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Angela Baker headshot

How Companies Can Close the Gender Gap in Innovation

By Angela Baker
gender gap

March marks an important month for women across the world. International Women’s Day and Women’s History month spearhead the celebration of all the women’s rights achievements. “An equal world is an enabled world” appears boldly as the title of this year’s International Women’s Day website, reminding us that despite the advancements, inequality is still a reality that undermines the true potential of our society. From an innovation perspective, as the world works to leverage technology to create a future where people, communities, and our planet thrive, gender equality and representation is crucial in driving our world’s innovation capacity. But here’s the reality: there’s a gender gap in innovation.

Technology plays a fundamental role in solving our world’s most pressing challenges. It has the power to address global issues, accelerate the economy and drive social development. Unlocking the true potential of technology requires diverse and inclusive innovation. Yet, currently, there is a significant gender gap when it comes to invention and innovation, which acts as an important barrier in unleashing the full power of technology.  According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, only 12 percent of patent inventors in 2016 were women. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research highlights that women are currently half of the overall workforce, but they make up just 29 percent of the STEM workforce. Diverse perspectives among inventors are critical to addressing our world’s most pressing issues. Yet women remain significantly underrepresented.

Diversity among inventors and entrepreneurs doesn’t just accelerate progress in addressing global issues. It also fuels the economy and drives business growth. The lack of female representation within the invention and innovation space is a lost opportunity. Failing to address inequality in innovation can lead to severe losses for the economy, business, and society. According to Lisa Cook and Yanyan Yang’s research reported by the Washington Center for Equitable growth, the gender and racial gap in the US innovation process could increase U.S. GDP per capita by as much as 4.4 percent. Similarly, a Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19 percent higher revenue due to innovation. This same study, done in collaboration with the Technical University of Munich, found that companies with greater diversity are more innovative.

Diversity in innovation is possible, but it requires the industry working together to create and promote inclusivity, connect underserved regions, create a thriving workforce, and bring diverse stakeholders to the table.  Together, we can create pathways for underrepresented groups, like women, to develop inventions that change the world.  These solutions include working towards expanding connectivity to ensure everyone has access, inspiring and educating the next generation of inventors, leveraging private-public partnerships or creating more inclusive work environments that enable underrepresented groups in this space, like women, to invent life-changing solutions.

Ensuring widespread access is a key element to reducing gaps in innovation and invention. There are many efforts being made to ensure connectivity is far reaching. As part of this year’s Women’s History Month, for example, the USPTO has officially launched the Expanding Innovation Hub, an online platform that provides resources for inventors and looks to encourage greater participation in the patent system. Through “the Hub,” inventors will have a central location to find information about all of the USPTO’s programs and resources. This new platform is yet another example of how key actors are working to broaden the innovation ecosphere, inspire inventions and accelerate growth and competitiveness.

Fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce accelerates innovation, which can strengthen a company’s position in their industry. Qualcomm’s Senior Vice President of Engineering, Susie Armstrong, explains the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, “We’re a company founded on and driven by invention, but the potential for invention and innovation is greatly limited without STEM education, diversity, and the guarantee that anyone with a bright idea has the fair chance to bring it to life.” At Qualcomm, we celebrate diversity among our workforce and recognize our varied backgrounds, experiences, and ideas are critical to innovation.  We foster inclusive practices in all areas of operation around the world to ensure that we remain a company that reflects the communities in which we do business.

Educating and inspiring the next generation of inventors helps us build a thriving and diverse workforce. According to a study by Harvard University’s Alex Bell et al, exposure to innovation may be a powerful tool to increase the number of inventors in America, particularly among women, minorities and children from low-income families. The same study found that children who are exposed to innovation in their youth are more likely to become inventors in adulthood.  Educating and inspiring the next generation of inventors, is not only critical for the innovation capacity of our world at large, but also aids in building a thriving and diverse workforce.

At Qualcomm, we recognize that a diverse pipeline enables us to continue inventing on breakthrough platforms like 5G and Internet of Things (IoT). Our STEM education initiatives are designed to promote and improve STEM education at all levels and to expand upon opportunities for underrepresented students. As a company of engineers and computer scientists, we know that in order to continue to innovate, we need to ensure that students from all backgrounds are well prepared for tomorrow’s workforce. This means being able to make quality STEM Education programs accessible to all students so that they gain the skills necessary to compete in a global economy and respond to the societal problems of tomorrow.

“An equal world is an enabled world.” The title of the 2020 International Women’s Day campaign highlights the importance of gender equality and underpins the fact challenges remains. In the innovation space, this challenge still rings especially true. Diversity and inclusion in invention is possible but greater efforts must be made across different industries and diverse actors. Educating and inspiring new generations regardless of gender, geographical, educational, socioeconomic or cultural barriers are critical in facilitating a sustainable talent pipeline to respond to the challenges of tomorrow. Ensuring that workplaces are inclusive environments that respect, recognize, include all types of individuals can also help tap into the full breath of human resources. When we are all committed to cultivating innovation through diversity and inclusion and implementing solutions to tackle the challenge of inequality, only then will we start to see the full true potential that it can bring to our capacity to invent for a better world.

Image credit: Unsplash

Angela Baker headshot

Angela Baker is Senior Director, Corporate Responsibility at Qualcomm.

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