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Where have all the women gone ? !


I have been working in ‘male domains’ all of my professional life: first in architecture and town planning (where the look on the faces of the men at community meetings when I got up to give the presentations, rather than serve coffee or take notes, never ceased to amuse me); then doing an MBA at London Busienss School which was proud that 27% of the 180 students were women, and finally starting to work independently, at the boundary of academia and business, in the field of innovation.

One of the exciting aspects of working in the field of innovation in the late 90s early 00s was that, unlike other business conferences, innovation conferences seem to attract a lot of women! It sometimes felt that as much as 50% might be women - not only amongst participants but also amongst speakers.

Today, in 2014 I am sitting at an innovation conference and out of the 28 speakers 2 are women, and out of the 203 participants (on the participants list) only about 1/5 are women.

What has happened?

I believe what has happened is that innovation has become more important in organisations. 10-15 years ago getting involved in innovation was driven by individual curiosity, passion and personal conviction; it was generally not a job people fought over. Involvement in innovation was not a strategic step to move up on the corporate career ladder - rather, it seemed to be associated with a fair degree of personal risk to embrace the unchartered waters innovation was at the time.

This has changed: innovation is much better understood, and involvement in innovation has become important, part of the corporate landscape, a job worth taking if you want to advance your career. Is it the realisation and acknowledgement of the importance of innovation that has made it more attractive to men at the cost of women’s involvement in this domain?

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