The Role of Women in Innovation

Role of Women in InnovationA scroll through my LinkedIn today is pretty powerful. I see numerous organizations profiling and celebrating their “First Female CEO” or “Women in Charge of Blockchain” or “the Female Entrepreneurial Movement.” It’s exciting to see a more balanced future of the workplace and think that pioneering new ideas are already being championed and redeveloped by women. But it has me wondering, what do we know about the role of women in innovation management?

To begin with, we know that diversity (diversity of gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, etc) fuels innovation. In a Harvard Business Review article, it was found that firms with high levels of diversity were 45% more likely to report market growth and 70% more likely to report capture of a new market. Creating space for numerous voices and celebrating those voices (even the ones that disagree with you) will actually help fuel productivity and creative growth, so we should start the discussion there: that there are far more kinds of diversity to consider beyond gender.

But women are coming up and “between 1997 and 2006, businesses fully women-owned, or majority-owned by women, grew at nearly twice the rate of all U.S. firms.” Gender diverse firms are also 15 percent more likely to deliver better financial returns overall. And female entrepreneurship is currently experiencing a surge as more and more women become educated and enter roles traditionally held by men. And a recent finding – one that I find particularly interesting for innovation – female founders are on an upward trend.  It’s an exciting time and I expect that the future of innovation will be shared equally by men and women.

Psychology Today published an interesting finding that people will tolerate failure more easily in a man, because he is perceived to be a risk taker and that women are expected to work to steward new ideas through to completion because they are more adaptive. The article proposes making sure that all innovation teams have an equal gender representation, but I would also argue that we should begin shifting attitudes so that innovation failure and success is equally tolerable across both sexes or the workplace will eventually prove an unsustainable environment for new ideas.

And this brings me to a second thought about gender and innovation. Many people think that as one identity begins to excel, it means that another must decelerate, but in innovation (as I suspect, anywhere else), it is not an either/or but a new opportunity to partner as all groups gain the opportunity to learn new skills and in the end what wins is not an idea’s author, but the idea itself.

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