When you think of an inspiring innovative person, who comes to mind? Did a name come to you quickly or did you have to first think through what makes a person innovative? Is it someone who invented something new or found a creative solution to a difficult challenge?
The most common responses I get to this question are Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or Thomas Edison. I think most people would agree that they are good examples of innovative people, but I have to wonder why a female is rarely first to mind?
It is impossible for me to believe that half of the population lacks innovative traits, or that women have had no part in the disruptions that have happened over the last century. I wonder if it could it be how the accomplishments of women are presented in our culture. When they develop, for example, cancer-fighting drugs are they portrayed as “helpful” or “innovative”? Are their contributions getting the publicity they deserve?
In 2007, the Technology Association of Iowa (TAI) decided to take action and bring awareness to female innovators in Iowa. Their mission was to highlight the women in Iowa who were making a difference in STEM fields. They did so by hosting a state-wide awards ceremony called The Women of Innovation. Women of Innovation award categories range from Academic Research and Innovation to Rising Stars and Entrepreneurial Innovation and Leadership. With an eye to the future, Women of Innovation included categories for high school and collegiate innovators that contribute $2500 toward their continued education.
Women of Innovation has also partnered with the Microsoft’s DigiGirlz program. DigiGirlz invites high school girls from across the state come together on the day of the event to learn about STEM careers. They are paired with adult mentors and then attend the Women of Innovation awards ceremony.
This year’s Women of Innovation event marked the tenth anniversary of TAI recognizing women for their outstanding accomplishments. In one of the most moving moments of the night, the crowd stood and cheered as 14 high school girls were recognized for being innovators and leaders.
The number of nominations in this category has grown significantly each year – a testament to the fact that WOI is not only bringing awareness to female innovators, but it is also inspiring the next generation.
This was the seventh year I had attended the WOI ceremony and I was again struck by the amazing talent in Iowa.
After many years of being a part of Women of Innovation. I can no longer think of one person when someone asks me who inspires me as an innovator because I see the entire Women of Innovation community.
We are a state filled with women cure-finders, inventors, researchers, thought leaders, and world-changers.
And most importantly, we celebrate these successes.
Sondra Ashmore is a Business Partner at W.R Berkley in Urbandale.
Women of Innovation Awards celebrate women in STEM – Nov. 14, 2017
From the editor: A week of coverage dedicated to the women of Iowa – Nov. 13, 2017