A perspective from the Innovation Ecosystem
Looking at innovation through the lens of gender...
This is not a mainstream debate as women empowerment or that of gender and education but something to be thought of. Something relatable but inarticulate.
A journey in the innovation space for a girl is not easy or difficult but, complex to understand.
A male dominant free space where people talk about doing new things, taking initiatives, leading the change and becoming changemakers offers the freedom to navigate for a lady. In my experience, nobody bothered about the gender and I never had any friction because of being vocal about my ideas. There aren’t any lady like ideas or assumptions about approaches to problem-solving.
I was always on the ‘other side’ of things. Not sure if that made a difference or what but Maker’s culture doesn’t see a lot of women Makers or innovators. Technology space, mentoring space, workshops definitely see a dearth of gender equality but the great thing is nobody questions a woman maker. Rather she receives support in this rare community. But what she receives in the outside world as a woman maker or any woman working in this space, matters! How does one looks at the only woman working in a free and open culture with a number of male colleagues are the real issue to be addressed.
For me, neither my job was understood by people nor I tried to explain. I was comfortable in my own world. But yes, people hardly believe that a woman can have good networking skills or a woman having a great community behind her. My interaction with the outside world and my work-world is completely different and you can understand the reason behind it. A traditional patriarchal society with people around her talking about earning a lot of money in a job or great family life or the status associated with being a married woman is difficult to understand for a woman in a free culture community, discussing world-changing ideas, working in an interdisciplinary field, on intersections of traditional and progressive philosophies and on the blend of innovation and education is not easy. I prefer to be a misfit for the outside world is perfectly placed in my work-world. It’s nothing but psychologically soothing. My people, my community is my strength.
Looking at gendering innovations, we all know what it is. By innovation, I don’t necessarily mean entrepreneurship as innovations may lead to that but not vice versa. Why don’t we have more women innovators? Is innovation only for STEM disciplines? What is the status of gender in STEM education and STEM professions? These are the questions one should ask. But questions which matter most are: ‘Who is creating the innovation policy? Who are the people behind innovation programs? How is innovation placed in education policy? What is the status of gender in education? And what are the interventions happening at the implementation level?’. These questions may lead to a certain understanding of the status of innovation while looking through the lens of gender.
Innovation is certainly not just about STEM disciplines; predominantly technology as viewed by many. STEM is a big part of it but it is unfair to relate innovation to STEM. Representation of women in STEM is still a matter of question but maybe that’s the reason why people are unable to look at women innovators. When it comes to education, there are a number of great women who are responsible to change the face of it. I have been lucky enough to be a student of a few of them and have been professionally connected to some of them. Detaching STEM and product innovations and entrepreneurship from innovation may help to view the status of gender more clearly. If we talk about innovation through community action, we can see a woman playing a role there. The M19 collective of Maker’s Asylum of making 1million face shields had a woman face too which is a classic example of a woman being on the forefront of technology, maker’s community and its blend with a community initiative.
Talking about innovation programs, we have always seen male-dominant participation but there are a few good examples of women coming up with great ideas or building great solutions. Important to note is that the programs which witness equal woman participation are thought as extraordinary. This is nothing but the reflection of our society where men are considered to be more innovative, thoughtful, doers or problem solvers. Women, on the other hand, are treated as managers of day to day tasks. Here comes the link between gender and education to innovation. What you saw, reaps.
Innovation wasn’t placed in education policy till now but with the new education policy, there is a slight possibility of innovation coming in the mainstream debate of education. But if policy decisions are made in gender insensitive zone or the implementation is done by people who are not sensitized, gender debate will again suffer. Rather, it will not become a debate at all.
To change the face of established discourse, first of all, one needs to understand that the change-maker is coming from the same ecosystem and the society as everyone else. Hence, she herself needs to fight with the same age-old issues related to being a woman and break her own mental barriers. In this journey, she requires great support from the community around her and till the time community is non-judgemental, nothing shall happen. The women innovator debate will not even become a debate as long as there are underlying assumptions in the society about women’s ability to innovate.
Ultimately, it boils down to education. How does education treats innovation? How is gender looked at in education? Is innovation disengaged from STEM and how is women representation is viewed at in male dominant industry by the world around her.
Education is important. It is the problem and the solution to all our problems.