Can the dismal economic climate of the past few years also be an opportunity? It certainly has made us be more resourceful in order to get by with diminishing resources. This dilemma has pushed innovation to the top of the national discussion. Defining innovation as “great new ideas put into practical use, shared, scaled and sustained” is a deceivingly simple concept. However, sharing and scaling requires collaboration with a wide range of partners — and that is certainly not simple. We would argue that collaboration is the most complex of all hindrances to innovation. In fact, we believe that finding the right partners to collaborate, and the ability to collaborate with them – whether in funding, manufacturing or marketing and sales or other parts of the operation – determines whether your idea will ever become an innovation.
It’s going to take collaboration of both men and women working together to solve the economic challenges we are facing today. Women as innovators stress the values of sustainability, articulate the value of collaboration and community, and often provide high commercial value with their innovations. A 2011 McKinsey study found that companies with at least three women in top positions (executive committee or higher) score more highly than their peers in Organizational Health Index metrics that are linked to well-functioning organizations. Companies that score highly on all organizational health metrics have demonstrated superior financial performance.
Women are often thought of as creative and imaginative but seldom seen as innovators. When asked to name a women innovator, people most often are reminded of Madame Curie, the inventor of the X-ray (died in 1934). It is curious that we struggle to name any modern day female innovators.
When looking at studies, current business reports, and the media discussions, it appeared that approximately 25% of the recognized innovators were women. For example, out of the recent list of MIT’s 35 Innovators Under the Age of 35, only eight were women.
Women are certainly influencing the economy with their purchasing power, and they could be even stronger economy generators by increasing the number of women innovators. The support that is needed to increase the number of women innovators needs to come in a number of ways. First, increase the awareness of the innovative path for young women during the school years so that the innate creativity and personal potential are nourished. The STEM programs are making a difference; we just need more of them. Secondly, adult education, such as Academics for Innovation at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, needs to be much more available on a nationwide basis.
A third key element that supports a women’s innovation path are mentors, the role models of collaboration. Through trusted relationships with those who have already “cracked the nut” like the access to funding and other resources will be more available to more inventors. It is vital that women take part in investing into women’s ventures as angel investors, microloan lenders and Venture Capitalists. Increasing the number of women on the boards of VC’s could improve the funding situation.
There is a fourth key to increasing the number of women innovators and it is more of a behavioral one. While women readily share, it is not enough. Sharing is not yet collaborating; sharing is about nurturing relationships, while collaboration is an effort of co-creation. Collaboration is not just nurturing and giving, it also requires asking for help and ability to receive support. This takes more practice among women who try to do it all on their own.
The winds of change are blowing as women increasingly assume innovative roles in leadership, science and technology, and social change organizations. This national discussion continues during the Women In Innovation Summit 2012 to be held in Seattle on September 22, because the future really does matter.