Why it is important to unleash the potential of women as innovators: International Women’s Day 2023
UNLEASH THE POTENTIAL OF WOMEN AS INNOVATORS: INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2023
By Dr Amira K and Celia L
It will take 286 years to close the global gender gap and repeal discriminatory laws! (UN Women at Davos 2023) Immediate action is needed to achieve global gender equality. , Despite The Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) call for gender equality by 2030 the gender gap is widening rather than narrowing. The 2023 theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. IWD needs to raise awareness about women’s rights, acknowledge the crucial role of women in shaping our world and renew our commitment to create a more equitable and just society for all. IWD serves as an annual reminder of unresolved gender inequalities.
Innovation is needed to solve gender inequality. Innovation acts as a driving force for progress and advancement in society by promoting the development of technologies, products, and services that improve the quality of life, increasing efficiency, and enhancing productivity. Innovation refers to creating new and original ideas, methods, or products that enhance existing solutions or offer new ways to address problems (Stenberg, 2017). The impact of innovation can be profound and far-reaching. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare innovations saved lives, while energy production innovations reduced carbon emissions and contributed to reducing climate change. Innovation has played and will play an important role in achieving the United Nation’s SDGs (UNCTAD, 2017).
Social innovation involves creating and executing fresh ideas that require a conceptual, procedural, product, or organisational change, with the goal of enhancing the well-being of individuals and communities. Social enterprises are a good example of social innovation in action as they reinvest their profits into their social, environmental or other purpose driven mission. Social enterprises are midway between a not-for-profit and a traditional business that focuses on profits. These enterprises are certified by organisations like Social Traders to ensure they “unlock business for good.” The ‘gender gap’ in social entrepreneurship is smaller than in ‘mainstream’ entrepreneurship and social enterprises are more responsive and innovative to social market needs. The British Council claims that social enterprises empower women, making them a great option to enhance women’s entrepreneurship and innovation. More support must be given to social enterprises.
Innovation is key to transitioning to a greener and more sustainable economy which in turn contributes to solving gender inequality. It helps to develop new technologies and processes that reduce carbon emissions, conserve resources, and protect the environment. For instance, renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, and hydropower can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and aid in developing a low-carbon economy. The green transition is about adopting the principles of a circular economy, where the resources used are optimally exploited by clean means and technologies, which also give rise to products and services with sustainable and inclusive consumption. Similarly, innovations in the circular economy can minimise waste and pollution, while agricultural technological innovations can help to address food insecurity and reduce the environmental impact.
Women are at risk of falling further behind because of the significant changes under the twin transitions of the green economy and the digital world that is currently developing. . Digital transformations promise to make many new opportunities accessible to the last-mile consumer by integrating technological tools into the production and consumption processes of products and services in all sectors. This means transforming the consumer’s access, use and work methods via automation and artificial intelligence. However, women are less likely than men to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, which are key drivers of digital transformations. This lack of representation in STEM fields also contributes to the under-representation of women in leadership roles in technology companies and also limits the ability of women to use technology. As we are transforming the way of working by integrating technologies, the existing gender divide may widen.
These profound transformations call for the boosting and cultivation of a culture of inclusive innovation. The lack of diversity in teams which design technology, perpetuates gaps in society because the technology created is based on the experiences, perspectives, and biases of the individuals involved in its development. When the team lacks diversity, their experiences and perspectives may not reflect the needs of a wider range of users. This can lead to a technology that only serves the needs of a limited subset of the population, usually men, while leaving others underserved or even excluded. This is why the push for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workforce and across all sectors is needed.
Access to technology and digital resources is crucial for entrepreneurship, but women face legal and regulatory restrictions, in addition to the social considerations that hold them back. Being an entrepreneur requires a great deal of courage and independence. There is an adverse impact created by the technological divide on women’s entrepreneurship. . This is coupled with the fact that women often face additional barriers when it comes to starting a business or registering for a bank account, especially in certain jurisdictions where the requirements are different for men and women. In addition to legal and regulatory restrictions, social considerations play a significant role in holding women back from pursuing entrepreneurship. These factors may make starting a business more of a potential risk and source of instability, which in turn leads to a significant drop in the number of women who are able to move on from the intention to establish their own business.
How to unleash the potential of women as innovators
Closing the gender gap in innovation and technological advancement requires a concerted effort that must start today. It is important to take a comprehensive approach that includes efforts to increase access to education and training, mentorship and networking opportunities, and supports entrepreneurship and start-up activities. This will require collaboration between industry, university, civil society and policymakers to create an enabling environment.
The following are recommendations to increase the enabling environment for women’s entrepreneurship and innovation:
- Increase women and girls’ access to STEM education.
- Create incentives and policies that support women’s capacity building in STEM.
- Encourage girls to code and practice sciences in schools (club, competitions).
- Support women’s networking through platforms, forums and NGOs that gather national and international talents to work on collaborative projects.
- Mitigate against barriers like mobility and household chores when designing capacity-building programmes, mentorship and networking by organising regional workshops, free access online courses, on-the-job training and the development of courses and support education costs
- Support building inclusive boards in technology companies.
- Support gender finance and impact finance by creating inclusive scoring and credit lines to support women entrepreneurs and founders in the Tech and green sector.
- Provide resources and support to women researchers in universities to identify and develop inventive ideas.
- Encourage universities to have DEI policies and collect sex-disaggregated data that tracks women’s progress in STEM education and technology transfer processes.
- Publish more women’s success stories and promote female role models.
Waiting to close the gender gap will not work because it exponentially increases each year. The time to act was yesterday.
Includovate promotes women’s innovation.
Not only on this International Women’s Day, but on every other day, Includovate supports social innovation toward inclusion. Includovate’s organisational culture encourages women’s innovation by valuing and promoting it in the creation of innovative and inclusive solutions. Such a culture recognises and embraces the unique perspectives and experiences that women bring to the table and actively seeks to incorporate those perspectives into the innovation process.
Includovate was founded by a female entrepreneur with a vision. Includovate’s vision is for inclusive markets, businesses, states, and institutions that provide all people with the power, aspiration, and ability to pioneer their development and advancement. At Includovate, women are given equal opportunities and are advanced by the absence of gender biases or stereotypes. Today 73% of Includovate researchers are women, and 61% are based in sub-Saharan Africa. Includovate supports them by providing capacity-development programmes, mentorship opportunities, and networking events that help women connect with other scientists and thought leaders. Includovate helps to decolonise knowledge by ensuring that a pool of qualified female researchers who understand inclusion and diversity, exist in low-income countries.
On International Women’s Day 2023, Includovate celebrates the contribution of women in innovation and technological advancement worldwide and for their ground-breaking work.
About the Author:
Dr Amira Kaddour (she/her) is an academic and financial inclusion specialist with experience in climate finance, modern finance, FinTech, ESG metrics, green economy, sustainable development, education and the culture of the Green Economy.
Celia Loudia (she/her) is an international development practitioner with an interest in making a positive difference and impact in the lives of others. She is interested in women’s empowerment, financial inclusion, knowledge decolonisation, strategic management, and MSMEs.