Gender diversity and innovative R&D

Gender diversity is relevant when it comes to R&D innovation, according to a study of Spanish manufacturing firms; however much more important is “diverse functional expertise”, say researcher in a paper to be published in the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business.

Juan Fernández-Sastre of FLACSO Ecuador explains that innovation does not result from rational managerial decisions, rather it emerges from the complex social systems in which individuals share knowledge to generate new ideas. The personnel working in a research and development (R&D) department are perhaps the most relevant to the innovation structure.

Fernández-Sastre has analyzed data extracted from the Spanish Survey of Technological Innovation (PITEC). PITEC is panel data compiled by the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE), the Science and Technology Foundation (FECYT) and the Foundation for Technical Innovation (COTEC). He has looked at four different types of innovation: product, service, process and organisational. Product innovation involves a company marketing a new or improved product. Service innovation involves the introduction of new or improved services. Process innovation involves novelty and improvements in production, distribution or support activities. Organisational innovation involves changes for the better in management practices.

The analysis reveals that among the Spanish companies studied, the emergence of innovation was specially related to the functional diversity of the R&D workforce and to a lesser extend to its gender diversity, except in the case of service innovation, for which gender diversity was as beneficial as functional diversity, due to the personal interactions and market insights necessary for improvements at the service level.

“Manufacturing firms, for which service innovation is a source of competitive advantage, should be really concerned with human resource management practices for gender diversity and not only with the building of cross-functional teams,” says Fernández-Sastre. Additionally, the data suggests that, “Managers should not consider forming teams with equal proportions of men and women. This may reduce male-female interaction and the benefits associated with the existence of minority groups in the creative and problem-solving process”. Finally, “Those firms aiming at introducing innovations that involve interactions among internal and external agents and those that require a better interface with the market place will benefit more from gender diversity than those firms pursuing innovations related to the solution of technical problems”, Fernández-Sastre concludes.

Fernández-Sastre, J. (2015) ‘The impact of R&D teams’ gender diversity on innovation outputs’, Int. J. Entrepreneurship and Small Business, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp.142–162.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.