Norway and the gender paradox in innovation – in search of the naked truth!

The gender paradox in Norway truly fascinates me.

Year after year Norway continues to impress with her presence at the top echelons of several global ‘well-being’ indicators. For instance, this year Norway jumped from fourth place to number 1 as the Happiest country on the planet. It is not doing too poorly on the gender front either, last year Norway came nr. 3 in the Global Gender Gap. Gender equality is a big thing in this country as women continue to enjoy several opportunities as men from child care equality to political participation to educational opportunities. For instance, over 60 % women are in higher learning as more and more girls and women occupy educational institutions. The labour market participation is particularly very good compared to other countries – at 70 % active labour market participation, and so on.

However, when it comes to certain fields, like ‘Innovation’, the picture begins to change –  the pipelines begins to leak as women’s presence starts to dwindle the higher they get. As a whole, though, Norway performs relatively well in innovation. For instance, although, it fell from 2oth (2016) to 22nd position on the global scale, the country is still doing well. Now, what is rather unsettling are the gendered figures – only 30 % of innovators in Norway are women. Statistics become grimmer when it comes to participation and leadership participation within businesses and private sector – 21 % of female leaders are to be found in the private sector – and a mere 17 % of females seat on boards of AS (despite the 2006 legislated 40 % women in ASA-boards). 1 in 4 women are entreprenuers. Another consequential figure – 41 % of women work part-time (SSB; World Economic Forum; GII 2016)

Now all this got me thinking about this paradox. What is it with innovation, that is causing the ‘leaking pipelines’? Several countries look to Norway for inspiration, so it is important to diognise the problem and fix it 🙂

I think, a good starting point is, beginning with dismantling the CONCEPT of innovation – because, as is, innovation is understood and applied from a masculine and hegemonic point of view. In undressing the concept, we will perhaps get to understand how power (and the power to innovate) works. For instance, we need to look beyond the conventional Schumpeterian understanding of innovation that renders the conception, implementation processes and outcomes gender-blind. Contrary, innovation is quite gendered. A useful way is to ask some critical questions: WHERE does innovation happen? – where do people look to when seeking innovation? WHAT industries, sectors are understood as innovative? Are these sectors where women predominantly work? In WHAT positions (hierachy)?; WHO gets to participate in Innovative processes; WHOSE knowledge is considered innovative? WHAT Counts as innovation? Is it the measurable outcomes such as patents, trademarks? What about social innovations and processes oriented innovations like those happening in the Public sector – where most women actually work?

A budding body of gender research into innovation shows that innovation policies, funding and work, happens in male dominated fields, industries, sectors, instituions. It is important to remember that in the innovation universe, Power indeed resides in  masculine hierachies, processes, products, industries – the whole nine yard. Even within institutions, the processes are either gender blind or superficious in their diversity and gender inclusiveness – (i.e. use of variables as control factors do not do address real issues of gender parity – let alone the obsession ‘with economic growth’).

Anyway, I think that, once a gender conscious approach or audit is done by any entity interested in equality and social justice in innovation, I am sure, a picture will emerge that will improve ones understanding of how ‘masculine power’ works and how to disrupt its hegemony within the field of innovation.

Any examples/tips of successful projects or initiatives will be appreciated.


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