The uptake of STEM subjects by women and other minorities is crucial for myriad reasons, for instance boosting economic activity and closing the pay gender gap, to name but two. One key indicator of the technological advancement of businesses, academic institutes and countries, is the degree of patenting activity undertaken, indeed patent analytics is an entire subject area that can be utilized to help companies obtain a competitive advantage. Considering that there has been a historic shortage of women in technical areas, has this impacted the number of female patentees to date?
In 2015, Cassidy Sugimoto, Ph.D. of Indiana University highlighted the interesting changes that have occurred in patenting trends by women, reporting that between the 1600's to the mid-19th century, women never surpassed more than 2% of the total patentees. To find out where all the female patentees are in 2015, and to see if this has changed over time, she and her collaborators set about systematically gathering information from USPTO records.
Reassuringly, Sugimoto noted that over the past roughly 40 years, the rate of patenting by women has increased from 2.7% to 10.8%. When segmented according to firm-, individual-, and university-owned patents, all three have seen an increase throughout the years; but universities specifically have seen a more dramatic change around the early 1990's. By 2013, women accounted for roughly 18% of university patents. However, a closer look reveals there is still room for improvement: overall, women only contributed 8% of patents, and additionally, of the 47 countries investigated, 42 had no female inventors.
Image source: Publication by Sugimoto et al., 2015. For the complete publication, see: Sugimoto CR, Ni C, West JD, Larivière V (2015) The Academic Advantage: Gender Disparities in Patenting. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0128000. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0128000
So, what does this mean going forward? On a positive note, it is encouraging to see that despite the historic gender gap in patenting, there has been progress. More women have taken up careers in STEM and are making strides to patent their work: a process essential to scientific advancement. However, it indicates that there is still more work to be done. Sugimoto highlights that women make up nearly a third of the scientific workforce and academic authorship community, so why then are they still behind in filing patents? Hierarchical organizational structures and insufficient networks are two such postulated reasons. Because of this, there are now a growing number of programs oriented at fostering STEM interest in girls and women and providing them the network and resources to pursue this area as a career. For instance, the IDTechEx Show! Santa Clara 2018 will be hosting a panel discussion and networking event for women in STEM, as part of our "The Case for Diversity: Increasing Inclusion in Tech" series, sponsored by NovaCentrix.
It is through this combination of knowledge and action, that we may best close this gender gap in science. In support of this endeavor, IDTechEx hopes to see you at our "The Case for Diversity: Increasing Inclusion in Tech" panel discussion sponsored by NovaCentrix, where women from all fields from STEM can come by to share their ideas.
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