Diversity is key to successful research and innovation

Gender, age, ethnicity, culture background, income, sexual orientation, interests, abilities and educational achievements. Diversity has numerous and often overlapping dimensions. Recent innovation research looks at the various aspects, which should be taken into account during and even before the development of an innovation. Fraunhofer ISI not only carries out research in heterogeneous teams, but also makes diversity itself the focus of investigation. Diversity is a topic that should be scrutinized across all research topics and processes.

The great importance of heterogeneous teams for research and innovation has been known for years. Numerous analyses have proved that the greater the diversity of researchers, the greater their ability to innovate. While traditional research has concentrated on analyzing inequalities in research and innovation, particularly in the STEM areas, more recent innovation research is increasingly focusing on the diversity of the research topics themselves and their specific issues.

For example within transition research - i.e. the investigation of the restructuring of the energy system, mobility or production processes - a shift in perspective holds enormous potential.   In order to achieve a successful and just transition, researchers must take into account the different dimensions of diversity such as gender, income and geographical location as well as their overlaps when developing the research question. "Currently, transition research is diverse in some aspects, but a broader framework for this is missing and there is still a lot of potential, for example in research on the energy transition. Diversity, equality and inclusion are therefore topics that we address in research questions and with which we question existing processes," says Dr Sabine Preuß, project manager in the Competence Center Energy Policy and Energy Markets and at the same time the Equal Opportunities Officer at Fraunhofer ISI.

Gender-related data

An excellent example of this type of research is the work on the gendering of research and innovation data sets, in which scientists from several Competence Centers at Fraunhofer ISI are involved.

The researchers not only analyze the continuing inequality between the sexes in science, but also the effects that go far beyond the underrepresentation of women. "Gender bias affects how research careers are built and also which topics and whose needs are addressed in research and innovation. One problem, for example, is the persistence of deep-rooted gender stereotypes, gender-specific roles and expectations in the research and innovation area," says Dr. Maria Karaulova, researcher at the Competence Center Innovation and Knowledge Economy at Fraunhofer ISI. The gender-blind spots have often gone unnoticed in previous data evaluations, however, they influence all aspects of research and innovation processes, from the question of who is allowed to innovate to the question of who profits from innovations. Analyzing gender-blind, gender-sensitive or even gender-specific data sets therefore has multiple implications. Only gender-transformative data sets offer the opportunity to consider what a data set actually reveals or indeed fails to reveal. They create the basis for analyses that have the potential to advance gender equality. Such analyses were not feasible in previous data frameworks.

One contribution to strengthen the science and innovation system further and to make even better use of the potential of women is made for example by the Horizon Europe project INSPIRE, in which Fraunhofer ISI is involved. INSPIRE is a sustainable center of excellence with a special focus on integrative gender equality plans. It brings together cutting-edge knowledge, ambitious policy approaches and innovative practices to enable stakeholders to engage with institutions and policy makers.

Gender equality in science

Greater awareness of equality and diversity provides a new perspective. At the same time, however, the focus on the fundamental issue of inequality should not be lost sight of, for example with regard to gender equality. Although the German research and innovation system has substantial research and innovation capacities, it has long been characterized by a below-average participation of women compared to the rest of Europe. Structural aspects and existing stereotypes are among the many reasons for this. Even the 2006 Pact for Research and Innovation between the major research organizations and the Joint Science Conference (GWK) has so far done little to change this. In terms of the proportion of women in science, Germany is at the lower end of the international rankings. The non-university research institutions achieve comparatively good results here. The upward trend of these indicators is encouraging.

Fraunhofer ISI not only conducts research into diversity, but is also diverse itself. The proportion of women to men at the institute is roughly equal. Our teams are both internationally minded and oriented. More than 15 percent of our employees have a foreign passport. Half of them come from other European countries, the other half in almost equal share from Asia and North and South America.

At Fraunhofer ISI, we are constantly working to advance the innovative capacity and performance of organizations, companies or even entire economies, so that they reflect all the aspects of gender and diversity. We also strive to ensure that our own teams continue to be diverse. Research and innovation need diversity.

Always up-to-date

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.

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