Back to reality from the spirit world of inventions and innovation

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The multidisciplinary SWiPE research project looks at change in the economy and working life as well as the effects of the platform economy, new technology and digitalisation on work, entrepreneurship and economic growth.

In their book chapter “Innovating is not of the spirit world – depicting a female inventor’s unique path with materiality-friendly gender concepts”, published in September in the Handbook on Gender and Innovations, SWiPE consortium leader Anne Kovalainen and senior researcher Seppo Poutanen shed light on the role of women in the world of inventing and innovation.

Innovations are an important engine of economic growth. Inventions and the innovations that bring them to market arise from the creation of new technologies from a wide variety of raw-material. The common perception is that inventions appear in the heads of clever people whether working alone or in groups.

“That perception is wrong” says Seppo Poutanen. “In reality an intensive invention process is a combination of thoughts actions and materials where even the raw material itself can be an important co-inventor.”

Docent Seppo Poutanen and Professor Anne Kovalainen tell an intriguing story in their new research. Where a woman, with the highest level of training in engineering and technology, joins a chemicals factory as the only PhD and only woman. Initially, her colleagues make her invisible. However, by inventing significant improvements to the production process, she is recognised by management and receives better resources to further her work.

Despite her new remit at the factory, she is confronted by opposition that wishes her, as a woman and a new mother, to return home. The woman’s solution to her difficult position is both innovative and successful: the process she improved produces an especially clean raw-material with unique properties that she is able to sell to a new industry. Interestingly, this new industry is of scant interest to male engineers, and so the woman is able to secure her resources while also gaining significant new customers for her employer.

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Anne Kovalainen is the head of the SWiPE consortium and Professor of Entrepreneuship at the University of Turku

Seppo Poutanen is a SWiPE researcher and Senior Researcher and Docent of Sociology at the University of Turku