May 9, 2012

Risks and costs of innovation: thinking outside the box

By Mary Evans, Centennial Professor, Gender Institute, London School of Economics

The question around which this (and other) blog is organised is that of the difference it might have made if Steve Jobs had been a woman. Now this question invites the usual comparisons between the lives of Shakespeare, Einstein and lots of other famous (and infamous) men and their sisters, the conclusion being that the males of the species had a much easier time in making their names in the public world… not least because they were expected to. Men live, as Kathleen Lynch has so rightly and clearly pointed out, ‘care-less’ lives.

«When responsibility for providing material support for others is denied, men carry a burden of personal failure, but life is difficult for both
men and women»

But at the same time as we know this we also know that millions of men shoulder expectations of care that are no less onerous than those of women: the responsibility for providing material support for others. When this responsibility is denied (for example in great swathes of Europe at the present time and for much else of the world for a lot of the time) men carry a burden of personal failure. But this comment need not take us to the equalising conclusion (life is difficult for both men and women) let alone to competitive assumptions about who has the most difficult time. What we should address is who profits from particular needs in a particular place at a particular time.

«The communications industry in which Jobs succeeded had no particular interest in his explicit gender, but it did have a financial interest in innovation»

In this way we come to address not the individual cases of success but the underlying circumstances which create opportunities for success. The multi-billion dollar communications industry in which Jobs so clearly succeeded had no particular interest in the explicit gender of Jobs (or Brown or Jones or Smith) but it did have a financial interest in innovation. Thus we need to ask questions about the ways in which the risks and the costs of innovation are gendered: the questions are about who we expect (and indeed allow) to think outside the box. I think that if we can begin to consider these questions then we get beyond the binaries of worse for women/better for men and reflect on the gendered constructions through which we challenge, take risks and innovate.


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  2. I do agree that communications industry had no time to see if Jobs was a man or woman. But i feel that throughout the world, irrespective of being in a third world or in the Hi-Fi comfort metros of West there are discrimination and expectations for a particular gender to succeed and when the converse happens they look at it like a Miracle. Some examples are Indra Nooyi Chief Executive, PepsiCo Chanda Kocchar from the Bank Job industry

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