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Feb 21st, 2013

Innovation is vital in any business, but are men more innovative than women? When first confronted with this question, most people ignorantly would say yes, of course they are, however this is not strictly the case. Innovation has several definitions and although generally the word has initial connotations with great ideas, new businesses and entrepreneurial success, there is a lot more to innovation than this. Original thoughts bring to mind many successful men such as Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Bill Gates but they were not the only people who used innovation effectively. What about women such as Margret Thatcher, Sylvia Pankhurst and JK Rowling? These women have also shown streaks of innovation success and there are many, many more.

Why do we assume men are more innovative than women?
It is believed that these assumptions are made due to the fact that the male-dominated industries in business generally require more skills in innovation management. Now-a-days the number of women in business is, in fact, increasing; has this had an effect on the female ability to innovate better than first anticipated? Have they been able to innovate all along? Are they more or less innovative than men?

What are the differences in the ways that men and women innovate?
The London Business School, The Lehman Brothers Centre for Women in Business, presented a study titled ‘Innovative Potential: Men and Women in Teams.’ Their research delved deeper into the hypothesis about innovation amongst the different sexes and found that men and women actually innovate in different ways. This almost makes it harder, in a sense, to define which sex is the most innovative. Listed below are the most apparent differences between the way in which men and women innovate.

  1. Number of hours work a day-
    The study identified that men tend to work more hours a day than most women. A greater percentage of women have domestic duties to attend to which is one explanation for women working shorter hours in the office.
  2. Different Experiences outside of work influence them differently-
    Men and women are interested in different hobbies outside of work, so therefore experience the world in different ways and contribute different perspectives during innovation management consultancy discussions.
  3. Difference in Families and Family sizes-
    It was found that 96% of male team leaders have children whilst out of all the female team leaders questioned; only 48% have children. The children belonging to the males are also more likely to be in pre-school. Perhaps this is because, male leaders feel like they have a secure job in which to support a family, whilst female leaders are establishing their career and children would take up a lot of their attention.
  4. Difference in frame of mind-
    Innovation occurs more freely depending on your mind set as you need the ability to be experimental with risky ideas. The study discussed the ‘Spillover effect’ which occurs when work and personal lives clash. The effect can either be positive; both work and home are positive places, so the boundary between them enables you to feel enriched. But it can also be represented by a negative effect; if work and home are laboured, the boundary between them makes you feel depleted.

    Team members tend to experience the ‘enriching cycle’ more often, whereas team leaders favour their work over their home and find life far more stressful; they tend to edge towards the ‘depleting cycle,’ especially males. The effect of negative Spillovers is felt more powerfully by women than men; however, men are more likely to experience the negative Spillovers. Men work long hours, come home exhausted, then have a challenge looking after the family; this explains why they can empathise with the depleting cycle on a more regular basis. They are not in the right mindset for innovation so can’t always produce the best ideas.

What other indications are there that women are innovative?
It is not necessarily just the workplace where people are innovative. Some great ideas, put forward by David Harkin, suggested that many women express their innovation in other ways. For example, they need to be thrifty and innovative with money in order to make their income stretch far enough to support the family. There are also female professions where innovation is key; for example, the 88% of female primary school teachers and 62% of female secondary school teachers. They have to constantly come up with new interesting ways to engage the pupils in their education.
It is noticeable that men are very much more capable and intrigued by new technologies than women, which is perhaps how they managed to claim the reputation for being the most innovative, as the technology sector produces the most visible representation of innovation management. Also, in a group discussion men have the confidence to put forward loads and loads of ideas; this doesn’t make them the best. Women don’t always demonstrate the same self-confidence in their ideas, and often don’t produce masses of them, but the ones they do produce are far more refined and usable.

At the think team we aim to encourage everyone to innovate in the best way possible, using our fantastic home-grown techniques and methods to enhance the direction and refinement of ideas. It is difficult to define if men are more innovative than women but it has been proven by the London Business School, that a 50:50 mix of male and females in a team environment is the best combination. What are your thoughts from previous experiences?

This is a great blog by David Harkin: http://davidjharkin.com/2013/01/11/are-men-more-innovative-than-women/

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Arthur Fox  (Founder And Chief Innovation Leader  at Innovation Global Network ) on Feb 23rd, 2013

Jennifer, this was a fantastic article.  I am being sincere when I say it never occurred to me that men might be more innovative than women.  I have led and participated in many innovation teams and projects.  They all had both men and women on them.  In fact, as I think back, the teams I led may have had more women than men.   The women  always contributed to team success as much as the men.  Several were probably the most dedicated and passionate members of those teams.  One woman was on one of my  teams for 10 years and told me she was in shock when her boss suggested she leave it to focus in other areas.  Another woman asked if she could stay on a team after her formal responsibilities no longer included the work of that team.  Several of the women I worked with have developed very successful careers in the area of innovation. 

I agree that both men and women are different and have been very much impacted by the traditional roles that have been assigned to them by the cultures they live in.  However, in the right contexts, both will display their innate abilities to innovate.
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