Women with Good Ideas — Saluting Female Inventors of the Past; Inspiring Women Innovators in the Future - Lorraine Marchand

It’s unfortunate but true: Only 5 percent of patents are held by women. Only 25 percent of top innovation firms are led by women. Half as many women as men are likely to start their own business, and 95 percent of women who do so fail within a year because they can’t secure funding and other necessary support.

While women have made enormous progress in so many professions, this rather grim litany of statistics would suggest that — for various reasons — we still lag far behind men in the development and execution of new ideas, new products, new services. When it comes to shaping the future of our world, women are essentially conceding the field to men.

Does that sound like a good idea to you?

Part of the problem, I think, is a lack of awareness that — while in the distinct minority compared to the Edisons, Jobs, and Tesla’s of history — there have been remarkable women innovators and inventors in many fields. When I wrote my book, The Innovation Mindset, I felt that spotlighting these women — a few well-known, most undeservingly obscure — would be one way to inspire women readers and remind them that they too can be innovators. My co-writer John Hanc and I came up with the idea of creating a Women Innovators Hall of Fame. (To help today’s aspiring inventors and innovators, we also included a Resource Guide for Women Innovators, with information on networking and capital-raising opportunities).

The good news is that the picture is starting to shift as more women major in STEM disciplines, more businesses are being started by women, and more mentorship programs help to empower a new generation of women. I believe this new generation of women will transform the business of innovation, much as earlier generations transformed so many other professions over the last half-century.

I plunged into the historical research — and was amazed by what I found.

I plunged into the historical research — and was amazed by what I found. While I don’t have space here to detail the inspiring and eye-opening stories of all of these women, Women’s History Month seems an appropriate time to give them some of the attention and respect they deserve — not to mention a salute to the things they created, some of which have had a major impact on our day-to-day lives.

For example, did you know that the automatic dishwasher, an essential appliance in many homes today, was invited by Josephine Cochrane (1839–1913) of Ashtabula, Ohio?

Did you know that Bette Nesmith Graham (1924–1980) of Dallas, Texas, invented Liquid Paper, which even in the digital age allows us to correct our mistakes?

How about Hedy Lamarr? “Ah,” you might say if you’re a fan of Turner Classic Movies. “I know who she is.” But while you might recognize Lamarr as a star in the Golden Age of Hollywood, did you know that she was also a self-taught inventor and that, working with her colleague George Antheil, she developed a World War II-era radio guidance system that used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to jam radio signals?

While I don’t have space here to detail the inspiring and eye-opening stories of all of these women, Women’s History Month seems an appropriate time to give them some of the attention and respect they deserve…

I’d like to shake the hand of and express my thanks to, say, Mary Anderson (1886–1953) of Greene County, Alabama, for inventing the windshield wiper blade that allows us to drive safely in the rain; Ruth Graves Wakefield (1903–1977) of Easton, Massachusetts, for enriching our lives by inventing . . . yes . . . chocolate chip cookies; or Dr. Barbara McClintock, who, by studying corn, discovered the way that genes move along the chromosome and cause mutations and other characteristic changes.

Dr. McClintock won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for her discovery. A rare example of a successful woman innovator who was fully and rightfully recognized for her work.

There are many other women in our Hall of Fame, and I sincerely wish I could talk with each of them, pick their brains, learn the steps and the processes they went through to bring their ideas to market.

Whether obscure or not, let us remember the names of these innovators and use their examples to help motivate a new generation of young women and remind them that curiosity, creativity, and ingenuity are not the province of one gender, but defining characteristics of all humans.

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