This week in TBR: The Case for why not to stereotype innovation?

Ms. Farheen in this week's TBR writes about how people have missed gender and feminine lens in innovating stuff.

This week in TBR: The Case for why not to stereotype innovation?

There are almost 3.905 billion females (2021 numbers) in the world. That is just shy of the 50% mark of the population of the world. The economy of the world though is not always looking at making this population a participant in the decision making process. We have through this newsletter looked at the deleterious effect of stereotyping at the micro-level, what happens at the macro-level of stereotyping? Turns out not including half the population in consideration when we design a product, or refuse to let a product scale because of stereotyping is bad for every gender. Let's get into it. The luggage that glides was invented in 1970 by Bernard Sadow, a family man employed in the luggage industry, and patented in 1972. The invention of wheels for bags revolutionised the travel industry!

In the late 19th century, about 5000 years after the invention of the wheel, and barely a year after NASA sent two men to the moon's surface, when mass tourism exploded, Europe's largest railway stations flooded, and porters were in short supply, the modern suitcase was born. Robert Shiller considers it an archetypal example of how innovation is very slow. It took over 15 years for the rolling suitcase to reach the mainstream, even after Sadow had patented it, even though it existed decades before it was "invented" in 1972. Before Sadow, earlier British newspapers began advertising suitcases that used wheel technology in the 1940s when porters were dwindling and passengers increasingly carried their own luggage. This isn't a suitcase on wheels, but a gadget called "the portable porter" - a wheeled device that can be strapped to a bag. But the idea of adding wheels to the suitcase didn't catch on. Why?"Mother of Inventions" author Katrine Marcel points out that the story about the woman gliding her suitcase across the railway platform was actually published in the Coventry Evening Telegraph in a section called ‘Women and the Home’, along with some perfectly English cooking tips. In other words, only women should roll their suitcases, but men could just as well carry them. They were viewed as niche products for women only. Men carrying suitcases on wheels was considered absurd or, worse, ridiculous. Her assumptions are that both men and women were incapable of demonstrating mobility, and that rolling a suitcase was unmanly.Another powerful example of this slow-to-evolve mindset is the electric car, which has remained a niche product for environmentally conscious consumers despite its potential for disrupting the global transportation industry. The electric vehicle experienced the same initial resistance as the wheeled suitcase did in the early days.By the turn of the century, EVs were seen as an inferior solution to fossil fuel-powered vehicles because their range was limited, and their batteries were heavy and bulky. People were also concerned about charging their cars at night, considering them an unreliable source of energy. These limitations eventually spurred the narrative of electric cars as a niche product that was more suitable for women than men. As a result, they failed to gain widespread traction in the market until the recent surge in demand for eco-friendly vehicles. The story of the electric car shows us that the path to mass adoption isn't as simple as finding a technical solution - it also requires us to change the gender perceptions associated with a product in order to drive its demand in the marketplace.

In another example, in the soft material sector(textiles), women have historically been underrepresented as innovators and leaders in the industry. Their contributions have been overlooked and undervalued simply because their products were perceived to be feminine in nature.In 2019, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) conducted a study on what they called the fabric ceiling. As far as entry-level positions are concerned, women make up 73 percent, and 78 percent of students at fashion schools are women. There are only 12.5% of female CEOs among Fortune 1000 companies, and only 4.8 percent of female directors among Fortune 500 companies.A study by Dr. Caren Goldberg reveals that stereotypes of what a prototypical man is are similar to those of a prototypical manager, and that men tend to be more assertive and capable than women. As a result of the stereotype matching, men are more likely to fulfill our notions of what a manager should look like, and fewer people can match it in a female-dominated field.Women are historically excluded across all industries for a variety of reasons, including cultural stereotypes about women and their abilities to do their job well, as well as systemic factors like occupational segregation and gender-based wage discrimination.As today’s economists often explain the reason for male-female salary discrepancies is because of differences in job choice, with men tending to choose professions with higher salaries and lower hours while women choose those that pay less but are more flexible and require less training or experience.However, when we delve deeper into this topic it becomes clear that it is not so simple.Doctors and midwives, who are traditionally seen as male and female roles, differed not only in their gender but also in their skills and qualifications. When heavy rules began to take effect in the 19th and early 20th century, midwifery became confined to nursing skills alone and doctors took over more of the technical work considered 'male'. Katrine believes the midwife's role would have been different if we had looked at gender differently. She asserts she could have performed a C-section and made a much higher salary.Katrine argues that when a field is dominated by one gender there are many unconscious biases and prejudices against those who are not in that group which can discourage women from entering those fields in the first place. The fact that society has long thought of jobs as being predominantly for one or the other has meant that women who feel they can succeed in a field sometimes don’t apply because they believe they are not ‘allowed’ to do so. Those who do manage to get onto a career path are then less likely to progress through to the top because of the unconscious bias towards their sex which pushes them out at a later point in their careers than men in the same positions.Similarly, the construction industry stands out. For centuries, men have been seen as the natural choice for most construction jobs because of their strength and agility. However, increasing automation in the industry has made these stereotypes obsolete - meaning that it's no longer socially acceptable for male workers to be viewed as the sole breadwinners of their families. Unfortunately, this shift in perception has hardly been reflected in the hiring practices of the construction industry - leading many women to leave their professions once they start families.There has never been a greater appreciation for innovation and entrepreneurship in our societies. We have also witnessed the astonishing efficiency with which the financial system has excluded women. In a world where 97 per cent of venture capital goes to men, we need to redefine how we view risk, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

If we're serious about improving access to affordable clean energy, we need to address these limitations head-on - otherwise, we'll miss out on huge opportunities to tackle climate change and other environmental issues. As a result of how we currently describe technology's history, women are not excluded only from the primary sense, but our definition of technology has also shifted over time to exclude what women have done. Stockings were knitted by men as a technically advanced job; needlework was knitted by women.

The churning of butter by women was a simple servant’s job; the churning of butter by men was a technical operation. While women could program computers, it suddenly required a very specific type of nerd brain that could neither show any basic social skills nor shower its associated body. It is now impossible not to recognise the impact of this exclusion on our intellectual history. What we don't know is that the entire history of technology is written with these oversights.In most cases, breakthroughs are about envisioning a world before it even exists, and then building a product to fit that world. This is key to many green innovations. You must first be able to imagine another way of being in order to have an idea for the product that will make that way of being possible, affordable and popular.

Our society's ideas of masculinity are some of the most unyielding ideas we have. There are many in the world who would rather die than let go of certain notions of masculinity. The next technological revolution cannot be based on the same assumptions.