Why is it that the vast majority of stories about inventors and creators are about men? I know I am not alone. I think being female has greatly contributed to helping me carve out a successful career in innovation. I certainly have an innate knowledge of the primary users of everyday household products. Women drive over 80% of the consumer economy in the United States.
According to The Female Brain by Dr. Louann Brizendine, my hippocampus is larger than that in men. This is the part of the brain that never forgets a fight, a romantic encounter or a tender moment. An elephant-never-forgets type of memory allows me to recall experiences and observations more effectively, which is very good for seeing connections, or as I call them, Red Threads, to form new ideas.
So why is it that there are virtually no women who have written a book (other than mine due out this month) to help businesses and entrepreneurs develop ideas for innovation? Plug the word “innovation” into Amazon and of the top 100 hits, you’ll find just two books written by women: Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus and out-of-print (with no description) Innovation by Alexandra Papadakis.
It doesn’t look much better when you put “creative thinking “ into the Amazon search: women wrote only seven books out of one hundred. Yes, that’s just 7%. And in the advertising profession, which targets the vast majority of its communications towards women, just 3% of its creative directors are women.
Women are highly creative and inventive. We spend our days solving problems in all sorts of unique ways; the endless balancing act among family, career and household responsibilities. We have high executive function for both multi-tasking and extraordinary focus. We often don’t broadcast it. As Anna Fels wrote in a 2004 article in the Harvard Business Review and in her book Necessary Dreams: women are totally capable of mastery, they struggle with the recognition. They don't like to call attention to themselves.
I am a board member of the organization Count Me In. We help women entrepreneurs grow their businesses. The single biggest obstacle to their success, which may surprise you, is the women themselves. What holds these companies back is the owner’s lack of confidence, inability to think big enough and discomfort with talking about money. These are emotional factors that plague women and hinder our power to take hold of economic potential. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, there is approximately the same number of firms owned by each gender, but only 3% of women-owned companies have revenues of $1 million or more compared with 6% of men-owned businesses.
Self-esteem typically starts its decline in girls as young as nine years old and this is when the crisis of creativity for business begins. We need to instill creative passion and confidence, and the belief that problem-solving at any level is meaningful and worth sharing. We need to help young women get out of their own way, to push through fear and doubt.
Innovation only survives when people believe in their own ideas. Believing in your creativity or a new idea requires the ability to face fears and push ahead. It is all about confidence and passion. Without these qualities it is difficult to execute ideas. Belief in yourself is what motivates you to persevere. That’s why women aren’t out there in great enough numbers.
I know how powerful women’s ideas can be, having been privileged to work with some incredibly talented women. Every woman’s head can be overflowing with innovative concepts. We all have the power to design and develop thoughts into brilliant and practical innovations for everyday living. You just need a little confidence and the right tools. Trust in your ideas and yourself. Get out of your own way. Roar and you will be heard.
DEBRA KAYE is an international innovation expert specializing in culture and brand strategy for consumer businesses. Her just release book, Red Thread Thinking: Weaving Connections for Brilliant Ideas and Profitable Innovation is published by McGraw Hill.