Why we need Gender Inclusive Innovation
Professor Simonetta Manfredi leads a team of researchers looking at the causes of gender imbalances in innovation in the economy.
The Government’s Industrial Strategy sets an ambitious goal for the UK to become the most innovative economy in the world by 2030. Investments and business growth will play a key role in helping the UK economy to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. But the innovation ecosystem is dominated by men, with 83% of UK venture capital deals going to all-male teams. Professor Simonetta Manfredi leads a team of researchers looking at the causes of these gender imbalances.
‘The lack of gender diversity means the actual and potential talent of women researchers in STEM subjects - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - is under-utilised. A historical example shows this: the three-point car seat belt was invented n 1959, but it was designed by, and for, men. It took more than four decades for a female engineer to redesign it to ensure the safety of pregnant women and their unborn children. Failure to invest in women means their perspective is lost.’
Universities make an important contribution to the innovation ecosystem through the commercialisation of research and the creation of ‘spinout’ companies.
But research undertaken by Simonetta and her team found that nationally only 13% of university spinout companies are founded, or co-founded, by women researchers. Interviews with women and men who have successfully founded spinout companies highlighted some of the barriers women face. These include a male dominated investment community; sexism and stereotyping (often around women’s appearance); and racial profiling, which exacerbates difficulties for women from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Even when measures are introduced to try to support women – for instance through mentoring programmes – further problems can arise. For example, although formal mentors often have significant commercial experience, as such, they are likely to be (older) men, sometimes with sexist views.
These relationships could create unequal power dynamics between mentors and mentees. Furthermore, mentees reported feeling a lack of relatable role models. There were also concerns that prioritising commercial interests might damage academic careers. Perhaps more positively, younger women and men who took part in the research were beginning to challenge the established convention that business comes before everything else.
Dr Heather Griffiths, a member of the research team says, ‘We concluded the study with recommendations for Universities, ensuring that entrepreneurship development programmes are gender sensitive and helping women researchers in the process of ‘spinning out’ to network and connect with other women role models both inside, and beyond, academia. Diversity – both in race, age and career paths is important, which means Higher Education Institutions need flexible career pathways.
Women entrepreneurs are an exciting and largely untapped resource – one which Universities, business and society can really benefit from.’
The research team comprised Dr Heather Griffiths, Dr Anne Laure Humbert, Professor Simonetta Manfredi (Project Director), Alexis Still and Dr Charoula Tzanakou with Professor Linda King and in collaboration with Professor Helen Byrne at the University of Oxford.
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