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Is there a gender gap in innovation?

Today is the UN’s “International Day of Women and Girls in Science”. As a business, GovGrant is at the heart of the innovation ecosystem it’s dispiriting to think that the UK could be missing out on the skills and expertise of a significant chunk of the population. Do we still need a day to promote STEM subjects for girls? Surely there is ample opportunity and the UK is ahead of this curve?

But looking at the most recent IPO and WIPO data, it appears not.
Source: IPO Gender profiles in worldwide patenting 2019.

What does patent data tell us about gender split in inventors?

If we look at patent registration as a proxy for invention, then worldwide the proportion of female inventors nearly doubled between 1998 and 2017 from 6.8% to 12.7%. Despite this, more than two-thirds of all patents come from all-male teams or individual male inventors.

Where UK is the country of residence the picture is even worse. For patent applications between 1998 and 2017, where the gender could be attributed (91% of the total) the gender split was as follows.

Comparing the UK to other nations we fall considerably behind France and China. The UK fared better than Germany, Japan, and USA. But it’s not like any nation is doing spectacularly well.

The report showed that female representation within teams of inventors and fields of discipline favoured biotech, pharma and chemistry, and academia. But were least represented in mechanical engineering and in the private sector.

What is our experience of a gender gap?

Our recent Innovation Nation survey collected the views of over 500 SME decision-makers across seven different industry sectors. We found that approximately 25% of respondents were female vs 75% male. In all of our questions, e.g. the barriers, the incentives, the rewards, and the value of innovation, there was no significant difference in responses between males and females.

So despite an underrepresentation of women, the views, attitudes, and approach seem to be the same.

And in our own team?

When I look at my own organisation I am fiercely proud of our people – they are the single biggest asset of our business and the thing that makes us special for our customers, partners and stakeholders. We have a rich blend of diversity in every form, from people just embarking on their career to the highly experienced, from formidable academic achievers to those with a lifetime of hands on experience, from data technologist to chemical engineers.

But it is true to say that our Technical Specialist tend to be male and our Accounting Specialist tend to be female. We recruit the best candidates in every instance but the gender split reflects the candidates that come forward for those roles.

Could we be doing more?

It feels like the work needs to be done early – in schools, universities, and in early careers. As a fierce advocate and supporter of innovation, it feels like this is an area we could look at. Is it mentorship, work experience for students, are we doing enough to support internal promotion? All things I’d like to look at before next year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

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