Addressing the Gender Gap Among Patent Holders Through Invention Education Policies | MIT J-WEL

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Addressing the Gender Gap Among Patent Holders Through Invention Education Policies

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The gender gap among patent holders in the U.S. has been well documented. Some studies illuminating the need for greater diversity have included recommendations for new policies aimed at changing the differential ways men and women take up opportunities to develop as inventors and to obtain U.S. patents. However, limited studies are available to guide the design of programs and establishment of policies that reflect promising practices for teaching young women to invent and patent during their high school years. This article reports findings from the study of the Lemelson-MIT Program’s 14-year-old high school InvenTeams initiative and related policy implications for increasing gender diversity among U.S. patent holders through invention education in high school. The initiative has engaged more than 2,200 high school students (34% female) in inventing, with seven of the 229 teams obtaining U.S. patents. The program’s records, student surveys, and participant interviews serve as a foundation for the study. Our analyses of the interview transcripts examined what supported and constrained three young women’s participation in the year-long, team-based invention process and how the InvenTeam experience influenced their ways of seeing themselves as leaders, inventors, and innovators. Factors that supported their work as inventors included the organization and processes of InvenTeams, various resources and people, and their own personal qualities, values, and beliefs. Factors that constrained their work included time, stereotypes, and lack of prior knowledge, exposure, understanding, and engagement. 

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