Women’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation

I’m just back from an event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, where the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held a series of meetings focused on innovation policy. One item on the agenda was a discussion of women’s entrepreneurship and innovation – more specifically the sharing of the results of a two-year effort studying how women and men business owners view and implement innovation in their enterprises.

The analysis is based on a 6-country survey of women and men business owners (in Brazil, Jordan, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda and the United States), all of who own established firms with employees and with between $10,000 and $10 million USD in sales. Womenable helped to design the survey, conducted the comparative analysis, and authored the report for UNCTAD. That report has not yet been published (this meeting produced a draft report that is now out for comment among UNCTAD stakeholders – we’ll let you know when it’s publicly available), but here are some of the most intriguing findings:

  • Personal motivation is a key driver for innovative behavior within both women-owned and men-owned firms, but women are found to be much more likely than men to innovate in order to address a social need they see in their communities or in the marketplace;
  • There are more similarities than differences between women and men business owners in the operationalization of innovation within their firms, including trademarking, intellectual property protection, and investment in research and development, and in the orientation toward risk;
  • Differences in risk tolerance are much more likely to be seen by development context than gender, with owners in the developing economies studied being much more cautious about risk;
  • Access to finance is the most important barrier to innovation in all countries and among both women and men, but cultural constraints are an additional constraint – not only to innovation but to business growth in general – for women in Jordan and Uganda.

When it’s published, you’ll see that the report contains an extensive series of recommendations for policy and programmatic action, including:

  • consideration of innovation-focused business exchange programs (regional, national or international) – as well as greater gender diversity in the composition of trade fairs and trade missions;
  • establishment of targeted training and technical assistance to encourage innovation in social enterprises; and
  • the creation of mentoring and role model efforts aimed at increasing innovation among women business owners.

The report also contains an extensive bibliography of related research and links to organizations and web sites related to women’s entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as summaries of each of the six country-specific reports.

To download and review the PowerPoint presentation I gave at the UNCTAD meeting, CLICK HERE. For more information about the full event agenda, CLICK HERE. And here’s a link to another interesting UNCTAD report, Applying a Gender Lens to Science, Technology and Innovation.