Why Women Who Innovate?
It is clear that despite the significant progress of women in the workforce during the past few decades, there are still glass ceilings and daunting gaps, especially in numbers of founders, C-Suite leaders, and board members of startups, as well as larger companies. Salary and compensation gaps remain in nearly all industries, and even in nonprofit organizations and trade associations. The situation is even worse for minority women at all corporate levels, a situation that is unacceptable to us.
Since women have had to struggle so much to attain positions and roles of impact on a parallel to men, many are afraid to “rock the boat,” which is what is necessary to become a true innovator. Therefore, we also see innovation gaps between the number of women and men in positions of impact who are willing to innovate, or even more significantly, who are recognized for their innovation contributions or potential. In view of the large-scale problems facing the world, and the workplace, we at Women Who Innovate felt there was an overwhelming need to address this gap and highlight the achievements and roles of women innovators in all fields. We will also highlight the contributions of male colleagues who innovate, and have demonstrated that they support women leaders and innovators.
In a recent blog post by Paul Sloane, entitled “The Innovation Gender Gap,” Sloane mentions several recent sources of possible explanations for the lack of women who found, lead, or serve on boards of technology start-ups:
A report by the Kauffman Foundation found that only 3% of technology start-ups are led by women. There are many theories for this remarkable gender discrepancy. Girls are less likely than boys to study science, technology and computing. Only about 18% of patents are filed in women’s names. It is more difficult for women to get start up funding. But a bigger factor seems to be that men are more likely to be risk takers and women to be risk averse. Whether this difference is due to nature or nurture is open to debate. According to a study by Alison Booth of the Australian national University and Patrick Nolen of the University of Essex teenage girls at girls-only schools were less risk averse than girls at mixed schools. They ascribed this difference to the absence of ‘culturally driven norms and beliefs about modes of female behavior.’ Upbringing and experience seem to encourage girls to play it safe and boys to take risks.
A controversial new book, The Confidence Code, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman argues that men are naturally more self-confident than women. Women outnumber men in higher education and are well represented at middle management ranks but men are promoted faster and earn more. Kay and Shipman say that the main reason for this is women’s lack of self-confidence. They claim that women are more likely to:
- Carry criticism around for too long
- Stay inside their comfort zones
- Fail to voice their opinions
- Fail to take risks because of fear of failure
Furthermore, Shipman says, ‘Testosterone probably gives men more of a natural confidence boost because it increases risk-taking.’ The authors cite various supporting evidence but their views are disputed by those who argue that discrimination is the main culprit.
The four traits listed above all militate against innovation in a corporate or a start-up environment. Innovators are risk-takers who move out of their comfort zones, strongly argue their case and shrug off criticism. So if Kay and Shipman are correct then it looks as if innovation as it is currently set up is a sport designed for men and not women. This might mean that we are excluding a large proportion of the best ideas and best talent from our innovation processes.
In his post, Paul Sloane further mentions how we might address this innovation gender gap, starting from how we educate girls in school STEM or STEAM programs, to how we might make cultural and policy changes in the workplace and society to be more inclusive of women. Most of all, girls and young women need to see more female role models and find supportive mentors to have the self-confidence and inner belief in themselves that they will succeed in reaching their goals, no matter what they are.
It is part of our mission, at Women Who Innovate, to educate and influence organizational leaders and policy-makers regarding the development, selection, recognition, support and advancement of women founders, board officers, organizational leaders, and especially, innovators, so that they achieve equality and have increasing opportunities to make a real impact in all aspects of our lives and work in the world. We also want to help connect women innovators with funding sources and support a context for the development of more women venture capitalists.
We also frequently hear from organizations that claim they can’t find enough “qualified women speakers” for panels at conferences, or to keynote. As this post in rdigitallife, “18 Outstanding Women in Tech” states:
While some technology conferences made news claiming that finding women participants was a struggle, we here at rdigitalLIFE aren’t buying it. Not only is this site lead by a fierce female host, but it features numerous women who are making huge strides in today’s wired world.
At Women Who Innovate, we know many outstanding women in all fields, who would make excellent speakers, panelists and workshop facilitators. Just contact us if you need to find more highly qualified women.
It’s a real challenge to start and scale a company without adequate financial and advisory resources. A lack of women venture capitalists is also a problem, and contributes to the relatively small percentage of women-owned companies that receive venture funding of any kind. Recently, Fast Company ran an article, “Why The Few Women Venture Capitalists Often Give Up,” by Vivian Giang, which states:
It’s no secret that women-owned businesses can’t get funding. The statistics paint a clear and discouraging picture. Between 1997 and 2013, the number of women-owned establishments grew 1.5 times more than the national average (68% versus 47%, respectively) and women-led, venture-backed companies bring in 12% more revenue than male-led companies, according to research from Babson College. Despite this, only 2.7% of all venture-backed companies have a woman CEO. That’s 183 out of 6,517 companies or $1.5 billion out of the $50.8 billion invested between 2011 and 2013.
While it’s true that female entrepreneurs have made considerable progress, they still aren’t able to tap into investment opportunities anywhere near the same level that men can. Many blame the lack of funding opportunities for women on the shrinking number of women decision-makers in venture capital firms, which have declined from 10% in 1999 to 6% today.
A recent Forbes article, “The Real Reason Woman Aren’t Receiving Venture Capital,” by Lisa Nicole Bell, digs deeper into this issue:
While women are making exceptional strides overall, they’re also behind in key areas such as STEM and venture-backed businesses. Until recently, I thought women were simply being shut out of opportunities by the “good ol’ boys club.” Like many people, I thought men were just biased and that their tendency toward pattern recognition created a chicken-and-the-egg problem for women interested in building scalable enterprises. Then I started to study women-owned businesses, and I realized something: mindset is the reason women are not securing venture capital funding.
Are there men who are reluctant to back a woman? Absolutely. But the broader reason for the disparity is not prejudice – it’s a lack of asking.
The lack of encouragement of qualified women to join corporate boards is another major issue. In the recent Fortune article, “Would Your Company Be any Different if it had More Women in the Board?” by Anne Fisher, makes several relevant points about lack of access to “the old boys’ network” and other ways in which women are excluded from board positions, although the article does mention an encouraging sign:
Almost a quarter (24%) of new directors named to S&P 500 boards in the past two years have been women. That’s markedly higher than the 18% total of those companies’ board members who are female, and the trend seems likely to accelerate — especially now that nine huge pension funds (total assets: $1.1 trillion) are calling on the SEC to require more disclosure of diversity in the boardroom.
Clearly, there is still a significant amount of work to be done, with variations among different industries and sectors, to bring inclusiveness of women up to anywhere near 50% in essential startup, executive, corporate board and venture capital roles, especially minority women. We’ll continue to add posts, podcasts (now available at iTunes), video clips and other resources here at this web site that will help serve women innovators, and their male colleagues who support equal inclusion and opportunities.
What We Offer — Our Products and Services:
- Articles, case studies, e-books, podcasts, and videos exploring the discipline of innovation and engaging with women thought leaders and innovators from all industry sectors
- Consulting, training, coaching, and mentoring on innovation, leadership, and culture change
- Creativity and innovation program design and facilitation for teams and organizations
- Referrals and recommendations for qualified, talented women who would be eligible to serve in innovative leadership roles and as speakers
We’ll continue to develop products, services and interactive experiences at Women Who Innovate. We encourage you to read more about Our Story, and to learn more about our founding team — Our Innovators. Stay in touch with us, so that we can keep you up to date as Women Who Innovate continues to grow.
Most of all, we want to hear from you — what products, services, interactive experiences, training, advocacy or support would YOU like to receive from us, or share with us? How would you like to collaborate with us?