Skip to content
Department of Economics

Meet the EUI women in economics

On the occasion of International Women's Day, we present four esteemed professors at the EUI Department of Economics, with short interviews on their research, their careers, and their experiences at Villa La Fonte.

08 March 2024 | Research

8 March_Four ECO professors

From left to right: Sule Alan, Fabrizia Mealli, Özlem Bedre Defolie, Zeinab Aboutalebi


The EUI Department of Economics brings together international scholars in a stimulating and innovative research environment. Its academics focus on a wide range of topics in the fields of microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics. The Department is also dedicated to the topic of gender, recently launching the ‘Gender Talks’ series, a monthly forum dedicated to gender-related topics in the field of economics. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we asked four professors to discuss their expertise, current research endeavours, and what it is like to work at the EUI Department of Economics.

Sule Alan, Professor and Director of Research

I am a behavioural scientist specialising in education, gender, and social inclusion. I evaluate social and educational programmes to identify ways to improve socioeconomically disadvantaged children’s academic and social outcomes.

The ERC-funded project INCLUSION that I coordinate aims to build a cohesive school environment, free from ethnic discourse, peer violence and anti-social behaviour. In its first phase, we initiated a programme in which a select group of senior middle school students undertook the role of ‘student-teachers’, delivering a comprehensive anti-violence curriculum to their junior peers over two consecutive academic years. Our findings indicate that this initiative not only empowered the senior students but also led to significant improvements in their socio-emotional and academic achievements. Recent data suggests that participation in the programme nearly doubled the likelihood of targeted senior students gaining admission to prestigious high schools. Currently, the project's second phase focuses on enhancing learning outcomes among primary school students, including supporting refugee children. This phase is currently underway in the field.

What I like the most about the Department is the strength of interactions among our graduate students. The fact that we share a small villa (Villa La Fonte) turns most of our daily interactions into intellectually stimulating learning experiences.


Fabrizia Mealli, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies

My research focuses on the theory and application of ‘causal inference’, an area of statistics and econometrics that is fundamental to much of modern scientific research – how to infer causal relationships in randomised experiments and observational studies.

Addressing causal questions arises in many areas of application. For example, in medicine: Is breast-feeding beneficial for children? How effective is a drug treatment?; in genetics: Can we identify gene expression patterns as causal components of observed phenotypes?; in economics: What are the returns to education on earnings? What are the effects of job-training programs?; in sociology: What are the effects of family policies on fertility? What are the effects of social distancing?; and in many other fields.

Throughout my carrier, I have been operating across a number of academic disciplines and participated in research projects at the interface between statistics and the social and biomedical sciences.

What I like most about the EUI Economics Department is the constant interaction with researchers, research fellows, and faculty, and receiving stimuli from them to develop and improve methods, stemming from the need of addressing real empirical problems.


Özlem Bedre Defolie, Professor and Joint Chair in Microeconomics at the Economics Department and at the Robert Schuman Centre

I do research on applied microeconomic theory and industrial organisation, with a focus on antitrust and regulation questions related to economics of multi-sided platforms, digital markets, multiproduct firms, and vertical contracts.

I coordinate the ERC-funded project DIPVAR, which will offer a closer look at globally operating digital platforms, such as Amazon, Apple, and Google by first creating models to capture their most important peculiar aspects and then by examining the effects of dominant platforms’ practices on prices, variety, and quality provision to buyers and small rivals. It also tries to develop a framework to study dynamics of innovation and increasing dominance. DIPVAR ultimately aims to make recommendations for an effective competition policy and regulation in digital markets, which could greatly improve consumer welfare in the EU.

What I like most about the ECO Department is the lively research life with a lot of research events and interactions with the faculty, research fellows, as well as PhD researchers.


Zeinab Aboutalebi, Assistant Professor of Economics

I am a microeconomic theorist. My research mainly focuses on the role of information in interactions between decision-makers. I use theoretical models to understand the mechanism by which information affects the choices and actions of people and how one can use that to affect incentives. My work has implications for organisations, markets, and politics. One of the applications I tend to look at is the implications of these settings on gender.

In our paper on ‘Effective Supervision’, Ayush Pant and I look at the dilemma faced when appointing a supervisor to improve employees’ performance. We show that when people cannot observe the quality of their performance, a natural way to improve is to assign supervisors who can inform them about the quality of their work. Nonetheless, every supervisor faces an honesty trade-off: Being honest, on the one hand, improves performance by revealing the truth and incentivising people to try more; on the other hand, repeated critical feedback is demoralising and affects performance negatively by reducing self-confidence. We show that supervision is only effective and enhances performance if the first effect dominates the negative effect of reduced self-confidence. Therefore, supervision is only effective for people with high self-confidence. For people with low self-confidence, the supervision suffers from an institutional problem of the negative effect of lack of confidence and is ineffective. This is especially important when it comes to understanding the role of feedback in enhancing female performance. There exist numerous studies that show the existence of a gender confidence gap - women are less confident than men, especially in fields that men dominate. As a result, since supervisors are more concerned about reduced self-confidence's negative effect on performance, they provide less honest critical feedback to women. Therefore, the gender confidence gap aggravates the gender performance gap through the ineffectiveness of feedback.

The EUI Department of Economics is a vibrant environment, especially regarding research. What I like a lot about the Economics Department is precisely this academic and intellectual interaction environment and how we work together to improve our research.

Last update: 16 April 2024

Go back to top of the page