‘Technology, Commercialization and Gender: A Global Perspective’ is a new book that has been just released by Springer. The publication is co-edited by Prof. Pooran Wynarczyk, former Founding Director of Small Enterprise Research Unit (SERU) at Newcastle University Business School, UK and Dr. Marina Ranga, who works for the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Seville, Spain. The e-book and the hardcover edition of the book are now available for sale.
In this interview, Dr. Ranga shares insights about her recent publication, which addresses stereotypes and inequalities that prevent participation of women in technological advancement.
Dr. Ranga, please, provide our readers with a short overview of your new publication.
This book brings together a collection of papers by several internationally renowned scholars in the USA, Mexico and Europe, who highlight various contributions of women scientists to technology commercialization, innovation and technological change.
We live in a time of great importance attached to technology advancement and innovation as major drivers of economic growth, social welfare and global competitiveness, and a closer look at some of the key tools and processes that help achieve that (e.g. technology transfer, technology brokerage, patenting, licensing and management of intellectual property rights, spinouts and joint ventures, etc.) through a gender lens is essential to understanding how both men and women contribute to societal progress and well-being.
Most often, the debate on the management and commercialization of technology, high-tech entrepreneurship, innovation and R&D focuses on institutions and institutional processes and cultures, largely ignoring the individual innovator or the gender of the innovator. Much of that behavior comes from an often-made association between technology, innovation, entrepreneurship and masculinity, echoing another frequent association of engineering and physics with masculinity, in contrast with life sciences which have been perceived as more neutral. Research shows that, as fewer women than men participate at the ‘cutting edge’ of science and technology, or hold senior positions in academic departments, they are much less involved in the commercialization of new technology and hence, less likely to be the founders of high-tech and spinout companies.
Moreover, in most countries around the world, the percentage of women obtaining patents is not only less than their male counterparts, but it is also below the percentage of women in any STEM disciplines. It still sounds strong in my ears a question often heard in Silicon Valley, which brings attention to the glaring lack of women in technology and entrepreneurship: “If Steve Jobs had been Stephanie Jobs, would anyone have ever heard of her?”. We wanted to take a closer look at all these intriguing issues in our book.
When did you decide to write this book, and why?
This book is the result of an excellent collaboration with Prof. Pooran Wynarczyk, a leading figure in gender, technology and entrepreneurship studies, whom I met several years ago, during my time at Newcastle University Business School in the UK (2005-2009). We worked together on several academic projects, but most importantly, we designed and taught together a course on “Gender and Entrepreneurship” that was the first of its kind in the university and was very successful among students. In autumn 2009, I left for Stanford, but we met again a few years later, in July 2014, when both of us attended Technical University of Berlin’s 2nd International Gender & STEM Conference, an initiative of the Gender & STEM Network. We co-organised there a symposium on the topic of ‘Exploring the commercialization of innovation and new technology through a gendered lens: Right stuff, wrong sex?’
Our intention for the symposium was to bring together scholars from Europe and the USA to discuss women’s participation in the commercialization of high technology (e.g. patents, licenses, university spin-offs, technology transfer structures) in the public and private sectors under different education systems, cultures, government policies and market conditions. The symposium addressed such questions as how technology commercialization develops as an occupational field, what does a ‘career’ in this area means, and what gender differences does it encompass. We wanted to explore in greater detail what best practices exist in technology commercialization, and how can they be widely disseminated to benefit the workplace and careers of women. We also wanted to look at the gender dimension in the management of technology firms (especially at the mid- to senior management level, which is a critical juncture for women on the technical ladder as the point of convergence of several gender barriers), as well as the integration of female users’ needs into R&D processes and product development. Only few technology companies consider adaptation of their products to female users’ needs and preferences at an early stage of product design.
The symposium was very inspiring, and helped us get a better understanding of the breadth and depth of the topic, which called for a much wider array of opinions and research insights from all over the world. Thus, we decided to dig deeper into the topic and prepare an edited book addressing these issues. A call for papers with a wide international circulation followed shortly after.
The book was born primarily from the desire to recognize the dynamic nature of women’s contribution to technological innovations and inventions, which is still little explored, although rising numbers of women scientists have left academia in recent years to take up careers in high-tech entrepreneurship and management of technology companies. There are many significant and ground-breaking achievements of women in the technology commercialization realm that have little visibility in the literature or in the media, and are often overshadowed by the general presumption that women are segregated into low-skill, low-achievement scientific sub-sectors and, therefore, have little impact and restricted influence on overall innovation capacity and competitiveness. This is problematic in that it assumes a universal perspective upon female subordination, which is clearly inaccurate and simplistic. If successful, women in these fields are neither visible, nor seen to enjoy a rewarding and progressive career and thereby making an important contribution to technological capacity and society. They are thus unlikely to be able to serve the purpose of further recruitment, retention and career progression that are essential to meet the increasing demand for highly-skilled workforce and new emerging industries.
All these issues are rooted in a long record of women’s poorly or unrecognised contributions to science and innovation. For example, a very interesting study (Jaffé, 2003) points out to an entire hidden history of “ingenious women”, going back nearly 600 years and starting with the first English patent granted to a woman in 1637, to over 500 female patent holders in Europe and North America at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Decades later, Dorothy Hodgkin, who developed protein crystallography and established the structures of vitamin B12 and penicillin, and was the only British woman who won a Nobel Prize in science in 1964, was referred to in the Daily Mail of the time as “Oxford housewife wins Nobel”, while the Telegraph wrote: “British woman wins Nobel Prize – £18,750 prize to mother of three.” (The Guardian, 2014). Similarly, the work of the British biophysicist Rosalind Franklin, a pioneering X-ray crystallographer that provided an image of the DNA molecule that was critical to understanding the DNA structure, was given low visibility, but helped James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins receive the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.
Closely related to the lack of recognition is also the construction of gendered identities within predominantly male-dominated work environments, such as technology transfer and commercialization, and the way this process is facilitated by our current education and career development policies. How effective they are in supporting women to realise and bring their ideas and products to fruition? All these are issues that need more attention from the university researchers, from industry, practitioners and policy-makers alike.
What are the key messages in your book?
There are several key messages emerging from our book, but I would like to highlight three of them that I find most relevant. First is the fact that the gender bias and women’s under-representation in technology management and commercialization, innovation and entrepreneurship stem from the gender bias in academic science. Therefore, we are not likely to see significant improvements in the former without significant improvements in the latter. One must acknowledge the gradual, positive changes that have taken place in recent years, but the process is slow and complicated. Women’s minority status in certain scientific fields, under-representation and continuing dropout at every stage of the so-called ‘leaky pipeline’ in STEM, the ‘glass ceiling’, lower salaries and comparatively more difficult access than men to top positions in the scientific labour market, continue to be major features of today’s scientific community.
Furthermore, there are persisting professional, institutional and personal barriers that continue to prevent equality for women in STEM fields, although formal discrimination against women has, at least in theory, been removed through equal opportunities legislations and laws in education and employment. Such barriers include different childhood exposure to STEM, institutional sexism, stereotyping, prevalence of different role models and mentors, societal attitudes, etc.
A second key message is that increasing and properly acknowledging women’s contributions to innovation, technology commercialization and entrepreneurship is not a concern for technology-leader countries only, but also for technology-follower countries that invest in a knowledge-driven development. This is a conclusion that emerges from all the book chapters and from all the national contexts examined therein, from Germany, Sweden and Spain to Mexico and Croatia.
Last, but not least, a third message of our book is that in conjunction with identifying underlying barriers to women’s advancement in science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, it is also important to identify their achievements in these areas and bring them to the fore as role models for the young generations. It is of critical importance to improve the ways we incorporate the gender dimension, in terms of human capital and capacity, into innovation, research and technological advancement, to address stereotypes, inequality and societal challenges, and broaden our current understanding of the dynamics and implications of the phenomenon.
What do you think are the biggest trends and challenges in the area of gender and technology commercialization, innovation and entrepreneurship?
This is a complicated question, as the gender dimension in technology commercialization, innovation and entrepreneurship is a multidisciplinary issue, at the intersection of several theoretical and empirical fields, each with its own dynamics, tensions and trends. Besides, trends can also vary subject to the national or regional level of technology development, regulatory frameworks, financial instruments or associated framework conditions for innovation.
However, there is one issue that I would consider as a common concern to all these different contexts, and that is the fierce international search for talent. This is critical both for developed and developing countries, and is perhaps even more acute in the latter countries, that are often confronted with massive brain drain and emigration, and need to put in place effective attraction and retention policies. Ensuring adequate numbers and professional skills for scientists and researchers, technology industry experts, technology transfer mangers and high-tech entrepreneurs, for reviving declining industrial sectors or creating new ones based on scientific breakthroughs is a major challenge. It is indeed, as the Human Capital Report 2015 acknowledges, “talent, not capital, [that] will be the key factor linking innovation, competitiveness and growth in the 21st century, and we must each understand better the global talent value chain” (World Economic Forum, 2015). With the increasing diversity in the global workforce and the ever growing need for highly specialized workforce, workers, the search for talent is also expanding internationally, and countries and regions can no longer afford not to fully leverage 50% of the available talent on the market. This requires companies and universities to get really serious about creating equal opportunities for women, and policy-makers to revise their policy frameworks for a more inclusive and gender-friendly approach.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
We have been very pleasantly surprised by the great interest and the large number of chapter proposals we received to our call for chapters from all over the world, from Nepal, Nigeria, India and Japan, to Mexico, Germany, Spain and Croatia. The diversity of proposers was also very interesting: from established researchers and internationally renowned leaders in their field, to PhD students who found our book a good opportunity to give international visibility to their research. A couple of technology and innovation consultants also volunteered to help us in the review of the chapter proposals, due to their great interest in the topic. Even though only a fraction of the proposals received made it to the book after the very thorough review and selection that we performed, retaining only those that were most in line with the book theme, most original and relevant in their findings, the great range of proposals received was very important to us. It was a confirmation of the fact that our message touched indeed a sensitive chord for various innovation, research, technology and entrepreneurship stakeholders. It also came to support the point I made earlier, that the gender dimension in technology commercialization, innovation and entrepreneurship is a matter of concern for both developed and developing countries.
Do you have plans to publish another piece in the upcoming future?
Preparing this book was a great and very enriching experience, and it’s always tempting to come up with some new insights into this fascinating topic. There’s a rapid pace at which things change in the international technology arena, and the next great idea can come to our minds any time, so stay tuned.
- Jaffé, D. (2003), Ingenious Women. Sutton: Stroud.
- The Guardian (2014), “Dorothy Hodgkin: The only British woman to win a Nobel science prize gets a doodle”. 12 May 2014.
- World Economic Forum (2015), The Human Capital Report 2015.
About the Authors
Prof. Pooran Wynarczyk is former Founding Director of Small Enterprise Research Unit (SERU), Newcastle University Business School, UK. She holds a PhD in the areas of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and was awarded the ‘Personal Chair (Professorship) of Small Enterprise Research’ at Newcastle University in 2000. She was an elected ‘Fellowship Councillor At Large’ of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (RSA), 2012-2016. She was a shortlisted finalist of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Advisor Awards, 2012 in recognition of the establishment of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) sponsored ‘Role Model Platform for Innovative Women and Young Scientists’ at Newcastle University. She has published widely in the key areas of the SME sector and entrepreneurship, with particular focus on: high technology ventures; enterprise policy; open innovation; science parks; and young people and women in science, innovation, and technology (education, career and policy). Her recent publication on open innovation in SMEs has achieved the Emerald Literati Network Awards of Excellence, a ‘Highly Commended Paper of 2014’. Two of her previously published co-authored books, ‘The Performance of Small Firms’ and ‘Managerial Labour Markets in SMEs’ were reissued in 2016, as part of the ‘Routledge Library Distinguished Editions’. She was the organizer of the 3rd international Gender and STEM Network Conference (2016) at Newcastle University.
Dr. Marina Ranga works with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Seville, Spain. Prior to that, she held academic positions at Stanford University, as Senior Researcher at the H-STAR Institute and Faculty Research Fellow at Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research (2009-2015). Dr. Ranga also held academic positions in Europe, as Visiting Professor at the University of Warsaw and in the UNESCO Inter-university PhD programme “Entrepreneurship and Innovativeness”, and Visiting Fellow at Sussex University, School of Business, Management and Economics (2009-11). She was also Assistant Professor in Innovation Management at Newcastle University Business School and Groningen University (2005-09).
Dr. Ranga holds a PhD and an MSc in Science and Technology Policy from Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) of Sussex University and an MSc in Chemical Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Bucharest. Her main areas of expertise include: Innovation ecosystems; Regional innovation and smart specialization; The Entrepreneurial University, University-Industry cooperation, Technology transfer and research commercialization; Technology-driven innovation in higher education; Gender in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. In these areas, she developed an extensive research portfolio and publication record, including over 60 book chapters, articles in top-tier journals, research and consultancy reports. She guest-edited four journal Special Issues on various innovation and entrepreneurship-related themes, serves in four journal Editorial Boards and is a reviewer for over 20 journals.
Dr. Ranga conducted extensive consultancy and advisory work on innovation and technology policy for the European Commission, UN, national and regional government innovation agencies. She was a member of the UN Commission for Science and Technology’ s Gender Advisory Board since its 1995 inception, and currently is a member of VHTO – the Dutch national expert organization on girls/women and S&T. She chaired the European Commission’s Advisory Group on H2020 “Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation” and is a member of the UN-ECE Team of Experts on innovation and Competitiveness Policy since 2007. She is also a member of the International Advisory Board of the Accreditation Council for Entrepreneurial and Engaged Universities (ACEEU) and serves in the Scientific Board of the University-Industry Innovation Network (UIIN).