Women in economics and leadership: An interview with Statistics Canada’s Isabelle Amano

February 12, 2019

Source: This article was published in the Canadian Women Economists Committee's (CWEC) 2019 winter newsletter on February 1, 2019.

By M. Connolly

Over her 25-year career, Isabelle Amano has held a number of positions in the public sector, focused in areas of economic and policy analysis from both domestic and international perspectives. Isabelle is currently the Director General of the Analytical Studies Branch at Statistics Canada, where she leads a program of research across economic, social, and health domains. Previously, she was Director of the Economic Analysis and Forecasting Division at the Department of Finance where she coordinated the economic forecast for the Government of Canada as well as analysis on broad macroeconomic and key policy issues. This built on over 10 years of previous experience within the Department of Finance in the areas of provincial and international fiscal policy, U.S macroeconomic analysis and forecasting, as well as international co-ordination and policy development. She began her career at the Bank of Canada.

Isabelle holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree (Honours Economics) from the University of Windsor and a Master of Arts Degree (Economics) from Queen’s University, specializing in monetary theory and macroeconomics.

Could you tell us a bit about how you found your way into economics?

I knew in high school that I wanted to be an economist. I remember that my high school did not offer economics so I took an introductory economics course by correspondence (no online courses back then)! Economics blended many disciplines that I enjoyed – business, mathematics, psychology, political science, sociology, and computer science. I was the only woman left by the end of my Honours BA program and one of a small handful of women in my Master’s program.

Over the past twenty-five years in government, I have seen the important role that economics play in public policy.

It’s that multi-disciplinary perspective that I was first drawn to that makes economics such a powerful and unparalleled way of understanding how governments, businesses, and people interact and respond to policy in today’s complex world.

How did your career lead you to your current position as Director General of the Analytical Studies Branch at Statistics Canada?

Over the past twenty-five years of my career, I have been so fortunate to have held a number of interesting positions in the public sector focused in areas of economic and fiscal policy analysis from both domestic and international perspectives.

I am currently the Director General of the Analytical Studies Branch at Statistics Canada, where I work with a fantastic team of researchers who undertake policy-relevant research, data development and modelling across economic, social, and health domains. The branch has strong connections with universities through our Canadian Centre for Data Development and Economic Research, and through the many collaborations and partnerships we have with academic researchers across the country.

Previously, I was the Director of the Economic Analysis and Forecasting Division in the Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch of the Department of Finance where I was responsible for coordinating the economic forecast for the Government of Canada as well as analysis on broad macroeconomic and key policy issues. This built on over 10 years of previous experience within the Department of Finance in the areas of provincial and international fiscal policy, US macroeconomic analysis and forecasting, as well as international co-ordination and policy development for the G7, G20 and APEC Finance Ministers’ processes.

I began my career at the Bank of Canada in 1992, working in the Monetary and Financial Analysis Department before moving to the Bank’s International Department.

What is some of the most exciting research you see now in the field?

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google said back in 2010, there were: “five exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that much information is now created every two days, and the pace is increasing”. Without question, with the advent of “Big Data,” as well as new technologies, a lot of exciting things are happening in economics.

We have seen, in a relatively short period of time the development of new tools and methods for large scale data extraction and manipulation, as well as the explosion of new ways to analyze data: Cloud computing, parallel computing, text mining, machine learning tools, etc. Many believe that “Big Data” will transform business, government, and other aspects of the economy. Indeed, large-scale administrative data sets and proprietary private sector data can greatly improve the way we measure, track, and describe economic activity. Big Data can also enable novel research designs that allow researchers to trace the consequences of different events or policies. Big Data predictive modeling tools that have emerged in statistics and computer science may also prove useful in forecasting economic phenomena.

I would also add that the focus on gender-based research across many disciplines is also placing a whole new perspective on economics, influencing how we think about future research but also encouraging us to rethink previous problems and conclusions.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in doing your work?

One of the biggest challenges I have faced in my work has been to find work-life balance. Given these exciting opportunities in economics, it is easy to see how there could be little time left for anything else. It’s really important to carve out time to think strategically, build your human capital and strengthen professional networks. And of course, it’s important to make time for family, friends and yourself.

Have you faced situations as an economist in general and working in your field that seemed to be specific to your gender?

Early in my career, I benefited greatly from several thoughtful and generous mentors – both men and women – who took a specific interest in my professional and personal development. We talk a lot today about the importance of having good mentors throughout one’s career and there are fantastic programs now – both formal and informal – to forge these important relationships. I can say without a doubt that my mentors helped me build my confidence and self-awareness, and guide my career choices. While good mentors can be helpful to everyone, I think it’s important for young career women, especially in fields where they are under-represented, to seek women who have come before them to share their perspectives and lessons learned.

Would you mind sharing any advice you have for women economists in Canada?

Given the importance of economics today, there are so many opportunities for women economists in businesses, governments, NGOs, and academia in Canada and around the globe. Find a niche that excites and motivates you.

Be confident and share what you know and what you think. Remember: Economics is such an important foundation of policy and this means there is tremendous opportunity for women economists to influence the future.

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