I am interested in women and innovation, particularly the intersection of the two. [I’m interviewing male and female innovators for my book on womennovation]. I’ve been surprised by how little research there has been on the topic-and how most of that has been done outside the US.
Europe in general, Scandanavia in particular, is doing research in that area. Much of the focus relates to design. The best known project was Volvo’s 2004 “Your Concept Car”, a car designed by women for women. It had a lot of unusual features including a capless gas tank, doors that would open automatically if the driver was carrying packages, and electronically assisted parallel parking. Volvo got quite a bit of publicity about the concept car. Sadly, over time, the women on the design team left the company,disappointed that their ideas were not implemented. [Now, in 2012, many of those features now exist; too bad Volvo didn’t act on the recommendations; it could have put them in the lead].
While in Sweden, I met with two men who are involved in projects on this topic. Jan Sandred of VINNOVA and Mads Odgaard of the Danish Technological Institute. Last year, VINNOVA published Innovation & Gender, an ebook that shared results of a joint research done by Innovation Norway, Swedish Agency for Economic & Regional Growth, and VINNOVA. Among other things, it addresses the value of gender diversity in innovation and design.
Mads is starting a project with several Danish companies exploring the benefits of including women in innovation projects in terms of quality of products and appeal to women consumers. [Women make about 75% of household purchases and control about 2/3 of the world’s wealth]. It’s in its startup phase so can’t say much else about it at this time.
Elsewhere in Denmark, Klaus Shroeder has been leading a project at Design People on Female Interaction. Partnering with companies like Bang & Olufsen and GN Netcom, they have been studying what women look for in product design and how those concepts can be realized. One of the things they found was that men usually like modifications in features that responded to women’s needs. Note: producing a product in pink was NOT considered a design change; not sure how men would have felt about that.
Thanks to Martina Schraudner, Professor in Gender and Diversity of Organizations at Die Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Berlin, spending time as a visiting scholar at Stanford’s Clayman Institute, there’s a new project looking at gender and innovation but with a different slant. More on that at a later time.