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The Secret Ingredient to Innovation in Business? Women.

Kate Byrne September 9, 2019

In the last three weeks, the sleeping-giant business world seems to have awakened. First we had the announcement by 181 CEOS of the Business Roundtable, recognizing that shareholder results are not the only deliverables of a business and that, in fact, purpose itself is the primary reason for being. The Roundtable’s statement says that businesses should strive to be good corporate citizens with happy employees and promote a healthy planet. Really? We’re just now getting that?

Next up, the Forbes 2019 “America’s 100 Most Innovative Leaders” list, released this past Friday, highlights a roster of 99 male leaders on the shelf and just one woman among them, Barbara Rentler, CEO of Ross Stores. Again, a bit of a surprise, given many of the successful women-led companies disrupting traditional industry as we know it like Copia, Cora, Burton, ClifBar, and Sunrun, just to name a few (check out Conscious Company’s 2019 35 World-Changing Women in Conscious Business list for more examples, and then nominate your favorite female business leaders for the 2020 list, while you’re at it). Yes, part of the problem is that, regrettably, there aren’t many women in CEO positions, a plight that many are in the process of trying to change with various pledges, petitions, and promises. It’s going to take more than this, though.

So where do we find these women in the short-term until this catch-up occurs? We know they’re out there. How did their work get missed? Measurement. We’re using old definitions and outdated metrics to determine something ever-evolving like innovation. We’re measuring the wrong areas. And we’re looking at it through the wrong lens.

First: Given the ever-growing interdependence required to be successful in business today, what are the areas within a company that require the greatest innovation and attention and that create the most significant impact? The answer is: people, as in human resource, and customer engagement. If we were to expand the roles being considered as innovation-leadership positions to include CHROs, CMOs, and CSOs, then more women would find themselves in the ranking. These are areas where there is much greater gender and racial equity. These departments demand extraordinary creativity to keep good talent in place, attract new talent to the fold, and make sure that teams work well together to deliver the innovations the customers want. The increase of customization requires a special touch when it comes to knowing and growing with the customer. This is by no means to take away from the need for more female CEOS. I believe that the future CEO pool will come from these areas of a business rather than finance and operations. Research from Pew, McKinsey, and PWC reveals the strength of women building community. The women leading these teams will soon be leading companies overall.

Second: Innovation is a team sport. Last week I was fortunate enough to be one of 15 people invited to the NASA Ames Research Center, where the group gathered to discuss the very futuristic but not-so-far-away reality of citizenship on the moon. I know, I thought the same thing What in the world? but it was fascinating to be a part of a conversation that could help a future civilization start off ahead of where our current crew stands. One of the participants, Christopher Ategeka, founder of Unintended Consequences of Technology (UCOT), made a comment that really stuck with me: “Me upside down is we.” 

Now stay with me here… 

Innovation requires a team of people to execute upon an idea. Rather than looking at just the individual innovator, we would be wise to acknowledge the whole team. Doing so would truly recognize the entirety of the innovation. The growing diversity required to make innovation occur in the first place would also be revealed, awakening the innovator in each of us. 

We’ve been celebrating innovators since our inception and are innovators ourselves; each of the Intentional Media brands are women-led. We’ve made a point of amplifying the many voices of innovations and will continue to in the years to come. The next 50 years of business will require this degree of intentionality, and we intend to deliver. 

Equity and Inclusion / Stakeholder Capitalism
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