SMU researcher Roy Chua awarded grant to study barriers faced by women innovators

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SMU Office of Research & Tech Transfer – Singapore Management University (SMU) Associate Professor Roy Chua has been awarded a three-year Social Science Research Thematic Grant from the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) to understand the experiences of women innovators and investigate the challenges they face. The study will also develop interventions to improve gender equality in domains where innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship are highly valued.

Aimed at encouraging high-quality, impactful research in the social sciences and humanities, the MOE Social Science Research Thematic Grant funds projects that address key societal and economic issues pertinent to Singapore. In a knowledge-driven economy like Singapore's, one such pressing issue concerns the gender gap seen in innovation. Mirroring global trends, Singaporean women make up half of the workforce, but only 30 percent of the country's research scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

In earlier work (funded by an MOE Academic Research Fund Tier 1 grant) investigating the factors that underpin this gender gap, Professor Chua found that women generate the same number of new ideas as men, but are less likely to act on their most novel ideas. The upcoming study will go on to investigate possible reasons behind this 'novelty avoidance' tendency, including the hypotheses that women have lower risk appetites than men, that societal stereotypes about gender and innovation hold women back, and that women may have less of a need to express individual uniqueness as compared to men.

Further, building on earlier work which showed that women are less likely to engage in novelty avoidance if asked to present their ideas to women instead of men, Professor Chua also intends to study women's strategies and behaviours when championing their own creative ideas in the workplace.

With a deeper understanding of how women innovate and what barriers they face, Professor Chua hopes to design interventions that will help women innovators overcome biases and reach their full potential. One example of such an intervention could be to have evaluation panels that comprise more women.

Understanding the challenges and opportunities for women innovators is especially important in an environment where innovation is widely viewed as the key to success – not only for individuals and companies, but for entire economies as well, thinks Professor Chua.

"If our future economy is going to be driven by innovation, everybody needs to play their part – both men and women. But if the potential of women is locked up because of societal stereotypes or other issues, then we need to unlock this potential, so that both men and women can contribute to innovation efforts for themselves, for organisations and for the country," says Professor Chua.


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