Innovation and Gender Equity

A girl in STEM builds technology

One of the themes for this year’s International Women’s Day was parity. There’s no doubt that women have made significant gains over the last hundred years since the first National Woman’s Day was celebrated in the US in 1909. Since then, to varying degrees around the world, women have gained better working conditions, voting rights and the right to education. In 2015, many countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 5 is:

  • Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

We know women are underrepresented in STEM occupations. This creates a number of barriers to achieving gender pay parity, particularly given that positions in STEM fields are the most highly paid. The gender pay gap also shows that women who do pursue STEM careers don’t reach senior executive roles at the same rate as men, due to institutional barriers such as unconscious bias, discriminatory recruitment, return to work, career development and promotion practices.

Hephzi Pemberton, CEO of the Equality Group, notes that to close the gender pay gap, there must be more women in senior executive leadership, “That’s where the chasm really occurs.”

Removing the institutional barriers that block women from accessing STEM careers, and supporting them to reach leadership positions is crucial to closing the gender pay gap. But beyond the gender pay gap, the underrepresentation of women in STEM has other costs.

According to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the under-representation of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and design also prevents women from developing and influencing gender-responsive innovations for a more gender equitable world. Innovations such as Mobile Banking, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things require women’s perspectives in the design of future societies.

What is Innovation for Sustainable Development?

From a development perspective, an innovation is a transformative solution that can accelerate social impact. Innovation can:

  • Be fuelled by science and technology

  • Entail improved ways of working with new and diverse partners

  • Involve new social and business models, behavioural insights, or path-breaking improvements in delivering essential services and products

  • Achieve sustained, scalable solutions to the world’s most complex problems

The lack of women in STEM is contributing to a lack of investment in infrastructure that meets the needs of women and girls.

Gender equality and innovation are both critical to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A range of gender-related obstacles, such as:

  • Discriminatory norms

  • Power hierarchies

  • Unconscious biases

  • Other institutional structures and social arrangements may limit the utilisation or scaling of innovations

What is an example of infrastructure that benefits women?

Women and girls are systematically excluded from leadership and decision-making positions in STEM, both in academia and in the private sector. Meanwhile, gender biases in lending and venture capital funding, standard recruiting, promotion, and evaluation processes, and the use of science and digital technologies, make it difficult for women to compete equitably in the information economy.

Gender Equity Inclusivity Mentorship

Innovation Management

Innovation Management is the process of sourcing, funding and evaluating innovations. For example, in the early stages, leaders may focus on equitable participation of women in identifying problems and solutions or as entrepreneurs. At later stages, they may ensure women are part of the executive teams funding innovation or making product-related decisions.

Using a gender lens means building more inclusive innovations. In contrast, a genderblind approach may exacerbate gender inequalities or limit the success or sustainability of an innovation.

Gender and Social Innovation

Last year, the Global Innovation Coalition for Change (GICC) launched global standards called the “Gender Innovation Principles”. The Principles outline a gender-responsive approach to innovation and technology.

A gender-responsive approach to innovation involves integrating women and men’s concerns and experiences equally so that they become fundamental elements in the design of innovative products or policies, and that gender norms, roles and relations are carefully considered.

The Five Principles are:

  1. Make a high-level corporate commitment to adopt a gender responsive approach to innovation

  2. Design innovations that include women as end users

  3. Adopt an adaptive approach to implementation to ensure innovations are gender-responsive and meet the needs of women

  4. Evaluate the gender-responsive impact using a data driven approach

  5. Scale innovations that provide sustainable solutions to meet the needs of women and girls

Gender responsive technology innovations

A number of global innovations have incorporated a gender-responsive approach to address complex problems related to gender inequity:

  1. Innovation Women aims to create gender-balanced panels and equal visibility opportunities for women in conferences across the globe.

  2. UN Women is piloting the Buy from Women (BfW) platform to provide easier access to land, information, markets and finance for women farmers.

  3. WERKIN designs inclusive mentoring and sponsorship programs to create more diverse teams at global organisations. WERKIN uses algorithms to match employees with roles based on interests, experiences and skillset, raising the visibility of underrepresented talent.

The United Nations and the GICC have recognised that technology and innovation is the key driver in achieving gender parity across the world. How can technology and innovation lead to a more gender balanced world? By removing barriers to get more women into STEM occupations; supporting women into senior executive positions to close the gender pay gap; developing gender-responsive innovations that reflect the experiences of women and girls; and involving women in the development of infrastructure to drive social transformation towards a more equitable society. Technology can help build more inclusive mentorship and management practices by reducing unconscious bias, raising the visibility of the experiences, skillsets, and talents of women at large organisations. That’s what WERKIN is all about.