We tend to associate innovation with masculine traits which can lead to (self-) exclusion by many women from jobs and spaces such as fab labs where cutting edge experimentation and innovation happens.
Over the last two years, the shemakes project was funded by Horizon 2020 to change this. Focusing on the textiles and clothing sector, an area that is rife with gender inequality, 18 ‘labs’ created a pan-European ecosystem of innovation agents which together created opportunities for women and girls as young as 8 years old to take up innovation leadership roles by involving them in collaborative gender awareness raising, educational, innovation and business support activities.
The project was based on a strong and co-created gender vision, underpinned by a set of values which included collaborative, welcoming difference and inspiring. These values became a strong part of the project’s organisational culture, being bought into and embodied by ecosystem leaders (female and male) in their delivery of activities.
Our evaluation evidence showed that this made those women innovators who participated in shemakes activities feel like they belong. They were engaged, felt empowered and inspired as well as releasing their creativity. As a result, the project achieved significant gender awareness gains among the women and men who participated. Beyond this, though, girls and women were able to gain cutting edge technical and people skills from the shemakes activities, as well as gaining a confidence boost and lasting connections with like-minded innovators.
All of this made them think they now had better chances of pursuing their career goals as innovators in the textile and clothing sector. One of the key lessons from this project then is that if we pay attention to the culture of innovation systems and consciously create and enact one which is welcoming to women we can contribute to gender equality and through this ensure women can fully bring their skills and interests to solving today’s big societal challenges.