Innovation council without gender expertise
The Swedish government has started a new national innovation council. It consists of ten members, but lacks expertise when it comes to gender and gender equality. And this despite the Prime Minister’s declaration to lead a feminist government.
The innovation council will ensure continuous dialogue between politics, business, academia and trade unions, and has identified investments, education and business as particularly important areas for job creation and growth.
The EU framework programme for research and innovation Horizon 2020 emphasises that the gender perspective must permeate everything. It also gives thorough attention to social innovation, where problem solving is motivated by social challenges. In contrast, the Swedish innovation council lacks expertise in these areas altogether. Wille Birksten, principal secretary of the council, says that this is mainly due to the small size of the council. Also, he says, the members are not meant to represent specific organisations or areas. The group has been formed based on personal merits and can be likened to a company board.
‘When we selected the members, we knew we wanted five men and five women, but we have not been able to cover all areas. There are only ten members, so we also need to rely on external work. The Prime Minister has declared that we are a feminist government, and this perspective is of course also applied in the innovation council,’ says Birksten.
The council will open an office, and meetings with organisations and expert groups will be arranged in order to gather information from different parts of society.
Pam Fredman, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gothenburg, is a member of the council. She takes for granted that the council will include these perspectives in all its work.
‘The government has said that it will consider gender equality in everything they do, so it wouldn’t make sense not to do so in the innovation council. I share the opinion that gender and gender equality should be taken into account in all of the council’s discussions.’
Research within gender and innovation has pointed to the great potential for innovation and growth that lies in applying the gender perspective on for example labour market issues, business administration, and product design and routines in healthcare.
According to Sophia Ivarsson from the Swedish innovation agency Vinnova, the combination of gender and innovation can add to the country’s innovation capacity and competitiveness, but may also contribute to improved gender equality.
‘Innovation and gender equality are two areas of strength in Sweden, and combining them makes them even stronger. It’s important that the government realises the potential in this.’
Approaching innovation from a gender perspective may, she says, motivate private business and therefore also become a useful tool in the gender equality work. It may also generate new work models to achieve gender equality.
‘The linking of gender and innovation is not only beneficial for growth. It can also be a way to achieve the national gender equality objectives,’ says Ivarsson.