Improving Access for Women in Business and Innovation

Improving Access for Women in Business and Innovation

By Jessica Milli, Ph.D.

Previous IWPR research has indicated that fewer than 20 percent of all U.S. patents have at least one woman listed as an inventor. In July, IWPR released two new reports which built on this earlier work, examining the gap in innovative activities more broadly among businesses owned by women and men and the implications for business outcomes, and profiling programs aimed at promoting women’s greater participation in patenting and entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship has become increasingly common among women. The number of businesses owned by women grew at nearly four times the rate of men between 1997 and 2015, and this growth was driven almost entirely by women of color. Yet despite these gains, women-owned businesses still lag behind men. Previous research has shown that intellectual property rights are associated with greater success in raising start-up capital as well as increased market value, yet women-owned businesses are less likely to hold intellectual property and engage in research and development activities. Women owned businesses, for example, are only half as likely to hold a patent as men.

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Recognizing the gender gap in innovation and its economic and social consequences, a number of programs across the country have been developed to address women’s underrepresentation. Among them, IWPR identified Improving Access for Women in Business and Innovation seven promising programs and conducted in-depth interviews with program leaders and participants to learn more about how they operated in different settings, served different audiences, and tackled the barriers women face from a variety of angles. The interviews highlighted the importance of education about patenting and commercialization, network building and mentorship, and working with stakeholders in local communities.

Both reports highlight the importance of promoting greater diversity in the innovative ecosystem. Diverse groups of people experience the world differently and encounter different challenges, and when those groups don’t have a seat at the table, problems can easily be overlooked, and the solutions developed may not work for everyone.