My wife often complains that her hairdryer was designed by a bunch of bold males. True, it produces a stream of hot air. But the control buttons on the handle are arranged in such a way that the device is impossible to operate with one hand (with the other holding a brush).
Given a chance, will my wife buy a hairdryer designed by a team that includes female inventors? Absolutely.
She isn’t alone. A 2019 study by Einio et al. finds that consumer products that have a higher share of female inventors are disproportionately purchased by female households.
Einio et al. used a Nielsen database that tracks purchases of packaged consumer goods identified by bar code. For each consumer household, Nielsen records race, income, education, and family structure. They identify the manufacturers associated with each bar code and match them to patent data on the inventor of the product (or to information on venture-backed startups in Crunchbase).
The authors find that:
- Female inventors are more likely than male inventors to work in industries catering to women.
- Female inventors are more likely to develop new products and technologies that appeal to women, as compared to male inventors.
- Female-founded startups have a higher female market share relative to their male counterparts and more often sell to female-led households.
- Startups funded by female VCs are more likely to have a large population of female users.
(I also found it interesting that female inventors are more likely than male inventors to produce “green” patents, i.e., patents with a positive environmental impact.)
Consumer goods are not the only example of this trend. Koning et al. studied the gender composition of research teams working in the biomedical field. They show that research teams including women are 19% more likely to produce patents that focus on women. This effect was even stronger, 26%, when female researchers lead their teams.
In other words, more women inventors and entrepreneurs mean more value.
Representing about 51% of the U.S. population, women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing. And yet, according to Einio et al., only 12% of patent inventors are women, and only 24% of startups in the consumer-packaged goods industry have at least one female founder. (The rate of female VC partner involvement is even lower, around 5%.)
As a result, innovation teams composed of bold men keep churning out monster hairdryers that their main consumers, women, hate.
So, when we argue that women should be better represented on corporate innovation teams, it’s not an attempt at social engineering or affirmative action in disguise. It’s a sensible innovation strategy.
p.s. The title of this post was inspired by Eminem’s performance at the Super Bowl 2022 halftime show.
Image credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash