. I don't want to paint my you know, old workplaces or environments is like terrible places to be I don't feel like I suffered in any particular way. I don't feel like I, you know, it was really heavily discriminated against seemed like, very serious ways. But I think these are things that that people don't like are not prepared for, like younger women are not prepared for about, you know, office environments or workplace environment is interesting, because like you said, it's not like it's one. I don't think anyone on the other side of it does anything on purpose, the people who are talking over you or people who've talked over me, they're no, they're not thinking I am going to talk over, you know, that's just a natural thing. And this the experience I've had, because I don't want to talk about anyone else's experience. But I think I probably you could probably pinpoint some areas where not necessarily I was discriminated against, I definitely lost out. Let's see. Yeah. And it wasn't because anyone was deliberately trying to make me lose out. It's because the way everyone acts and is trained to act was just the way it was. And if you if no one stands up, and kind of, and actually, there's an example that I was very, very lucky that one of my bosses, I would never have known that I was getting paid. I find out later, 5000 pounds a year less than all of my male colleagues who did the same job. And I would never have known. And luckily, my boss, and it was a year when none of my colleagues got a pay rise. And he literally just said, I'm giving you a 5000 pound pay rise, and everyone knew I got that pay rise. And they were like, Yeah, well, it brings her in line with the rest of you. So shut up. And when it was nice that it was nice that I wasn't the one who had to bring it up. I mean, it does anger me a little bit, because I had been working there for a few years. It wasn't just the fact that you that you've missed, it was lots of other years as well. And maybe the first few years, I wasn't as experienced. So you know, there's always those arguments to make. But what I think is really important for people to remember, especially when we're talking about discover economics, as a project, if you like is that it's not just about the person, and you know, the person who's let's see, discreet, again, discriminated against as a strong term. But it's not necessarily that person who's in that position that needs to take all the action, it's that everyone else around you needs to take the action, sometimes you take it for you because you don't know you're missing out. Absolutely. I mean, as as an example of that I found, I only really think about this interview on reflection, you know, one of the first things that my manager said to me, when I started working as a bank was, you know, there's heaps and heaps of extracurricular stuff that you can do, it's really great. There's some and it's true, like it was a great environment to work in, getting to know people was wonderful. But remember that this is not what your performance is being assessed on, you know, like, don't let that distract from your job. But it, it just happened that I would kind of get dragged into being president of the cycling club, or I'd be, you know, like going getting involved with like, various workplace sports and doing extra stuff, kind of training up new staff and that sort of thing. And I remember thinking, This is too much, you know, I need to start saying no to things. And yet, at one point, a fairly senior person came to my desk and said, Oh, we've got this kind of staff experience committee that we're setting up to make sure that everybody's okay, and you know, like, feeling satisfied with their jobs and everything like that, we'd love to, you know, would you be involved? And I said, you know, I don't I've got enough on my plate, like, I actually don't really want to be involved with that. And he said, all but we, you know, we think you'd be really good at it. And, and I just thought, we, of course, I kind of have to do this because this is a senior person who's asking me this. The fact is, unfortunately, and this is not necessarily I'm not saying that I was being you know, like the victim of discrimination in this situation, but because I'm part of anything else, it's to me it was like quite gender balanced. But the the, the research shows that women are more likely to get pulled into that sort of situation. They get pulled into all the kinds of staff experience things, everything from organising a card and going away present to you know, doing these kind of long committees that don't become a part of their job performance. You know, these kinds of little reaping small things that actually in themselves are not necessarily a big deal, but just kind of add up to women having less time to spend on their job than men do. Yeah, it's the emotional labour argument, isn't it that we talk about in households emotional labour? Yeah. But it happens in work environments all the time, I really recognise some of the things you're talking about. And it's so hard to say no, but you're right, it doesn't have one, it doesn't have a an impact on your finances at the end of the month, but it does make the stuff that you're trying to do for your job a million times harder, because it's always more time consuming. And also just talking about things like neurodiversity. Something I hadn't realised until my diagnosis of ADHD is, I've always felt like I took so long to get my brain out of one project and into another. And I think everyone can relate to that. I don't think it's necessarily only an ADHD thing. But certainly, it's particularly strong if you if you have ADHD. But the good news is, there's good medication, guys. But that's something that, again, doesn't get thought of when you're being, you know, you're being volunteered for that kind of thing. It's not just the time it takes to do time it takes to get you out of that mindset that you're dealing with that project into a different project. I think everybody has challenges in that way. And I think definitely those people who are not neurotypical, let's see might have even bigger challenges. And I think in the workplace, you know, there's a definitely a mixed bag in terms of the types of institutions that are good at picking up on those types of things, and the support that people need. And I bet because I'm just thinking back to my colleague, who was she was of Indian descent, and the amount of things people try to rope her into, would you like to be on this diversity panel? And just like, well know what, number one, I don't want to represent my entire race. Number two, I know it's a lot of work. And also, it's putting a lot of emotional labour on the people that actually are may have been victim of certain types of discrimination, yet, you're asking them to fix the problem. And I think that happens to people with disabilities, you know, LGBTQ, like anyone who's in that position. So it's something to look out for, I think, definitely, as you go into the workplace. I'm really glad you said that. And good for your boss for pointing that out. I think every boss should remind us of that, like, each year. He was very switched on. He was Yeah, I knew exactly what to look for. And I, you know, should have listened to her more carefully. I think quite a while ago. Now, I don't want to paint the impression that I used to work in this incredibly sexist, misogynistic environment. Yeah, I think I think that's the thing, a lot of these experiences are not because necessarily, like you say, you work in an environment that is hugely misogynistic, or hugely racist or discriminatory in in any way, it's a lot of the stuff is, is very unconscious, like we talked about unconscious bias. And that's one of the reasons I think diversity in any sector is so important, because the more diversity you have in a sector, the more it kind of wipes I thought, unconscious bias, just by merit of there being a mixture of more people in the room, you know, in that kind of brings the balance out without people having to work so hard or try so hard to, to kind of get your brain around just absolutely, I think it's really important, you know, like, if you go from being the only woman in your team who's getting saddled with all this sort of emotional office labour, and therefore, you know, doesn't produce as much or has to work way, way harder than everybody else to be able to produce the same amount of material. You know, you can kind of imagine how this, you know, that translates into a gender pay gap where people are paying, you know, women on average, I think it's 27% less than men, that might be an Australian number rather than a UK number, but you know, like, a substantial amount for doing the same job. And this is these just kind of like little things I how that sort of thing happens. And yeah, I think you're absolutely right, a little bit more diversity so that you're not the one person of black minority ethnic background that has to kind of speak for everybody and educate people who are not from a bain background, about how you know, how they could change their behaviour, we are again, having a look just a bit more diversity would be probably actually take care of a lot more of that 100% got I'm just laughing because the thought of anyone thinking that in my past work life that I would have been the voice of women in any environment. Like I don't know, I don't think anyone wants to represent all women. This woman will karaoke without any alcohol. See, the sad thing is so then you don't have an excuse for when you're terrible. Like it's nice to be able to stand up without a drink. But the next day, no excuse actually, unintentionally brings me back to your singing. So because you are a professional singer, we're not just Talking about, you know, I like to sing at the weekends with my friends like you're a professional singer. Yeah. How does that work in terms of? So unlike the normal question that is quite sexist of what's your work life balance, like with your family and your job? What's your work life balance, like with your two kind of passions career wise?Yes. I mean, it's tricky. Sometimes. I mean, I'm lucky that generally, in the time, I've been working with LSA, I've been working part time, and I've had a lot of flexibility, which is really, really important. Because for me, now stuff comes up randomly during the week, you know, somebody might say, Hey, can you sing a funeral? You know, in three days time, at 2pm. And you sort of have to be able to say, well, yes, I can be there. I know I can't, straightaway. And if you had kind of, if I had to find working office hours that I couldn't change, that will be a lot more difficult. And in it's been a challenge, I'll be honest, in looking for, because I need to find work. That's part time for the most part. And it's quite flexible. And I've definitely lost out on positions that I've interviewed for, for that reason, in the past. And I also, I mean, when you were talking about sort of switching attention from task to task, I've definitely been there, you know, I was I was working full time at the RBA, and I happen to be singing at a place just around the corner. And I would basically spend all my evenings in rehearsal. So I go from, you know, economics mode at 5:
30pm. And then it'd be a bit rehearsal by quarter to six, but it's not that simple. You just can't get your brain to shift that much that that quickly. So yeah, that's that's something that I had to be a little bit more disciplined about, about trying to create a bit more of a gap between between my kind of economic thinking and my and my music thinking, because there's not a lot of overlap, let's be honest. But what's interesting about that is like the physicality of it, because knowing other singers and how physical is and how stress plays on your physicality and, and how you get how you get the same note, and also how you avoid injuries, you know, to your throat. And you know, that tension, obviously can be, you know, could set you back months later, if you were to, like you said Rush from one thing to another, it's been a really stressful day, and you don't give your your body not not even just your brain but your body the time to let go of the tension. Yeah, for you into rehearsal, you risk injury. And I bet that people think about that, you know, in terms of, let's say, more traditional athletics and that kind of thing, and how you know, running marathons gets, you know, lots of business people run marathons, and I've yet to Good on you high five, well done, I'll cheer you on. But but this is it's not dissimilar, like, you know, that kind of being able to fully let go of one thing, or you wouldn't be able to do the other. And the reason I bring that up as well is when I was teaching, I found that more and more young people coming through and during the courses that I was delivering, had a certain level of stress and anxiety that I never had to experience at that age. And and I wonder if that if it teachers, obviously, you know, pick up on that now. And the importance of having something, whether it is a kind of jewel career like you, like you've kind of you've got for yourself, but that kind of making sure that no matter what career or studies or area, you go into having that thing that helps you to switch not just mentally, but physically as well, and how beneficial that can be your mental health, but also to your success, I think, Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think that the comparison was fought is really, really relevant. Because, again, this is a very, very common thing for people in offices, particularly in a place like Sydney, which is very fit and active place. People go out and play sport at lunchtime, and it's not just it's, you know, I don't think people think about it this way, but it's definitely not just the physical exercise that we're doing. It's the mental break, it's like the, you know, going away from your office or leaving your desk and going and doing something else that requires your full attention at the time is really, really important. It gives you the kind of mental break that you need to actually be productive in your in your work for the rest of the day. So for me, like you know, singing is a bit different but not actually that different because my singing is kind of my mental break from my economics and my economics is my mental break from my singing and I've been through times of my life when there's not been much room for anything else but I can manage it because there's enough break you know, you don't necessarily I think it's fair to say that there's at least one scientific study that suggests it's not rest that you need so much as a break from what you're doing. And that kind of that mental involvement of just kind of you know, I'm just committing myself to either you know, like doing this drill the best I possibly can or like singing this face the best I possibly can or you know, like concentrating on the ball I'm gonna I'm just gonna throw everything I've got into this match right now and just forget about you know, the really frustrating email exchange I have with my boss just then it's it's really really important stuff and and the injury side of things is absolutely right I mean, I you know, you do feel like a complete diva sometimes, but I I found myself in a situation in work occasionally where a lot of people whispering all the time and whispering is really bad for your voice. And so I just have to be like, I'm sorry, can we not whisper because it's just You know, I'm just gonna destroy myself. And yeah, helps you speak over people if you're not whispering, none of them being quieter. We all need to get louder. Yeah, yeah. That ties it quite. And so I know I need to let you go. But again, there's, I always get to this point. And I know I say to everyone, but there's so many more things that we could dig into here, especially about kind of, like I said, that jewel career that you have, and Jewel as an DVL, not jewel as an jewels of the Nile. But just to finish off, what advice would you give? And actually, there's been a lot of advice already. But what advice would you give to, let's say, teachers or parents who want to help steer the children their life towards economics? If that seems like it might be something, it'd be good for them? What advice would you give them, I think, I probably don't even want to sort of overemphasise the role of maths because you can definitely be a really, really good economist without having a lot of kind of, you know, without being able to set up a complicated math equation and solve it. And it probably is a little bit over emphasising the professional, unfortunately. But if you want to do any study, then you do need to have a bit of maths behind you edit sort of universities, particularly the masters level, you know, everything sort of the more years you spend studying economics at university, the more everything you do becomes a mathematical equation. And there are definitely people I think people get intimidated, unnecessarily intimidated, when they see a lot of algebra on a page. It's not the algebra that's actually important. It's, it's what it's standing in for. It's the ideas that it's standing in for. So if there's somebody who really wants to get involved in economics, then like, you definitely need to study, it's definitely worthwhile setting some maths in terms of getting people interested, I think, I don't even know where to start, like, obviously, I'm biassed, you know, I'm an economist. Therefore, I think what I do is interesting, but I just think that there are so many interesting situations in the world in which economics is a useful way of looking at trying to find a solution. I think a lot of people's concept of economics is the sort of economics 101 lesson, which is, you know, the market works perfectly, the government should just get out of the road and let everybody do what they want, you know, free markets, etc. And that's sort of like lesson one, literally, Lesson One of economics. And then everything else that you get from there on is actually more complicated and more interesting and more useful, which is like, Okay, well, things just don't really work that way. You know, there's all these kinds of assumptions that this sort of free market aspect, idea rests on, and most of them fail in real life, your economics teachers can definitely get into that in much less convoluted detail than I can. But I think, you know, think about if people are concerned about climate change, I think that there's a lot that in economics can can really help out with just thinking about the problem thinking about the problem, that everybody's doing this thing emitting carbon emissions, for free, you know, it doesn't cost anybody anything to Well, I mean, it cost me to take a flight, but I don't have to pay extra for the fact that the carbon emissions from that flight, go on to you know, contribute to the stock of carbon in the atmosphere, which contributes to all these like really detrimental effects. And just think, just that, that, that idea of, but this doesn't cost anybody to do it. So that's why they do it so freely, you know, it's not the same pace that if it cost them a bit more, they wouldn't do it. But sure, a lot of people would do it a lot less. I think that's, you know, that, for me was a real hook. When I got into sort of thinking about environmental economics, a lot of this stuff happens for free, and it probably couldn't. And how do we think about that, as a society? Well, you know, the standard from climate change point of view, you know, carbon tax or carbon cap and trade scheme, or that sort of thing, you know, these are the the sort of solutions, that economic sense have put out, but I think that the, the process of thinking about what, what the problem really is, and what sort of a solution, you know, you might think about is where economics starts to get really interesting, is really interesting. And I love what you said there because it means that if a student listening to this is thinking about, like you said that that carbon emission doesn't cost me anything, but I am part of that economy. I'm part of the economy of carbon emissions. And so what is my part is, you know, a useful exercise. Definitely. Thank you so much, Helen. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us and like with all of our guests, it's so valuable for students and teachers to hear things from lots of different perspectives. I didn't even get to ask you if you surf because I've just moved to Cornwall and it'd be interesting to get some surf tips and you know, no judgement if you don't, but every other Australian I know surf just saying I don't want to let the team down I can I can do boogie boarding maybe but I do grew up on the east coast, but not not proper stand up surfing. Money, um, but you're always gonna be better than me, I imagine at this point. But again, thank you so much. We'll hopefully speak to you again soon. Yeah, it's been my pleasure. It's lovely to chat. Thank you. And that's that for that episode. Thank you so much for listening. We hope you've enjoyed it. And if you want to get in touch with any questions, please visit our website discover economics dot code at UK, where you'll also find loads of useful resources. And if you've enjoyed the podcast Remember to go to Apple podcasts rate and review. Also remember to subscribe through whichever podcast app you're using to view always get any new episodes as soon as they're published. See you in the next episode.