March 11, 2021, by Ingenuity Lab

Diversity in Innovation – Dr Lorna Treanor

The Haydn Green Institute’s Dr Lorna Treanor’s work with the Women’s Enterprise Policy Group has previously highlighted the impact of Government policy upon women entrepreneurs, and her new State of the Art Review focuses on Diversity in Innovation, as she writes below.

International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate women’s achievements and to highlight the progress yet to be made in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion. At the Haydn Green Institute, our research considers these issues in relation to both entrepreneurship and innovation. I have been supporting and/or researching women entrepreneurs for twenty years either as an economic development/management consultant or as an academic.

I was recently commissioned by the Enterprise Research Centre to undertake a review of the research evidence in relation to Diversity in R&D and Innovation. This report highlights the strong business case for inclusion in terms of financial benefits and enhanced rates of productivity and innovation from diverse boards and research teams.

More compelling is what happens when women are not included in research teams or as decision-makers or potential end-users. For example, the fact that women have different heart attack symptoms than men is only a relatively recent medical discovery, and use of only male dummies in car safety tests up until 2012 reportedly led to women having a 47% likelihood of greater injury in collisions (Perez, 2020).

In the private sector, 83% of innovation teams are majority male, as 46% of business leaders consider diversity to be ‘unimportant’ this statistic may take some time to improve (International Innovation Barometer, 2020). In the UK, one in five R&D teams are all-male (Ayming, 2020). Within universities, women continue to be under-represented within the professoriate who are more likely to commercialise their research – only 13% of UK spin-outs are currently led by women (Griffiths et al., 2020).

Women also face challenges accessing finance for innovative research from both venture capitalists and research councils. However, their likelihood of success will also be influenced by their ethnicity. Asian academics outperform Black academics in relation to grant capture and Black women entrepreneurs have the lowest returns and greatest difficulty accessing finance.

In the report, I argue that diversity in innovation is often used as a shorthand reference for women in innovation. However, it is important to incorporate other under-represented groups, such as individuals from different ethnic backgrounds and those experiencing a disability.

I have called for further intersectional research and detailed data collection by employers. This would enable organisations to identify the influence of different and multiple categories of social belonging on individual employees’ career experiences and outcomes, in order to be able to address relevant structural barriers to progression.

Considering the barriers and challenges that women encounter, heightens your appreciation of the tremendous achievements that some women have made.

Read Lorna’s report here.

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