Improving gender equality in university spinouts

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

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Oxford Brookes’ Professor Simonetta Manfredi has written for Times Higher Education (THE) on the need to tackle the under-representation of women in university spinout companies.

These companies are formed following research or activities conducted at a university and for which the higher education institution retains involvement. Professor Manfredi argues that more needs to be done to help ensure that “academia takes action to harness women’s talent.”

Professor Manfredi is a Professor in Equality and Diversity Management, Associate Dean for Research and Knowledge Exchange in the Oxford Brookes Business School and founder of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice (CDPRP) at the University. She writes: “University spinout companies play a key role in taking innovation into the wider market and contribute to economic growth. However, information about the participation of women scientists and engineers in the development and formation of university spinouts is limited. 

“This was clearly demonstrated in a study by Elsevier last year, on gender in research across 12 countries, including the UK, the United States and within the European Union. It found that although women represent about 40% of researchers in most of these countries, the global share of women inventors among patent applications in 2015 was only 14%. Similarly, the UK Enterprise Research Centre surveyed a sample of 350 spinout companies and found that men represented 91.7% of main founders or co-founders. 

“The work of CDPRP has found that between 2015 and 2016, 131 spinout companies were incorporated in the UK and only 20 women were identified as founders or co-founders. 

The Industrial Strategy has set an ambitious target for the UK to become the most innovative country in the world by 2030. It is therefore, crucial that academia takes action to harness women’s talent.

Professor Simonetta Manfredi, professor of Equality and Diversity Management, Oxford Brookes University

“Men also seem to prevail in the governance of spinout companies.

“This significant under-representation of women both in the founding and governance of spinouts cannot be entirely blamed on the pipeline. Discovery and innovation can emerge at different stages of an academic career and from a range of scientific disciplines, like for example biosciences, where representation of women academics is almost 45%, and chemistry, where it is almost 30%. 

“So the causes of women under-representation in spinouts are likely to be attributed to the usual suspects: gender bias, lack of appropriate support and limited access to the right networks.

“The Industrial Strategy has set an ambitious target for the UK to become the most innovative country in the world by 2030. It is therefore, crucial that academia takes action to harness women’s talent.”

The full article can be read in THE online.

On Wednesday 7 March, to celebrate International Women’s Day, the Oxford Brookes Business School hosted the Athena Swan Open Lecture at Oxford Brookes – Why gender diversity matters in corporate Britain. Simonetta was joined by Tea Colaianni, Non-Executive Director of mothercare, who discussed the most pressing issues facing women in business. 

Athena SWAN is dedicated to the advancement of the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research and Oxford Brookes already holds both an institutional award and an award for its Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment.