Before we complain about the sexism of advertisers, we have to take the issue on its merits. When we think of technological innovation, we think of men. Is it because it's always been men due to a legacy culture or are men actually more innovative? Fashion designers don't advertise here because science is not their audience and technology companies don't advertise here because women are not their audience, yet we know women adopt technology.
Before getting into knee-jerk claims about gender stereotypes, the first thing that has to be done is to take the issue on its merits. It's impossible to fathom that a $500 billion industry is undercutting its own profits by intentionally ignoring women yet academics love to insist that we need new organizations and different entrepreneurs and the magic of capitalism will just happen if more women are mandated, but we know that is not how innovation happens.
Are new ideas primarily shaped within male dominated industries? If innovation is defined as something related to engineers and leadership, then we look only at engineers and leaders. And among them there is a majority of men. But that may be a problem with understanding innovation, one that won't be solved by firing men and replacing them with women.
“Innovation is a major political issue which receives wide support in society today. But this support is much more advantageous for male dominated businesses – both in terms of financial support and research. The technological industry especially is regarded as being innovative whereas businesses within the service industry, for example, are ignored,” says Gry Agnete Alsos at the University of Nordland, author of a recent paper on the topic.
Sweden is often touted for achieving parity in genders when it comes to STEM education at young ages, but what gets left out is that it has been accomplished by bringing boys down rather than girls up; Swedish boys are farther behind in reading than most other highly developed nations, which shows the problem of turning one knob in culture and then ignoring its other impacts. In the US, under No Child Left Behind, girls and boys achieved parity in math without bringing anyone down.
Instead, according to Alsos and colleagues, the definition of innovation itself is wrong; it is skewed toward primarily male dominated industries such as technology, IT and engineering. These receive financial support from institutions such as Innovation Norway, The SkatteFUNN R&D tax incentive scheme and the Norwegian Research Council.
Well, game companies are the most successful thing happening in Sweden. Everyone takes credit for that; the people who subsidized home computers say they did it, others say it is long, cold winters, others say that Swedes are a consensus-driven people by culture and that did it. No one says Minecraft or Candy Crush were successful because Sweden mandates that 50 percent of companies have to have female CEOS - because companies could just be replacing suspect quality males with suspect quality females to fill a quota and that isn't boosting innovation at all.
The country with the highest number of female chief executives is the US where there are no quotas but where women are in charge of 20 of the S&P 500 leading companies.
If tourism and service industries are included as innovation, the gender picture changes. There may be something to it. Tourism in Sweden is a tough sell. An example is the entrepreneur Inger Ellen Nikolaisen and the largest Nordic hair dressing company Nikita. This is a type of innovation which is not taken into account in the surveys.
By hammering on the representation in technology companies, it is wasting time solving a problem which perhaps can't be solved while undermining the ways in which women are innovative and getting no credit. That creates stereotype threat for women innovators.
“A lot has happened here," Alsos says. "One example is the extreme sport industry which constantly develops new types of product packages with various adventure holidays. In general, the adventure businesses experience pressure and demand for new offers. Thus the industry is in constant need for changes and development, but not necessarily major developments such as new, ground-breaking technology.”
By focusing on only one kind of innovation and industry, and complaining about it constantly, it changes the perception of innovation itself. "This affects political attention, how young people regard the various sectors as an attractive future work place and the framework conditions in the various industries,” says Alsos.
PhD students at the Norwegian research school in innovation (PIMS) said recently that the term innovation needs to be 'demystified'. In order to examine more closely the amount of research which exists in the field, the researchers made searches in international databases.
Among more than 100,000 articles, only approximately 2.5 percent, 2445 in total, contained the word “gender”. 4037 articles contained the word “women”.
“We found gender and women mentioned particularly in journals on nursing. Within this field they are more concerned with gender in regard to innovation than they are in other health related journals.”
Many of the articles only mention the terms, but they don’t focus on the particular subject. Only 615 articles contained both “innovation” and “gender”, whereas 1306 articles contained the words “innovation” and “women”. The majority of these articles are within medicine, nursing or psychology.
“We also found few articles on gender and innovation in journals on entrepreneurship which is a field in which there already exists a lot of research with gender perspectives.”
Gender is mostly used in research on innovation when there’s a focus on differences between women and men. This is often quantitative research which compares and contrasts how women and men contribute to innovation in the various industries.
“For instance, studies have shown that male researchers contribute more than female researchers when it comes to cooperation within the business sector,” says Alsos. “This type of empirical research is still important, since there is so little research on innovation which has a gender perspective. But it is also important to take a step forward and try to understand how gender may affect various processes.”
The Norwegian researchers Lene Foss, Kristin Woll and Mikko Moilanen claimed in 2013 that women have as many ideas to new solutions and products as men, but women are not heard as often as men and that women receive less support from their colleagues when it comes to bringing the ideas to fruition. But fuzzy sociology is not helping anything.
“One thing is to take notice of the individuals, but it's equally important to uncover the power structures behind them,” says Alsos.
The Nordic countries claim to be more concerned with gender, even though the US leads in corporate leadership for women. This is one of those odd statistics that makes no sense. 'Concern' simply means they talk about it a lot, but the US actually does more while not talking about it or making quotas into law. Yet Nordic countries are regarded as being more concerned about gender even though they do less.
“Gender stereotypes telling us that men are more innovative and active contribute to making some businesses more valuable than others. We need to keep these types of mechanisms in mind,” Alsos says.
Customers and venture capitalists don't care about gender but academics are obsessed with it. Do you know if the CEO of Mojang is a woman? Do you care? If you do, you are already undermining the perception of women in business.
Citation: Gry Agnete Alsos, Elisabet Ljunggren, Ulla Hytti, (2013) "Gender and innovation: state of the art and a research agenda", International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, Vol. 5 Iss: 3, pp.236 - 256