LATIN AMERICAN WOMEN AND INNOVATION
Gender issues in innovation are seldom discussed. Several authors have drawn attention to this deficit, since it has addressed much more where innovation occurs and not who participates in it. The literature on SMEs and innovation propose that entrepreneurs are responsible for the decisions made about innovation, therefore any attempt to investigate it, must include the analysis of the characteristics of the entrepreneur. Without forgetting analysis for important questions such as, why some entrepreneurs are more innovative than others?, what intra-personal factors allow this approach to innovation?, and why do the latest studies from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor indicate that women believe they have a greater propensity for innovation?.
Therefore, we will focus on three demographic variables of women entrepreneurs that many studies on business innovation conclude that have the most impact: age, education and previous experience of the entrepreneurs. Thus, one of the most influential characteristics of the innovative performance of SMEs is the age of the entrepreneur. In the case of Latin American women, the research has determined that they enter the business field at an older age and that the most innovative are those who border and exceed 40 years, an age that has been enough for them to achieve professional experience and obtain one or more college degrees.
In this way, the level of innovation of SMEs, is also related to the educational level, so it is understood that, the higher the educational level of the entrepreneur, the greater the advances in innovation of the company. This is clearly evidenced in the framework of developed countries with greater access to quality education opportunities, where disruptive innovation processes generally occur. In developing countries, the investment of governmental and non-governmental entities, both in education and training, has led women to achieve a reduces innovative performance in areas related to product development, marketing and distribution channels and very little in technological areas.
In addition, there is the previous experience, which refers to the amount of knowledge that a woman entrepreneur has been able to achieve, and that could be applied in her new company. This experience would also be related to the time worked before start her own business. Thus, several studies indicate that the longer the time unemployed, the shorter the capacity for innovation. At the Latin American level, this situation is contrasted with the organizational structure that could limit women access to get experience in specific sectors dominated by men. This, added to the glass ceiling theory, which indicates that a few amount of women has been able to reach higher positions such as business management position. This multifactor culture has generated that few women get experience in organizational management. However, they have achieved to break that glass ceiling in their own company and have been able to feel the benefits of innovation.
There are also personal factors that are complemented by demographic characteristics, which have been studied through the Theory of risk taking propensity (Cantillon, 1775) that considers entrepreneurs as risk takers and it is the risk taking propensity which differentiates women in LATAM, usually necessity-driven.
Consequently, Latin American women entrepreneurs, are more sensitive and open to market needs, more aware of environmental responsibility and have embraced innovation processes as a way of subsistence and differentiation in highly competitive markets, where business sustainability is a constant search.