The women involved with the Women Inventors Project have developed a diverse group of inventions, including a novel three-way mirror for applying eye make-up or contact lenses, an electronic car mileage recorder, a collapsible prawn trap, a pacifier holder, and artificial intelligence software. (I n addition to the work with adult women described here, the Project has developed and tested a workshop on inventing for grade 10 girls. Inventions by students have included a solar-heated rabbit hutch, a folder for organizing sheet music and a handbag organizer.)

Barriers for Women Inventors
In interviews with women inventors, we found that their major perceived barriers were both internal and external (2). The major perceived internal barrier was "lack of ability": 86% of a sample of women inventors who did not have a support program cited this lack as a major challenge. This could reflect a general lack of self-confidence though about half of this sample did not feel that this was a problem. The major external barriers cited were finances, lack of time, and lack of information. Although lack of finances is a barrier for all inventors, women generally have more difficulty obtaining financial credit than men.. Time is also significant, since many of these women are juggling three roles: wife /mother, work outside the home and inventing. A study of successful male inventors found that they require an enormous amount of unstructured and uninterrupted time (3).

Training Format
To help women inventors and innovators overcome barriers, the Women Inventors Project designed a training format which fills a three day period, or which can be broken down into short workshop units. The content is based on needs identified by a focus group of women inventors and includes among other things, information and resource materials relevant to the launching of an invention and information on networking strategies. In addition, one workshop session applies assertiveness and communication techniques to actual situations women will encounter and gives them the opportunity to rehearse unfamiliar business and technical terminology. The training format was refined in two three-day programs for 51 women from across the country, all at some point in the invention process.
    The women inventors who participated were predominately relational in their learning and work styles, which means they learned and worked most effectively when there were opportunities to relate personally to workshop leaders, to develop a sense of community with other women in the group and to see the relevance of workshop materials to their personal projects (4). In order to enhance the quality of the training, the workshops were especially designed to include time for one-on-one conversing between workshop leaders and participants, hands-on prototype building, role models the women could relate to, displays of the women's inventions, and brainstorming situations from the women's own experience.
     Because those whose work and learning style is relational find it important to work through their feelings and sensitivity on anything they are working on, some of the questions in the daily evaluation format were designed to facilitate self-understanding and to help women see their efforts in a positive frame of reference. Much peer learning - learning from each other's experience - occurred during the training; some of the women found this the most stimulating part of the sessions.

Successful male inventors need an enormous amount of unstructured and uninterrupted time.

Follow-Up of Participants
A follow-up study of 48 of the 51 participants was carried out 9 to 12 months later. The women enthusiastically accorded high scores to the training and attributed to it much of their success within the last year. Not only had access to up-to-date invention and business information increased their sense of direction and confidence, but the contact with role models, resource people and other participants had sustained their focus and motivation. Eighty-one percent of the participants had kept in touch with people they had met at the training. Confidence has often been linked with success in the business world and was credited by the women with many of the advancements made during the year as they worked to develop and promote their inventions. The follow-up study revealed that 83% of the participants in one workshop rated their self-confidence as "good" or "very good". It is clear that the training plays a critical role in improving confidence and perception of competency in matters pertaining to innovation and business.

At the time of the workshops four inventions were already on the market and during the year after the training three inventors worked on refining their marketing strategies or strengthening business procedures. In the same year, five new inventions entered the marketplace and others progressed to marketing, distribution, advertising, licensing or business incorporation stages.

Back Contents Next