Increasing the number of female entrepreneurs and innovators will not alone solve the problem of gender imbalance. It is essential to transform institutions to make them free from all forms of discrimination.
Earlier this week I took part in an online session called Her Ideas, Our Future, which concluded the European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s (EIT) Red Kalyna initiative—an initiative which Emerging Europe proudly supported.
- Ukraine’s entrepreneurial women
- A secure digital world: Protecting CEE’s digital frontiers
- Governments are the catalyst for digitalisation in CEE
As the only male panellist, I talked about the role of men in encouraging female-driven entrepreneurship and innovation.
To involve men in their partners’ or female relatives’ business it is important to invite them to business-related trainings targeting women. This can help them understand what their households can gain.
Gender equality, diversity and gender bias were quickly picked up by other panellists. Magdalena Gryszko-Szanto, innovation officer and gender equality lead at EIT explored the concept of gender-neutral innovation. Alas, when innovation is looked at from a neutrality perspective, it becomes evident that it’s far from neutral.
“The majority of researchers and leaders in research institutions are men. Gender bias embedded into society, creates gender bias in innovations, often leading to errors and issues that disproportionately affect women. Take facial recognition systems as an example. They exhibit significantly higher error rates for women’s faces compared to men’s faces, and the error rates are even more pronounced for women with dark skin,” Gryszko-Szanto said.
“When we mention, for example, researchers, scientists or innovators, the system assumes that we are talking about men and applies male grammar forms, further excluding women’s contributions and perspectives,” she added.
Pharmaceutical products offer another telling example. If female cells are not included in the early phase of drug development, sex-specific differences in efficacy and toxicity will not be detected, and if women are not included in clinical trials, significant side effects for women may only be found when the product reaches the market.
“This all points to the fact that innovation is not gender-neutral; it carries inherent biases. To change this, we must address it at multiple levels: We must fix the numbers; fix the institutions; and fix the knowledge. First, we need more women in research and innovation to diversify the workforce. Multiply research shows the correlation between the gender diversity of a team, and the team’s ability to innovate,” Gryszko-Szanto said.
The need for solutions
Increasing the number of female entrepreneurs and innovators will not alone solve the problem. It is essential to transform institutions to make them free from discrimination and gender-based violence, introduce quality gender bias and gender mainstreaming training, and programmes for women leaders and women returning from maternity leave.
Additionally, all structural barriers, “glass walls”, and “maternity walls” that hinder women’s careers and institutions’ ability to innovate, need to be dismantled.
“Education is the cornerstone of any successful entrepreneurial journey. We must start with a strong educational foundation and continuously nurture critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. Our holistic curriculum, which includes real-world examples and interdisciplinary education, equips the younger generation with the tools they need to drive progress and innovation in Ukraine and beyond,” said Dr Anna Serdinova, a lecturer assistant at the Department of Economics and International Economic Relations at Dnipro University of Technology.
“Women in entrepreneurship should view themselves as equal partners, fostering self-confidence, being assertive when necessary, and investing in personal development. The foundation for any successful venture starts with building the ‘Start-up of You’,” said Anna Gandrabura, an educator and the founder of English for IT.
“Where will [all] this lead us? To transformative, disruptive innovations that can address the pressing challenges of our times,” Gryszko-Szanto concluded.
And our times are defined by disruption that comes in various shapes and forms. Disruption changes people’s and organisations’ plans or interrupts events or processes. However, disruption is not only a challenge but also an opportunity and a driving factor.
“While the ongoing full-scale war against Ukraine, launched by Russia, has undoubtedly placed a substantial burden on Ukraine’s economy and innovation ecosystem, it has also fuelled a growing motivation among Ukrainian women to excel in business, fostering increased competition and fundraising efforts. Notably, women founded 34 per cent of the new tech companies and 51 per cent of all new businesses launched in Ukraine in 2022,” said Olga Fedorenko, head of projects and programmes at the Ukrainian Start-up Fund.
This means that last year nearly every other small business in Ukraine was set up by women. Moreover, almost 10,700 women entrepreneurs started their own business in the IT sector, marking the second-highest category in terms of new registrations. However, it’s worth highlighting that this achievement accounts for only 34 per cent of the overall sole proprietorships in this domain.
“These figures serve as a reminder of the continued work required to bolster the role of women in shaping our future economy, especially in the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine,” Fedorenko added.
And to create a better future globally.
“Women exhibit a distinct form of leadership, characterised by its caring and supportive nature,” said Dr Olga Trofymova, CMC Manager Ukraine at EIT Manufacturing; co-founder and head of Internationalisation of Ukrainian Cluster Alliance and the president of All-Ukrainian Association of Management Consultants CMC-Ukraine.
“This unique approach extends beyond personal responsibilities to encompass a deep concern for the future, reflecting a remarkable level of foresight. It resonates perfectly with the Principles of Commissioning for Wellbeing, proving that a women-led organisation adopts a central approach, demonstrating resilience and inspiring individuals for sustainability, and the development of the future.”
Dr Tetiana Antofiichuk, Assistant Professor at the Department of Internal Medicine, Clinical Pharmacology and Occupational Diseases, a member of the Grant Policy Department at Bukovinian State Medical University and COO of BURNEASE, added that women’s entrepreneurship is increasingly recognised as a pivotal force in the 21st century, particularly in developing nations. Its economic and social impact has spurred research into the motivating factors that drive women to become entrepreneurs.
“This entrepreneurial spirit is also a wellspring of innovation, with women entrepreneurs making significant contributions to this dynamic landscape. Women’s entrepreneurship represents a formative force that is reshaping the business landscape and society at large. Its significance extends towards a broader agenda, encompassing economic empowerment and enhanced diversity.”
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