Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Guest Post by Prof. Koffi: A Gender Gap in Commercializing Scientific Discoveries

Guest post by Marlene Koffi, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Toronto and NBER Faculty Research Fellow. This post is part of a series by the Diversity Pilots Initiative, which advances inclusive innovation through rigorous research. The first blog in the series is here and resources from the first conference of the initiative are available here.

Diversity and inclusion in science and commercialization are integral to innovation, societal and economic growth. While progress has been made in increasing representation and inclusivity in STEM, there are complex factors at play that hinder a comprehensive understanding of the barriers faced by underrepresented groups in these fields. Today, I will focus on a challenging point later in the invention process: commercializing a scientific discovery. In a research study with Matt Marx, we characterize the gender dynamics of scientific commercialization in the full canon of scientific inquiry.

One of the highlights of our study is to show that, as a society, we have made lots of progress regarding gender balance in the early steps of the scientific production process. Analyzing 70 million scientific articles, we observe meaningful growth in female participation in scientific production. In 1980, barely one in five published papers included a female author. By 2020, that figure exceeded 50%. This increase represents a significant cultural shift in the scientific community. Diversity in science has been shown to stimulate innovation and promote higher recognition within the academic community. This is a win not just for the women involved but for the whole of society.

However, these gains for women early in scientific production hide potential pitfalls later. Namely, the key takeaway of our study is that a significant gender gap remains for commercializing scientific discoveries. Given that we find the gender gap in commercialization is the largest among discoveries that are more highly cited and with higher commercial potential, we title our study and refer to these uncommercialized discoveries as “Cassatts in the Attic” after the renowned female painter and printmaker Mary Cassatt.