Innovation and R&D scene still far from gender equality

20 April 2020 4 min. read
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Despite gender diversity and inclusion consistently being said to be top of the corporate agenda, innovation and research and development remain very male-dominated scenes. Although progress is being made and many are making efforts to encourage more women to join the R&D community, with 20% of UK teams in the field currently made up entirely of men.

Governments around the world have schemes in place to help fund innovative projects or research and development (R&D). These incentives are proven to help stimulate the economy, jobs, and skills creation. The UK is no different with several schemes available to companies engaged in innovative projects in Britain.

Research and development (R&D) refers to innovative activities undertaken by corporations or governments in developing new services or products, or improving existing services or products. Despite its emphasis on new ideas and disrupting the old norms of business, however, R&D teams still reinforce a number of out-dated norms when it comes to their diversity.

What percentage of your innovation/R&D teams is made up of women

According to the in-depth ‘The International Innovation Barometer’ report by consulting firm Ayming, R&D is overwhelmingly male dominated. A massive majority of 83% of respondents told Ayming that there was a minority of women on their innovation team. Meanwhile, a quarter further stated that fewer than one in ten of their R&D employees was female. While the global picture makes for grim reading, in the UK, the situation seems to be worse than average. In Britain, one in five R&D teams in the UK admitted to being entirely comprised of men.

When it comes to improving the situation, respondents set out a number of key tactics they thought would boost the number of women in R&D. Oddly, considering the amount of importance attached to the gender pay gap in other areas, just 28% thought improved remuneration and benefits packages would help attract and retain female talent. Meanwhile, 40% said clearer career progression was needed, and 37% said better training was also important.

Flexibility was also cited as a key element by a number of respondents. As remote working can be difficult in R&D, according to 32% of those polled, a less rigid work schedule would help, as they believe many women are balancing work with childcare.

How could your business better attract female talent into innovation/R&D roles

Mark Smith, a Managing Director at Ayming UK & Ireland, said, “Rightly or wrongly, in most societies, women are still taking on the lion’s share of the childcare. Until that changes, employers need to focus on allowing parents to work as flexibly as possible… Remote working may not always be possible as R&D professionals are expected to travel quite a bit for site visits – often for days or weeks at a time. But there are certainly opportunities yet to be seized to use technology to mitigate some of these challenges.”

A sizeable gender divide also persists in other areas of business innovation, however, suggesting that there may be something ideological, as well as practical, behind the persistent freezing out of women from R&D teams. For example, while the number of UK female-founded start-ups has doubled over the last decade, a colossal funding gap means that male-founded businesses still outnumber them by nearly ten-to-one. According to research from Boston Consulting Group, when female-founded start-ups do receive investment, meanwhile, it is on almost one-third less than the amount received by their male-founded counterparts.

On top of this, earlier in 2020, a damning UN Development Programme (UNDP) report found that almost 90% of people are biased against women. Highlighting a “shocking” extent of the global backlash towards gender equality, the UN’s first gender social norm index analysed data from 75 countries which collectively host more than 80% of the global population. It found that almost half of people feel men are superior political leaders, while over 40% believe men make better business executives – highlighting exactly why multi-year, long-term strategies are needed to address the business world’s gender imbalance.