The creation of new products, especially when combined with technology, once had the appearance of being of interest only to men, with the classic stereotypical image of a tech innovator being a spectacle-wearing, sci-fi T-shirt wearing, game-playing computer geek, but oh, how times have changed. The product innovation and design sector is no longer a male-dominated sector. In terms of creating new tech products, men are making way for women.
Why things are changing
At the most basic level, mindsets in the product design sector are changing. Previously, women were encouraged from a young age to do things by the book and not try to be different, basically to be the same as everyone else. Such an attitude inhibits creative thinking, making initiating change difficult. Women now are embracing originality, daring to think outside the box and risk making mistakes. Often, change and innovation come about because something did not turn out quite the way it was expected to, so being prepared to get things wrong can be a terrific aid to creating something new. This difference is ably demonstrated by Kristen Spilman who is the head of brand design at Dropbox, the online file sharing application. At first, she believed that the doodle-style illustrations employed by the brand would not be acceptable to their users, but time has proved her wrong, something that she is quite happy to admit. Another example of how women can change perceptions is provided by Amanda Linden, currently head of product design at Asana, who had to challenge her former bosses’ preconceptions about their logo and convince them a change was necessary by providing an argument that considered both points of view.
The tech sector
This shift in thinking can be seen most clearly in the technology sector. As already mentioned, tech was considered to be a male preserve, an arena that simply held few attractions for women. But as technology becomes more ‘designed’, in that it is being crafted to appeal to certain demographics rather than a generic mass market, the sector has realised that it requires far more creativity than before. Of course, women do not have a monopoly on creativity, but they are often able to offer types of design and innovations that men may not come up with, and which, more importantly, appeal to other women.
For example, Marcia Radosevich is a prominent woman in the health technology sector, acting as an advisor to a radiology software developer and working with a provider of customized medicinal products. Her input into their technology businesses has resulted in innovative developments specifically tailored to the healthcare industry, including the creation of a fully automated platform to streamline pharmacy benefits and administration; clinical information has become more in-depth and personalized due to her technological knowledge and understanding.
Why are more women needed?
The primary reason more women are needed in product innovation and the technology sector is because of the dire skills shortage in this area. With technology shaping the future of almost every industry in the modern marketplace, it is essential that more people are encouraged to be experimental in their thinking and apply their ‘out of the box’ approach to new products. It is estimated that by 2022, the United Kingdom alone will need almost 2 million new professionals in the fields of engineering, science and technology to cater to the demands of the next generation, who will require even more mobile technology, more energy efficient tools and the use and creation of sustainable materials.
Fortunately, several initiatives are already in place to encourage more young women to enter these fields and defy gender stereotypes. There is also a financial benefit for women thinking of becoming innovators, especially in the technological arena, as engineers typically become the third highest earners for their lifetime of any subject studied at university level. For example, even at entry level, it is possible for an engineer or designer to earn between $42,000 and $52,000. But the key here is specialisms. Designers, in particular, who can offer a niche, high-end service will find themselves in demand and easily able to compete and advance in the field.
Although the world of product innovation is already changing, the sector still needs more women to enter the field, to ensure a greater diversity of ideas, alternative perspectives and, not least, to challenge former gender stereotypes that have held sway for far too long.