Women in Innovation…Where are they??

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

On Feb 11, 2016, the world celebrated the first International Women in Science Day.

According to the UN, the probability for female students of graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and Doctor’s degree in science-related field are 18%, 8% and 2% respectively, while the percentages of male students are 37%, 18% and 6%.

Needless to say, these stats are quite worrysome, given that we are all now very much aware of the importance of having women in STEM fields.

However, on a larger scale, where are the women in innovation?

Undoubtedly, innovation is the single biggest stimulus for the global economy. However, where does innovation come from in the first place? And what is innovation anyways?

Innovation is a broad-minded, forward-driven, gender-neutral mindset. It’s a gender-neutral way of thinking. A gender-neutral school of thought.

Bottom line: Innovation is gender-neutral human intellectual capital.

We don’t refer to intellectual capital being “male” or “female” — just “human”.

However, as a society, although we’ve done a good job theoretically preserving this truth, we’ve failed to maintain this in practice. We have instead chosen to differentiate, letting stereotypes set in. The unfortunate case in today’s modern 21st-century civilization is that although we make big claims on gender neutrality, we tend to differentiate the value of human intellectual capital by gender.

This brings us back to the question: where are the women?

Today, according to the US Department of Commerce, although women fill close to half of all jobs in the US economy, they hold less than 25% of STEM jobs. Factors contributing to this gender-based differentiation in human intellectual capital include, but are not limited to: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields.

However, keeping these factors aside, it is even more important to both understand and acknowledge that there is a significant problem in our society that can have dire long-term consequences for the global economy: the gender gap.

The solution? A need to encourage and support women on all fronts — not only in STEM — but most importantly, in innovation.

According to Carleton University’s Center for Women in Politics & Public Leadership (WPPL), the role and contribution of women is missing from the innovation dialogue. Although emphasis has been placed on attracting more women to STEM fields, their contributions to innovation have not been recognized.

As Dr. Clare Beckton, Executive Director of Carleton’s Center for WPPL, states, innovation policy and definitions are only beginning to look beyond the science and technology fields. Women’s leadership roles in innovation affects the innovativeness of not only an institution, but the nation as a whole.

So why is innovation so important? And why is it even more important to include women in the dialogue? Because innovation is vital for any economy to flourish. Whether it’s a product, a policy, or a procedure, anything novel in nature has the potential to transform the way we live, work, and even think.

For example, a new policy that affects the way we do business will affect the nation’s overall GDP. A new product that enhances the way we communicate can boost an industry’s productivity, thereby improving the nation’s economy. A new surgical procedure can save lives, thereby reducing healthcare costs, and improving the quality of life for millions of citizens.

The possibilities that innovation enables are endless.

However, in 2009, Canada received a grade of “D” on its innovation performance. Despite having the resources and human capital, Canada ranked 14th out of the 17 countries evaluated. This signals a systemic problem running much deeper than previously thought. Considering Canada’s robust workforce consisting of many intelligent and highly-educated women, there is not a proportionate amount of discussion going on.

Women are currently underrepresented in STEM fields worldwide, which prompted the UN to declare Feb 11 International Women in Science day.

However, because innovation is usually defined in the context of STEM, this underrepresentation has flowed into innovation as well. Hence, a gender gap in innovation.

The point here is that “innovation” and “STEM”, although related, are two completely separate concepts. Governments around the world have been struggling to design policies to encourage and retain the participation of women in STEM fields. However, most of these attempts have been futile in effectively addressing the gender gaps in both STEM and innovation.

Consequently, the majority of female entrepreneurs today are operating in non-STEM fields.

These facts, once again, point to a major systemic issue, not only in terms of policy, but also in terms of mindsets. Because of this socially-accepted definition of innovation (i.e. innovation = STEM), many have not recognized the existence or significance of innovation in non-STEM fields, and the roles of women in triggering and maintaining innovation in those fields.

The solution to this problem is quite simple: broaden the socially-accepted definition of innovation.

The current definition has not been able to provide much of a solution. Rather, it has made things worse by limiting innovation to a select section of industry — one where women are significantly underrepresented.

Broadening our current definition of what constitutes of innovation will help bridge the gender gap around the world.

As stated earlier, innovation in itself is a mindset, and mindsets are gender-neutral. Therefore, in Dr. Clare Beckton’s words, it is important to develop an innovation policy that fosters the creativity and inclusivity of ALL Canadians, regardless of their occupational sector, field, or position within the organization for which they work for. A broader perspective of innovation would take into account the diversity of knowledge, skills, and talent that women, and all members for Canadian society bring to enrich the innovation culture in Canada, well beyond STEM fields.

So, where are the women in innovation?

…They’re just a mindset away…

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