The SVForum Tech Women‘s Special Interest Group (SIG) presented the Women and Innovation event on July 26 at PARC in Palo Alto, CA. Innovation is considered a key driver of economic growth and many companies and individuals are making efforts to incubate teams and foster a creative culture in their organizations or startups. While innovation (and invention) is not gender-based, reports of the most innovative companies, countries, and individuals name mostly male-leaders and executives.
In a panel discussion the Tech Women group looked at women innovators and their experiences. Speakers were Corie Cobb from PARC, Rahima Mohammed from Intel, Janice Nickel from Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, and Candice Brown Elliott, an internationally recognized leader and inventor. Moderator was Francine Gordon from the F Gordon Group and Tech Women’s Chair. These experts shared the challenges and opportunities women encounter as innovators. All the panelists hold patents, published several papers about their work, and are all recognized leaders in their prospective industries. They talked about their roles in innovation teams, the strategies they’ve used to succeed, and lessons learned. For more information about each of the speakers, please see below.
The discussion started with a clarification of the difference between innovation and invention. Invention was simply defined as the first time a product or business is introduced. Innovation is more broad; it is something we actually create, that has customers, has an economic value, and is a novelty. For the most part, innovation creates more than a financial value – it can introduce a paradigm shift, may bring an improvement in quality of life or can change behavior. For example, a significant improvement in healthcare and quality of life for patients can be achieved with a new programmable drug delivery device, developed through a small and convenient contraption that delivers a pre-set dosage of medications.
Often, innovation presents opportunities to not only learn about existing experiences or reiterate what we already know – but also to come up with new ideas, new products or models. For example, in combining passion for art along with math and engineering, a person can embark on a career-track of product design, where a professional can draw and design products that will be used by other people.
Being innovators brings a lot of gratification. The presenters said that getting to that point of identifying the real problem, recognizing all its layers, focusing, and coming up with possible solutions are the most exciting part. Education, formal and self, can lead potential innovators to the cutting edge.
The panelists shared personal stories on how their initial ideas were not understood or even brushed off initially. An invention may be an increamental improvement of something already in existence. Innovators typically need to educate everyone about their idea, how it solves problems, what differentiates it from other technologists, etc. There is no escape from the hard work of convincing others, including management and potential funders, of your initiatives and their possible value. Knowing your invention and your conviction are key. Once you have the backing, the challenge of execution is next.
The speakers encouraged any innovator, woman or man, to follow through with ideas they strongly believe in. The future of the U.S. economy lies in our ability to innovate and develop intellectual property (IP). Having a patent doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an innovation, in particular if the patent is not used or cannot be commercialized. In the later case, the patent is an invention that no one uses. However, protecting one’s IP is important and patents may find use later and re-applied. Sometimes, a different inventor can use your patent to build upon and come up with a different evolving patent. The panel agreed that patents not only help build the ‘portfolio’ of individual originators, but also are good for companies. The Trade Commission protects patent holders. The Commission can block copiers from entering the largest economies, such as North America and Europe. Some of the panelists noted that, in California, an employee has a right to file an ‘individual patent’, as long as the idea is not related directly to their job description and if they were not assigned by the employer to do the work that yielded the patent.
Filing patents is a long process and it is crucial to be as broad as possible in the initial filing claim, where the patent can be implemented in various ways, even in areas you don’t know-of at the time of filing. The panel advised also to pay careful attention to outlining the patent’s specifications in order to block others from using your invention for a set number of years.
Is it harder for women to push their innovations in a male-dominant work environment?
The women on the panel shared such push-back experiences. They advised other women to be persistent and document every step in their creative process. Some of the struggles included validation of their originality and even silence (and ignorance) at promising ideas. By being persistent, using their skills and following through – these remarable women were able to figure problems out and come up with innovative solutions.
Research shows that being always in task-oriented activities defeats the ability to be as creative we can possibly be. The speakers advice: Don’t burn out yourself in doing too much or engage in an endless list of tasks. After all, we are all humans and work-life balance is important. Think smart and also take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Or, have a close friend who is a doctor….
1. Background information about the speakers can be found here: http://www.svforum.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Calendar.eventDetail&eventId…
Moderator: Francine Gordon, F Gordon Group – Francine Gordon, Ph.D. works with global companies addressing innovation, teamwork, leadership, and the advancement of women.
Corie Cobb, PARC – Corie Cobb is a contributor to PARC’s Cleantech Innovation Program where she is working on novel printing and extrusion technologies. She holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley, an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering and B.S. in Product Design from Stanford University.
Rahima Mohammed, Intel – Rahima Mohammed is a principal engineer at Intel, a platform thermal architect and pathfinding czar for strategic emerging technologies in Platforms Validation Engineering team.
Janice Nickel, Hewlett-Packard Laboratories – Dr. Janice Nickel is a Research Manager in the Cognitive Systems Laboratory at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories. She obtained her BA in Physics, and PhD in Materials Science and Engineering, from the University of California at Berkeley, and has nearly 20 years industrial experience inventing, developing and transferring innovative products for a DOW 30 company.
Candice Brown Elliott – Candice Brown Elliott is an internationally recognized leader, entrepreneur, manager, and technologist/inventor in the flat panel display and microelectronic industries. She has held positions in nearly every capacity from Clerk/Secretary up to CEO / Chairman of the Board, founder and leader.
2. SVForum Tech Women SIG encourages women and men who support the advancement of women in technology to help create an environment of empowerment for women and girls to achieve results beyond their wildest expectations. We are building a community of professionals, entrepreneurs, students and investors who seek to grow, innovate and explore possibilities for women in technology. Between programs this community stays connected through online blogs and social media groups.