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Whose idea was it anyway?

Anyone old enough to remember the BBC comedy series Harry Enfield and Chums may recall the wonderful public information film pastiche sketches which always ended with the phrase ‘Women, know your limits’.

The premise was that men knew better and women should stick to talking about kittens, whereas the reality was always the other way around. See one here.

That might seem familiar to women trying to get their ideas across the line in businesses up and down the land.

Keeping that in mind, now consider a few names with which you may or may not be familiar – Alicia Asin Perez, Rima Balanaskiene, Clare Bradley, Martine Caroff, Gabriella Colucci, Walburga Fröhlich, Maria-Pau Ginebra, María Luisa Hernández Latorre and Séverine Sigrist.

The big question is what links them? Answer: They are the finalists in the 2018 EU Prize for Women Innovators and their achievements are being celebrated across Europe this summer.

The EU prize is for women entrepreneurs who have developed and brought to market an outstanding innovation and benefited from R&I funding from the public or private sector. Each finalist founded or co-founded a successful company based on their innovative ideas or project. For example:

Gabriella Colucci (Italy) is the founder and CEO of ArterraBioscience, a research-based biotech company which has developed 35 active ingredients for skin care applications, has filed 14 patents and has published 23 papers on peer-reviewed international scientific journals and specialist magazines.

Séverine Sigrist (France) is the founder of Defymed, an SME that develops innovative medical devices, specialising particularly on diabetes, aimed at treating patients physiologically in order to improve the clinical effectiveness of their treatment as well as their comfort.

Clare Bradley (UK) is CEO of HPR Ltd at Royal Holloway, University of London who, with national and international funding from research institutes, charities and industry, designed and developed innovative quality of life and other patient-reported outcome measures.

While a €100,000 first prize is not to be sniffed at, what is surely more important is what lies behind this competition and the world of innovation in general.

The question forming right now on the lips of many people reading this blog is, we suspect, why should there be a prize specifically for women innovators? The supplementary point being that a woman’s innovation should surely be judged equally alongside all innovations and not be categorised because of sex.

The EU itself has the perfect response to this point: ‘Europe urgently needs more innovators to stay competitive in the coming decades and to spur economic growth. Women are underrepresented in terms of creating innovative enterprises.

‘This is an untapped potential for Europe, which needs to optimise all available resources to remain competitive and find solutions to our societal challenges.

‘That is why the European Commission (EC) created a Prize for Women Innovators in 2011 to increase public awareness of this issue and to encourage women innovators to exploit the commercial and business opportunities and become entrepreneurs.’

Indeed, and while the good ship UK may well have left harbour and is navigating a course towards the uncertain waters of Brexit and an unprecedented future at a rate of knots, we can still use currently utilise EU statistical evidence on innovation to back up this view.

The EC has stated that it is committed to promoting gender equality in research and innovation (R&I), working within the EU’s well-established regulatory framework on gender equality, including binding directives which apply widely across the labour market including the research sector.

Indeed, the rather clumsily titled ‘Guidance to facilitate the implementation of targets to promote gender equality in research and innovation’ was published this February as part of the EC’s ‘strategic engagement for gender equality’

Figures show that while some progress has been made, gender inequalities in R&I persist, particularly at higher levels of a scientific career.

The most recent data indicate that women made up 47% of PhD graduates in the EU (the 28 EU countries), but made up only 33% of researchers and 21% of top-level researchers. It is even lower at the level of heads of institutions with a mere 20%. These figures show that only limited progress has been made since 2011.

The EU has three main objectives is this sector: a) gender equality in scientific careers; b) gender balance in decision making and c) integration of the gender dimension into the content of research and innovation.

We are glad to note that although it seems like slow progress there is at least recognition that action is needed. How this policy will be transferred to the UK post-Brexit remains anybody’s guess.

On a related issue, Business Quarter, the organisation that celebrates and inspire entrepreneurship to help businesses succeed and grow through digital services, bespoke printed publications and events has been taking its own look at female innovation.

Several big name organisations were asked what they were doing to support and encourage female innovators

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) reported that just under one-third of the international patent applications filed via the WIPO-administered international patent system included at least one women inventor. It said it was actively working to boost the participation of women in all areas of intellectual property through a general framework for the integration of a gender perspective across the organisation’s policies and programmes.

The London Stock Exchange said diversity was a key driver for development and innovation and was committed to championing female representation and continually trying to engage female founders and chief executives.

The UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) reported a lack of female representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. However, female inventorship had risen by 16% in the 10 years to 2016. It recently launched a ‘Women’s Inclusive Network’ with a goal of encouraging workplaces where everybody was able to achieve their full potential regardless of their gender.

Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) backed the common view that to stay competitive, businesses should continually innovate. Its own research had also shown that women power radical innovation – companies with more women were more likely to introduce new products than those with less diverse teams.

So, how does all the above affect busy SMEs whose preoccupation is most certainly growing the business and increasing profits rather than worrying about EU directives or achieving gender compatibility?

In a nutshell: Women, don’t know your limits.


EU Prize for Women Innovators

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