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Women’s innovative strengths for Development


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  • 1. Women’s ThinkingIn globally competitive markets, creating eco-nomic value requires that companies – largeand small, new and established – continuallygenerate innovative ideas, quickly commercial-ize them and readjust them as market condi-tions change. The ability to generate new ideasis the product of imagination, a result of wom-en’s mental flexibility: the capacity to reachinto the depths of one’s stored knowledge,assemble chunks of data in new manners, ex-amine different combinations, and “play” withvarious arrangements. Women’s web thinkingintegrates more details faster and arrangesthese data into more complex patterns.Chunking is an intellectual capacity thathas been explained by psychologist HerbertSimon (1974) as people learn how to analyzethe stock market, run a business, or follow aWomen’s Innovative Strengthsfor DevelopmentLuisa Nenci. Consultant expert in economic issues, ItalyAccording to Helen Fisher (2005), a biological anthropologist at Rutger’s University, women’sthinking is different from men’s. She refers to the interrelated way women think as “web thin-king”. Women think contextually and holistically and display more mental flexibility. Theytake in more data and synthesize them expertly, connecting the details faster, using imaginativejudgment. The characteristics of web thinking are essential to innovation. Since women do itnaturally, their role in teams and in organizations is becoming more important. Women canbecome instrumental for innovation to produce change in a world where sustainable develop-ment requires profound transformation in thinking, in economic and social structures and inconsumption and production patterns.political issue. People begin to recognize thepatterns involved and mentally organize thesedata into blocks of knowledge. With time,more and more related patterns are chunked,and clusters of knowledge are stored in long-term memory. Then the ability to use thosechunks, assessing multiple, complex scenariosand plotting a long-term course is relatedto “web thinking” as long-term planning.Women may have evolved the propensity tothink long term to plan for their children’sdistant future.Along with these capabilities there are alsowomen’s social skills and their remarkable fa-cilities for networking, collaboration, empathy,inclusion, and sharing power. These femininedispositions to work in egalitarian teams or net-works, and to support others were undeniablyvital to ancestral women who needed to supportone another and their children. This is evident
  • 2. 78 Women’s innovative strengths for development Luisa Nenciin the Sandpit1and Ideas Labs, too. When thereare women in the group, the dynamics are dif-ferent: there is more apparent collaboration anda gentler, collective creative process.These talents are not exclusive to women, ofcourse, yet women display them more regularlythan men. As women make decisions, they tendto weigh more variables, consider more options,and see a wider range of possible solutions toa problem. Women tend to generalize, to takea broader, more holistic, more contextual per-spective of any issue. The feminine way ofreasoning is to think in webs of factors, notstraight lines, as described by Ms Fisher’s “webthinking”. Men are more likely to focus theirattention on one thing at a time. They tend toclassify pertinent material, discard what theyregard as irrelevant data, and analyze informa-tion in a more linear, causal path. Ms Fishercalls this male pattern of cogitation “stepthinking”.Personalities for Innovation.Innovative PotentialThe entrepreneur is presented in Schumpet-er’s early writings as the personification ofinnovation, while in his later work the processof innovating becomes a constant innovationhappening within companies as they seek tosolidify their competitive position. Although1. The Sandpit was conceived by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in 2003 with thegoal of inspiring more innovative and multi-disciplinary research proposals.
  • 3. Quaderns de la Mediterrània 18-19, 2013:77-85 79Schumpeter describes this process as the bu-reaucratization of innovation, nevertheless heassumes that it must still be driven by enterpris-ing personalities.Ipsos Observer (Forbes Insights, 2011) sur-veyed 1,245 European executives to identify theactual enterprising personalities for innovation,and responses were grouped into five clusterswith different personality dimensions, moti-vations and behaviors. Some are more entre-preneurial, others more process-oriented. Thefive personality types recognized (described inFigure 1) exist in every organization withoutranking one better than the others. All of thembring different kinds of value to organizations.Leaders need followers. Doers need thinkers.Visionaries may be poor at execution. Never-theless, among innovative and entrepreneurialcompanies, certain personality types are moreprominent.Even though there is not a group whichcorresponds perfectly to the profile of thesuccessful entrepreneur, Movers & Shakersand Experimenters come very close. Youngand innovative firms generally need Movers &Shakers at the helm, promoting the vision thatdirects the energies of Experimenters. Moreestablished organizations tend to nurture StarPupils to become Movers & Shakers. Innova-tive firms generally try to avoid Controllersand Hangers-On, although bureaucracy re-quirements for innovation implementationwill inevitably raise the need of them. In fact,when firms shift from high growth to a moremature stage, the requirement of strength-ening processes with control and risk-takingmoderation grows.The main conclusion of this survey is thatindividuals with a unique set of personalitytraits are required to boost innovative firms.Further analysis reveals that among theseentrepreneurs there is no great differencebetween genders and that their success occursin environments that recognize and supporttheir mission.The research paper on innovative potentialrun by the LSE-Lehman Brothers Centre forWomen in Business (2007) based on a surveysent to 100 teams, shows that the optimal per-centage for the gender balance of men andwomen on teams is 50:50. The critical innova-tion factors that are influenced by the 50:50 op-timal proportion of men and women in a teamare the psychological safety of team membersand the whole team, the extent to which theyare prepared to take risks and experiment, andthe general efficiency of the team.However, while gender diversity is essentialfor optimizing the teams’ innovative potential,research results highlight the significance ofwomen’s contribution: having a slight majorityof women (about 60%) improves the team’sself-confidence. Even when in a minority,women tend to network outside the team,bringing the positive outcome of spanningits boundaries leading to knowledge transfer,whereas men, while in a minority, tend to be-come less motivated.
  • 4. 80 Women’s innovative strengths for development Luisa NenciHousework duties and family burdens ofteam leaders were also surveyed valuing di-versity among team leaders. Males were morelikely to work “significantly” longer hours thantheir female counterparts, with the result thatmale team leaders may suffer from exhaustion,whereas women team leaders were six timesmore likely to perform the domestic labor du-ties at home than men. Whilst 96% of the maleteamleaderswhorespondedhadchildren(more
  • 5. Quaderns de la Mediterrània 18-19, 2013:77-85 81likely young children), only 48% of the femaleteam leaders had. Those results led to the firstreport recommendation that companies shouldoffer and reinforce “family-friendly” policiesand practices encouraging shared domestic la-bor and work flexibility. This is to encourageboth the optimal teams’ gender diversity to beimplemented and the negative spillover fromeither home or work eliminated.Companies should offer and reinforce“family-friendly” policies and practicesencouraging shared domestic labor andwork flexibilityThe research run in Spain by the Univer-sity of Alcala (Martí et al. 2011) shows thatgender-related differences can be the vehicleto introduce innovative aspects, particularly inthose fields where business output is related tothe quality of life. Results indicate the coexist-ence of two different types of entrepreneurialwomen with different profiles and results. Thefirst one mainly consisted of women from en-trepreneurial families, and develops basicallyin the same sectors as the economic averagewith just a slightly larger presence in serviceactivities; the second one mainly operates inthose sectors traditionally considered as female.Entrepreneurs in this case frequently have fam-ily burdens and are low qualified, working inservices, particularly personal services andretail trade. Technological and managerialcharacteristics of companies managed by thefemale entrepreneurs belonging to this groupdiffer substantially from the average, havinga much more traditional and less innovativeprofile.The important conclusion of this researchis that, despite the fact that male and femalepersonal features and motivations are different,the reasons for success and survival of theirenterprises are substantially the same. Themost significant differences are: the greateramount of time devoted by female entrepre-neurs to household chores and (the two mostimportant ones not referred to in the literature)thatwomenenterprisesaremoreofteninvolvedin product and services innovation, and thatwomen have a significantly higher participa-tion in their staff.The Mediterranean EnvironmentThe Gallup Survey (2010) on the Mediterra-nean areas showed up that entrepreneurshipis now becoming increasingly attractive in theMENA area with 62% of young Mediterra-nean people willing to become entrepreneurscompared to just 45% in Europe, thus creatinga very strong potential for the establishmentof innovative business. Furthermore, morekey findings of surveying the Arab younggeneration are that empowering young girlsand women and battling gender stereotypesare identified as key components to addressgender discrimination and to foster sustainabledevelopment of the society as a whole (Kouriand Shehata, 2011). Gender equality allows forhappier, healthier and more educated youth todevelop and become productive citizens.Nevertheless, one in three young males be-lieves that educating boys is more importantthan educating girls, and the majority of boysand girls do not believe that boys should do asmuch domestic work as girls (Population Coun-cil, 2010). And so, despite increasing represen-tation in the education system, young womenstill face limited decision-making power andare generally underrepresented in the publicand economic spheres. Within MENA, genderrolesarejustifiedlargelybyargumentsbasedonbiological determinism, culture and religion,as popular definitions of masculinity valuesuch traits as aggressiveness, competitiveness,dominance, strength, courage and control.Marginalizing women, both through acts of
  • 6. 82 Women’s innovative strengths for development Luisa Nencisex-selective violence and domination in thesocial sphere, can become a matter of affirmingone’s masculinity. As a result, phenomena suchas domestic violence, female genital mutilationand honor killings become socially acceptablein some societies (Kouri and Shehata, 2011).Other cultural barriers to innovation inthe MEDA area are identified by the ANIMAresearch study (2012) in the willingness ofsharing information about innovation projectsor offers and requests of partnership, and thetrust in collaboration between research andindustry. Moreover, companies are wary ofintermediaries whose task is supposedly topromote innovation whilst administrations haspoor innovation culture, with the difficulty tohandle the non-tangible aspects of innovativeprojects, and therefore, to realize the entirenature and importance of innovation. Fur-thermore, the same business sector finds thatthe management of research projects is oftentoo complex and risky. All of this is leading toimporting the expertise when needed insteadof using local sources of innovation.Capitalizing on Innovation forEmpowermentInnovation through new ideas, products andpractices is increasingly seen as a force for socialchange. Also, gender mainstreaming and theempowerment of women have often been seen,particularlyinaidanddevelopmentagencies,asone of the most effective ways of introducingchange (Bureau of European Policy Advisers,2011). Innovation and women’s empowermentare not often paired but certainly both have es-sential value for human progress. Innovation aswell as women’s empowerment require think-ing “out of the box”, acting beyond existingpredefined parameters and traditional inter-ventions (Malhotra et al., 2009). Recent devel-opments in innovation thinking increasinglyemphasize the opportunities that innovationscan bring about to address development issuesand stimulate wider social change.The new definition of innovation alignslargely with the emerging concept of“social innovation,” emphasizing not onlyprogress and social change, but also socialjustice as an important elementA new nature of innovation is emerging.Innovation is no longer mainly about scienceand technology. Firms can innovate in otherways, through co-creation and stakeholders’involvement, thus environmental and societalchallenges increasingly drive innovation today.Collaborative, global networking and new pub-lic-private partnerships are becoming crucialelements in companies’ innovation processes.Companies constantly search for new businessopportunities and social and environmentalchallenges – such as climate change, the sup-ply of clean air and water, and so on – that con-stitute a huge new market barely explored. Inthe report The New Nature of Innovation, theauthors state that “by creating new and moreresponsible and sustainable solutions, compa-nies can cultivate new business opportunities”(FORA, 2009:11).The new definition of innovation alignslargely with the emerging concept of “socialinnovation,” emphasizing not only progressand social change, but also social justice asan important element. Phills, Deiglmeierand Miller (2008:36) define social innovationas “a novel solution to a social problem thatis more effective, efficient and sustainable, orjust than existing solutions and for which thevalue accrues primarily to society as a wholerather than private individuals.” The emerg-ing field of social innovation is broad andvaried – from new models of learning to newways to reduce waste, empower communitiesand transition to a low carbon economy – and
  • 7. Quaderns de la Mediterrània 18-19, 2013:77-85 83there are many organizations and individualsengaged in the development and use of socialinnovationacrossEurope(theSocialInnovationeXchange (SIX) and the Young Foundation forthe Bureau of European Policy Advisors, 2010).Social innovations are an essential componentof the EU’s change drivers for “effectively ad-dressing poverty, generating sustainable wealthand well-being and promoting a learning andparticipative society” (BEPA, 2011:119).There is a substantial overlap betweeninnovation and improvement, changeand creativityAs with innovation in technology or busi-ness, social innovation is distinct from “im-provement” or “change” and from “creativ-ity” and “invention” (BEPA, 2011). These lasttwo are both crucial to innovation but overlookthe important stages of implementation anddiffusion which make new ideas useful. Nev-ertheless, there is a substantial overlap betweeninnovation and improvement, change and crea-tivity. Some social innovations are incremental(they build on what went before) and othersare radical (they provide entirely new modelsfor thinking and doing). Innovations can bedisruptive and generative – that is, they candisrupt patterns of production, consumptionand distribution and generate further ideasand innovations (like the move to a low car-bon economy or the creation of a preventativesystem of criminal justice).Equally, the public sector is facing newchallenges – increasing demands from citi-zens for higher quality and more personalizedpublic services, together with greater budget-ary constraints – and in order to formulateappropriate innovation policies encompassingthe new nature of innovation, it is importantto understand how the nature of innovation ischanging. “A successful innovation policy is onethat involves all actors in society; innovation issomething you do with people, not to them.”2If the ultimate objective is to introduce sustain-able change, then the main variable is people’sempowerment.By looking at empowerment and develop-ment together, attention is focused on issuesthat matter most in the lives of families andtheir communities – opportunities for decentwork, the chance to enjoy basic services andparticipate fully in the political life of theircountries.3The Sustainable Development Strat-egy for an Enlarged EU (General Secretariatof the Council Of The European Union, 2006)stresses that sustainable development requiresprofound changes in thinking, in economicand social structures and in consumption andproduction patterns which must be taken upby society at large as a principle guiding themany choices each citizen makes every day, aswell as the big political and economic decisions.And social innovation is a core element in thestrategy.Women as Proactive Agentsfor Social InnovationAs a new frontier of empowerment, social in-novation balances the value directly attained bywomen (Malhotra, 2009) with an understand-ing that investments in women as develop-ment actors can support the flow of benefitsto households, communities and wider develop-mentprocesses. Womencanbeinstrumentalfor2. This idea was expressed by President Barroso in a recent Speech on 13 October 2010.3. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message to the International Conference on “People’s Empowerment andDevelopment”, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 5 August.
  • 8. 84 Women’s innovative strengths for development Luisa Nencithat are valuable in the conception of ideasand its implementation to benefit society withtheir diverse contribution.ReferencesANIMA, Promoting innovation in the MediterraneanInvestment Network, Study n.63, 2012.BUREAU OF EUROPEAN POLICY ADVISERS (BEPA), Eu-ropean Commission, Empowering people, drivingchange: Social innovation in the European Union,European Communities, 2011.CABRERA, D.; COLOSI, L., LOBDELL, C., Systems thin-kingEvaluationandProgramPlanning31299-310,2008.FISHER, H., The Natural Leadership Talents of Wo-men. Enlightened Power: How Women Are Trans-forming the Practice of Leadership. L Coughlin,E Wingard and K Hollihan (Eds). San Francisco,CA: Jossey Bass, 2005.FORA, together with the Ministry of Economic andBusiness Affairs in Denmark and the Ministry ofEconomic Affairs in Finland. The New Nature ofInnovation, OECD Committee for Industry, Inno-vation, and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), 2009.GENERAL SECRETARIAT OF THE COUNCIL OF THE EU-ROPEAN UNION, Renewed EU Sustainable Develo-pment Strategy n.10917/06, 2006.KHOURI R. G., SHEHATA D. with the contribution ofIBRAHIM, B.; Gause G. and Christine ASAA, A gene-ration on the move: Insights into the conditions,aspirations and activism of Arab youth chapter fiveYoungWomenAndGirls:Thegenderedexperienceof growing up a young Arab Woman. Publishedby Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy & Inter-national Affairs American University of Beirut,Lebanon with the support of of the IFI-AUB andthe United Nations Children’s Fund, 2011.JACKSON M.C., Systems Thinking: Creative Holismfor Managers. John Wiley & Sons: Chichester,UK, 2003.IPSOS OBSERVER, ACCA, “Nurturing Europe’s spirit ofenterprise:howentrepreneurialexecutivesmobilizeorganizations to innovate’ Forbes Insight, 2011.MALHOTRA, A.; SCHULTE, J.; PATEL, P.; PETESCH, P., In-novation for women’s empowerment and genderinnovation to produce a change in a world thatis experiencing technological and social changeas well as economic at a pace never experiencedbefore in human history.The development of social innovation ideasinto the actual implementation of innovativeprocesses to address social challenges is notlinear and requires different types of supportalong the way. Policy makers, managers andentrepreneurs today are expected to cope withincreasing complexity, change and diversity(Jackson, 2003). Complex environmental andsustainability problems tend to transcend thejurisdictions and capacities of any single organ-ization or profession to manage (Nguyen, 2011).It is crucial for managers and entrepreneurs tobe equipped with a holistic understanding ofthe systems that they have responsibility for:a different way of thinking (Cabrera, 2008)which offers a holistic way of appreciating alldimensions of a complex problem and enablesthe formation of effective and long-term man-agement strategies.Women can be instrumental forinnovation to produce a change in a worldthat is experiencing technological andsocial change as well as economic at a pacenever experienced before in human historyThe natural talents of women (Fisher,2005), their way of thinking and the pre-disposition to examine complex social, envi-ronmental, and political issues with a broad,contextual, long-term view will benefit alllevels of society in today’s flat world, wherea high rate of innovation is one of the fewways to sustain competitive advantage. Thesupport of innovation, which is crucial, is notabout creating entrepreneurs but nurturingand encouraging those who put forward in-novations wherever they may be. Not just onetype of person corresponds to the notion of theentrepreneur but different personality traits
  • 9. Quaderns de la Mediterrània 18-19, 2013:77-85 85equality The International Center for Research onWomen (ICRW), 2009.MARTÍ F. P., GARCÍA-TABUENCA, A., CRESPO-ESPERT J.L.,Do gender-related differences exist in Spanish en-trepreneurial activity? Institute of Economic andSocial Analysis, University of Alcala (Madrid,Spain)”Entrepreneurial Women, Differential Be-haviours And Business Innovation,” ERSA con-ference papers ersa11p1130, European RegionalScience Association, 2011.NGUYEN, N.C,GRAHAM, D., ROSS, H., MAANI, K. andBOSCH, O., Educating Systems Thinking for Sus-tainability: Experience with a Developing Coun-try Systems Research and Behavioral Science Syst.Res. Published online in Wiley Online Library( DOI: 10.1002/sres.1097,2011.POPULATION COUNCIL, Survey Of Young People InEgypt Young People’s Attitudes Toward GenderRoles, 2010.PHILLS, J. A. J., DEIGLMEIER, K. and MILLER, D.T., Re-discovering Social Innovation. Social InnovationReview. Stanford Graduate School of Business.SIMON, H. A. (1974). How big is a chunk? Science,183, 2008, 482-488.THE GALLUP ORGANIZATION EUROPE, First Euro-Me-diterranean Survey on Intercultural Trends. AnnaLindh Foundation, 2010.THE LEHMAN BROTHERS CENTRE FOR WOMEN IN BU-SINESS, Innovative Potential: Men and Women inTeams, 2007THE SOCIAL INNOVATION EXCHANGE (SIX) and theYoung Foundation for the Bureau of EuropeanPolicy Advisors. Study on Social Innovation Euro-pean Union/The Young Foundation, 2010.