By definition, R&D work blazes the trail to new innovations across all industries. Your R&D department, or innovation team, leads the way towards the ‘next big thing’.

But new research shows that this is definitely not applied to gender diversity within R&D teams. In both bare numbers and attitude, it seems there is still a lot of work to be done.

Where is this gender diversity in R&D information coming from?

Ayming is an international business consultancy company. It produces an annual ‘International Barometer’ which measures some aspects of R&D with a global perspective. ‘Ayming’s 2020 International Barometer’ involves companies in Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States. 300 different management level professionals were asked the same questions.

Just one of the aspects is gender diversity. What’s interesting is that it’s not just concerned with the bare figures within each company. But it also analyses the opinion of these business owners, CEOs and top R&D experts.

As Ayming’s President, Hervé Amar says in his introduction: “In this report, we have taken a deep dive into the state of innovation worldwide. Our findings reveal significant variations between country, sector and even job functions, but there are some clear trends.”

Taking account of the global position just may edge your company ahead of your competition.

What is your answer to these gender diversity questions?

Consider your business for a moment and just think about your answer to these three gender diversity questions.  We’ll reveal your international colleagues’ answers straight after.

What percentage of your innovation/R&D teams are women?

  • 0%
  • 1-10%
  • 11-25%
  • 26-50%
  • 51-75%
  • 76-99%
  • 100%

How important is gender diversity to the success of your organisation’s innovation/R&D efforts?

  • Not important at all
  • Not very important
  • Quite important
  • Very important

How could your business better attract female talent into innovation/R&D roles?

  • Clearer career progression
  • Better training
  • Diversity policies
  • More flexible working culture
  • Increased remuneration and benefits packages
  • Automation and digital technology
  • Partnerships with universities and institutions
  • More efficient working practices
  • Mentorship schemes
  • Don’t know/not sure
  • The issue won’t be solved
  • Other

Ayming’s 2020 International Barometer results

The survey shows where the participating companies positioned themselves, as a percentage of the total.

What percentage of your innovation/R&D teams are women?

  • 0%: 5% of companies
  • 1-10%: 19% of companies
  • 11-25%: 27% of companies
  • 26-50%: 32% of companies
  • 51-75%: 10% of companies
  • 76-99%: 2% of companies
  • 100%: 5% of companies

Where does your company sit in the international comparison?

What does this tell us?

The stark truth of these figures is:

  • 83% of the companies asked have R&D teams with 50% or fewer women.
  • 17% of the companies have innovation teams consisting of between 50% and 100% women.

How important is gender diversity to the success of your organisation’s innovation/R&D efforts?

Simply, the percentage of companies that gave each option as their answer to this question.

  • Not important at all: 23%
  • Not very important: 23%
  • Quite important: 33%
  • Very important: 21%

Conclusion would seem to be that 46% of businesses feel that gender diversity is not an important part of their R&D success. A slightly more encouraging 54% understand that there is some importance to considering gender diversity as part of their innovation development.

It seems reasonable to make the connection between this attitude and the lack of investment into rectifying the situation. If you don’t consider it a key element to your success, why put in any time, effort or money?

And this perception is held despite growing evidence to the contrary.

A study completed by the Harvard Business Review found that companies with a diverse workforce had a 19% higher return from their innovation investment and were 12% more profitable overall. This international research involved 1,700 companies in Austria, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Switzerland and the USA.

How could your business better attract female talent into innovation/R&D roles?

There is one figure here that you may find quite startling. This is the percentage of companies that gave each answer, ordered from highest to lowest.

  • Clearer career progression: 40%
  • Better training: 37%
  • Diversity policies: 34%
  • More flexible working culture: 32%
  • Increased remuneration and benefits packages: 28%
  • Automation and digital technology: 26%
  • Partnerships with universities and institutions: 25%
  • More efficient working practices: 25%
  • Mentorship schemes: 24%
  • Don’t know/not sure: 6%
  • The issue won’t be solved: 4%
  • Other: 2%

Given the detailed, widespread reporting about the continuing gender pay gap, it is very surprising that only 28% of survey participants thought that ‘increased remuneration and benefits packages’ would secure more skilled women.

’Diversity policies’ was chosen by 34%. Surely equal and fair pay is a diversity policy in action?

Where do we go from here?

The conclusion of the report itself points out the complexity of resolving gender diversity. Our social, political and economic constructs are the foundations on which innovative research and development is built. And businesses are not solely responsible for finding the answers.

As Managing Director of Ayming Poland, Magdalena Burzynska, comments: “We need to change how diversity is perceived and the answer is being informative. Gender diversity needs to be driven from the top-down.”

“Thirty-five per cent of R&D managers say gender diversity is not that important and 24 per cent of CEOs say it is not important at all…The cultural and structural challenges are significant. Businesses firstly need to see the value of diversity and then act on it to make the field a more attractive career path. Overall, having more women in R&D will benefit teams, both in terms of plugging skills and reaping the rewards of enhanced productivity.”

Interestingly, the ‘Barometer’s’ Closing Note points out that this is actually about business success, not ‘being PC’. Somewhat surprising that business owners and leaders haven’t jumped on this opportunity before now.

“Innovation remains very male-dominated and diversity is still being overlooked as a means to boost innovation – arguably by the very people who stand to benefit most. This parallel must first be recognised by organisations which should then put motivators in place to both attract women into R&D and then support them throughout their careers. Being innovative in this way would be a wise move.”

Jamie Smith