Please cite the original version:
Sorama, K. 2018. A gender perspectives in higher education on megatrends and innovations. In:
ICERI2018 Proceedings: 11th annual International Conference of Education, Research
and Innovation, Seville, Spain, 12-14 November, 2018. Seville: IATED, 6157–6167. http://
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A GENDER PERSPECTIVE IN HIGHER EDUCATION ON
MEGATRENDS AND INNOVATIONS
Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences (FINLAND)
The current megatrends offer many innovation possibilities for women entrepreneurs. Women
entrepreneurs often operate in the service sector, where digitalization can transform the industry.
However, it has been shown that gender is a constraining structure within innovation systems. The
objective for this paper is twofold: 1) to examine the attitudes of women entrepreneurs related to
megatrends and the opportunities they offer for women entrepreneurs, and 2) to examine the attitudes
of women entrepreneurs towards innovation processes in their own businesses. The data was gathered
from women entrepreneurs and nascent women entrepreneurs in the region of South Ostrobothnia in
Finland. The data consists of four focus-group interviews organized in February 2016. Altogether 28
entrepreneurs participated in the focus-group interviews. The participants are involved in the project
where the focus is to improve women’s digital and strategic capabilities and leadership. The focus-group
interviews were the first contact with participants. The participants’ businesses represent three different
industries (retail, service and manufacture), but the most of them are on service sector. The results show
that the attitudes related to megatrends are positive rather than negative. Positive attitudes related to
feminine traits and competence of women entrepreneurs, possibilities for firm growth, new ways of doing
business and family and work integration. However, also negative attitudes existed. These related to
well-being, unbelief towards the statements, job loss, demand for new skills and more work and
masculine connotations. Some psychological factors hinder the innovation processes of women
entrepreneurs. First, current mental models have an effect what kind of innovations they can perceive.
The second factor of note is the gendered construction of technology.
Keywords: Gender, higher education, megatrends, innovations
Kiiski Kataja () submits that technology development is currently faster than ever – a high-speed
technological transition is in progress represented by keywords such as digitalization, automation, robot
control of production and services, biotechnology, technological evolution in pharmacology, rapid
development of energy technologies, diffusion of digital crowd platforms, as well as the globalization of
ICT services and production (including Industrial Internet). The author () also notes that the keys for
coping in the changed world include developing new kind of creativity and problem-solving ability and
increasing utilization of technologies. Business requires the ability for visionary value creation, i.e. the
ability to understand what people want and need in their lives. Empathy and solutions for everyday
problems can be the source as well as the target of innovation. Also in management, better
understanding of the human factor and the creation of a genuine community must be emphasized.
Ankeny () submit that the period between 2015 and 2020 will demonstrate virtually every facet of how
we live and work. It will bring radical new technologies, new business models, new kind of customer
experiences and new breed of entrepreneurs – a wave of so-called digital natives (generation Z) who
think and act differently from every generation before them.
For women entrepreneurs the current megatrends offer many innovation possibilities. Women
entrepreneurs often operate in the service sector, where digitalization can transform whole industries.
However, it has been shown that gender is a constraining structure within innovation systems ().
Based on a wide literature review of gender and innovation, Alsos et al. () discuss research paths
related to 1) gender differences and similarities in innovation, 2) gendered constructions of innovation
and 3) gendering processes of innovation. Gender has an effect on how innovations are implemented:
women’s ideas are not implemented to the same degree as men’s (), and the whole construction of
innovation is gendered with masculine connotations (). Wikhamn and Knights () show that these
masculine discourses are apparent also in open innovations. Alsos et al. () suggest more research
on understanding women’s innovation in context of normative frames and structural factors.
This paper contributes to understanding the attitudes of women entrepreneurs towards innovations in
their own business. In particular, the study examines how women entrepreneurs see megatrends related
to their own business and what kind of attitudes underlie in the innovation process. The objective for this
paper is twofold: 1) to examine the attitudes of women entrepreneurs related to megatrends and in
particular the opportunities they offer for women entrepreneurs, and 2) to examine their attitudes towards
innovation processes in their own businesses.
2 LITERATURE REVIEW
Earnst & Young () identifies six megatrends that define our future: digital future, rising
entrepreneurship, global marketplace, urban world, resourceful planet and health reimagined. Digital
transformation is changing business models, including revenue models. At the same time, this brings
opportunities for innovations. As the internet explosion continues to offer new networks and devices for
distribution and consumption of goods, companies who miss the chance to innovate with new standards,
new business models will be left behind as others rush to fill the gaps ().
The explosion in device connectivity, data volumes and computing speed, combined with rapid
advances in automated systems and artificial intelligence means that robotic devices can perform many
tasks more quickly, more safely and more efficiently than humans (). Robotization is affecting more
areas of society than initially expected, including healthcare, transport, police, the armed forces, and the
world of work, to name but a few. Freeman (), in turn, stated that robots, that is any sort of machinery
from computers to artificial intelligence that provides a good substitute for work currently performed by
humans, can increasingly replace workers, even highly skilled professionals. It would be a mistake to
assume that the structures of society remain unchanged when future technological developments,
globalization and demographic changes occur. Gratton () submits some main changes: the
traditional family will be re-organized, people are becoming more self-aware as their reflection power
increases. In addition, the social power of women is changing, men will have a more balanced role, trust
is an important factor in the functioning of society, people's happiness and well-being are not
unambiguously correlated with economic growth, passive leisure is increasing in many societies.
According to Gratton () the changing social role of woman means that women will play a more
prominent role in the management and leadership of companies and entrepreneurial businesses, with
some joining the top echelons of the corporate elite. This change will affect the rules concerning working
life but also life outside the workplace. Hajkowicz et al. () noted that in the future individuals will need
to create their own jobs and this will require entrepreneurial skills and attitudes. Service sector jobs
requiring social interaction skills and emotional intelligence will become increasingly important. The
growth in technological capabilities is transforming supply chains, reshaping the workforce and
The two concepts, gender and innovation, are defined and conceptualized by several different
perspectives. Gender-related differences have been studied widely in the context of entrepreneurship.
Brem () summarizes well-known statements about male and female entrepreneurs: women
businesses under-perform in number of employees, sales turnover, etc; women business owners are
less likely to own multiple businesses, less eager to plan expansion and tend to start smaller businesses
with a smaller amount of start-up capital than men; the value assets in women businesses is significantly
lower than in male businesses; men are more likely to want to grow their own business as far as possible,
while women entrepreneurs prefer working part-time and in the service sector and finally, in comparison
to men, women are more risk-averse and spend less time on networking.
Dodgson & Gann () define innovation as “what happens when new thinking is successfully
introduced in and valued by organizations”. They state that there are many ways of understanding
innovation that provide a wide range of rich insights and perspectives: whether change is incremental
or radical, ho it sustains or disrupts existing ways of doing things, and if it occurs in whole systems or
their components. McFadzean et al. () define innovation “as a process that provides added value
and a degree of novelty to the organization and its suppliers and customers through the development
of new procedures, solutions, products and services as well as new methods of commercialization”. In
any case, innovations are essential to social and economic progress and potential sources of innovation
are growing rapidly.
Although entrepreneurship and innovation are closely related areas, the focus on gender in
entrepreneurship and innovation research has been very different. According to Alsos et al. ()
research in this area is conducted in various disciplines applying a variety of methodological
approaches. Innovation is seen as one of the main ways to enhance economic growth and thus create
prosperous nations and regions (see e.g. , ). Innovation is also considering crucial for
technological development within industries and sectors (e.g. ). In entrepreneurial literature,
innovation is central aspect, as entrepreneurial processes require some form of innovation (). Alsos
et al. () submit that innovation literature has lately focused more upon innovation projects in firms and
economical systems. The concept of gender and innovation has only recently gained a wider interest
among researchers within the management and entrepreneurship fields but the literature does not give
the innovator a specific role.
Thorslund and Göransson () commented on that in innovation system the smallest parts of the
system are individuals, both men and women. Innovation, whether within firms (i.e. organization),
between firms, in clusters or in innovation systems, is all about interaction between individuals – and
these individuals are gendered (). However, the gendered construction of innovation is linked to the
definition of innovation. Further these definitions are operationalized and measured with masculine
connotations (, ). The dominant conceptualization of innovation generally refers to certain kind of
economic activity within sectors and industries dominated by both in terms of ownership and
employment (). Changes in gendered understanding of innovation outputs pave the way for a
broader perspective to innovation outputs, and thus towards service innovation and social innovation,
as legitimate innovation outputs (). Alsos et al. () noted that the combination of adopting the
perspectives of gender as a variable and innovation as a result is probably the dominant approach in
empirical research on gender and innovation. This perspective is reflected in studies of innovation in
men- and women-owned businesses, as well as in the literature on gender differences on patenting,
commercialization, etc. in the university context. This literature is often quantitative, comparing the
tendencies of women and men to contribute to innovation.
When applying an understanding of gender as a variable in studies one is often able to highlight gender
differences in numbers, and to map these differences. When focusing on gender women are often
perceived as one group with common needs, values etc. Differences within this group are not
problemized. Gender studies with feminist view, in turn, have an understanding of gender implying that
women's experiences differ from men's. Opposite to the gender-as-variable understanding the aim with
research within this paradigm is not to compare men and women, but exhibit women’s needs and
experiences and thereby give them a value, saying that women’s way of thinking and doing things in
business life is also necessary to develop industries and markets. From this point of view gender is
social construction to which we all contribute and which is under constant change. This view has
parallels in post-model understanding of gender where gender researchers questions the assumption
that women is one homogenous group and have the same experiences. ()
Foss et al. () provided one explanation for women’s inactivity in innovation. Based on their study,
women are equally innovative in generating new ideas compared to men, but women’s ideas are more
seldom implemented in the organization. Further, their study indicates that women may suffer from a
lack of collegial support in executing their ideas. Another explanation may be that women are not
perceived as innovators, and consequently their ideas do not get heard in the first place, or they are
deemed inferior to men’s ideas and therefore never proceed to the implementation phase ().
One important reason for this may be the in-built gender bias embedded in policy and research on
innovation. Several scholars have pointed to the fact that studies considering similarities and differences
between women and men in innovation outcomes may be inherently gender biased as they tend to focus
on certain disciplines or industries, which have gender attached to them (, ). Women tend to
specialise their businesses in sectors where innovation is less common, such as the retail trade,
personal services and professional services (). Ranga & Etzkowitz () argue that innovation is
inherently gender-biased. They state that there is an implicit, socially-constructed assumption that
women are less innovative than men, that men-dominated industries/sectors are more innovative than
women-dominated ones, all rooted in a social perception of technology that is more often associated to
men than to women.
Ljunggren et al. () performed conclusion that the large amount of innovation studies up to this point,
focus on industries dominated by men. Innovation happening in feminine sectors, i.e. where women
work (in the service sector and in public sector), is scarcely studied, and hence, they have not been
regarded as innovative. The authors conclude that this is an empirical fault which also stems from a
narrow definition of innovation.
There seems to be a gender-difference also in the factors that motivate and encourage entrepreneurs
to utilize new innovative technologies for innovations. BarNir () found in her study that men start
technologically new ventures for self-realization reasons, and that wealth seeking and employment
reasons are negatively associated with the technology startup decision among women, but not among
men. Also among women, general human capital (education and employment breadth) positively
predicts the startup decision. Typically, technology has been seen to serve as an agent of male control
infused with male values (), but Ranga & Etzkowitz () argue that in recent years the traditional
gendered nature of science and technology seems to have gradually evolved towards more gender
In this study, we take the feminist view as a starting point: women are not a homogeneous group and
gender characteristics are not permanent, they change when the world changes. Different generations
of women are various and they respond differently to a changing world and new opportunities by
innovating new approaches to business. Wajcman () raised that feminist theories of the relationship
between gender and technology have taken diverse forms. While liberal feminism conceived of the
problem as one of equality of access and opportunity, socialist and radical feminism analyzed the
gendered nature of technology itself. In this study both the liberal as well the radical feminism are the
gendered perspectives to innovations.
The data was gathered from women entrepreneurs and nascent women entrepreneurs in the region of
Southern Ostrobothnia in Finland. The data consists of four focus-group interviews organized in
February 2016. There were altogether 28 participants in the focus-group interviews: thirteen
entrepreneurs and fifteen nascent entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs operated on service, retail and
Four statements about future trends were presented to the group and they were asked to discuss 1)
about their feelings and thoughts related to the statement, 2) what kind of possibilities and innovations
this trend would create to their own business, 3) do they see any obstacles in their own innovation
process and 4) how this trend relates especially to women entrepreneurship.
Statements about the trends were based on report of Kiiski Kataja () about the megatrends. The
1) Empathy and solving everyday problems are the basis of future innovations. The focus in business
is to increase the well-being and happiness of people instead of productivity.
2) Digitalization offers new possibilities for business. Services can be produced via internet and the
whole business logic will change, including revenue models. More customers does not mean more
3) Technology creates possibilities for people to meaningful work with involvement. Human
understanding and creation of a genuine community are the key stones in leadership.
4) Robotization will displace labored work. First will vanish routinized work and last evolving expertise.
All focus group interviews were recorded and transcribed. Data analysis was made with content analysis
by coding and building categories. The goal of content analysis is to provide knowledge and
understanding of the phenomenon under study. In coding phase, analytical coding was used. Analytical
coding is a process of grouping open codes. Richards (2005) notes that analytical coding comes from
interpretation and reflection on meaning.
The results are presented in relation to research questions. First the attitudes of women entrepreneurs
related to future megatrends and the opportunities on offer for women entrepreneurs in particular are
presented and second their attitudes towards innovation processes in their own businesses. The
attitudes are classified as positive or negative
4.1 Attitudes of women entrepreneurs related to megatrends
Attitudes towards the presented statements were more positive than negative. Positive attitudes related
to 1) feminine traits and competence of women entrepreneurs, 2) possibilities for firm growth, 3) new
ways of doing business and work and 4) family and work integration. Negative attitudes related to 1)
well-being, 2) unbelief towards the statement, 3) job loss, 4) demand for new skills and more work and
5) masculine connotations.