What is your image of an inventor or innovator? A man alone in a lab? Increasing evidence shows most innovation comes from two or more people… one of whom might even be a woman! We stereotype innovators as men and mainly in STEM* products. A quick quiz – who invented the following: the circular saw, COBOL and the compiler, the windshield wiper, Kevlar and a radial keyboard for the paralyzed? [Answers at the end of the post]
Three years ago, Whitney Johnson asked me how I felt as the only female partner in my VC firm. I’d never thought about it before. I never felt any discrimination or lack of respect from my partners. From how I was raised through my education and my career at Bell Labs and AT&T, I never felt any gender bias. Maybe it was there and I was just insensitive. I investigated – looked, listened and learned…and realized it was still an issue in the 21st century! In June 2013, Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya invited women to crowd-create a book on women innovators by sharing their own stories. I submitted one (Chpt 3, Disrupting My Way Through Life). Fast-forward ~ Innovating Women launches today!
Vivek and Farai have curated a collection of personal, powerful, inspiring, encouraging, disruptive, and challenging stories of women who grabbed the status quo by the horns. The stories are from and about women from all over the world, in STEM, investing, non-profits and STEAM. The stories, including one by America’s new CTO and former VP at Google[X] Megan Smith, are the authentic voices of women who have persevered, overcome, created, and innovated their careers and accomplishments. This book is full with lessons for women, men, girls, boys, teachers, leaders, managers, even politicians on how to overcome stereotypes, stigmas, and artificial distinctions.
These lessons are being applied today and barriers are breaking down. I am privileged to see changes first-hand. Last April, I helped at the Assistive Tech Makeathon for students to create communication solutions for people who can’t communicate (like ALS). The rapid design-prototyping-iterating process resulted in several potential hardware and software products.
Three freshman women engineers won the software award for an easy, attractive and quick radial keyboard! Get Innovating Women. Read it, share it, discover, encourage and empower women and girls to create more stories so we can unleash the talent needed to solve the wicked problems facing our world. Keep the stories coming! *STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math; STEAM = STEM + [Art + Design] Inventors:
- The circular saw: Tabitha Babbitt in 1813
- COBOL and the compiler: Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (yes, Admiral!) in early 1950s
- The windshield wiper: Mary Anderson in 1903
- Kevlar: Stephanie Kwolek in 1964
- Radial Keyboard: Margaret Mathieu, Katie Hsai, Kassie Wang in 2014, Brown ‘17