Why we need Gender Inclusive Innovation
Wednesday, 28 October 2020
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
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.
For further information contact: email@example.com
or visit: https://www.brookes.ac.uk/women-and-spinouts/