Taking Action with Women In Innovation

Women in Innovation
Women in Innovation

Giant Machines partnered with WIN, Women in Innovation, earlier this year to host a hands-on design thinking workshop. Women and female-identifying strategic thinkers gathered in downtown Manhattan with Kristen Carbone, Founder and CEO of Brilliantly, to help the company get unstuck, mitigate risk, and move from ideas to action. 

Brilliantly’s patent-pending flagship product, Brilliantly Warm, provides instant, full-body warmth at the press of a button. Originally designed for women who have had implant reconstruction after a mastectomy and feel constantly and distractingly cold, market research and user testing uncovered new potential audiences – from breastfeeding moms, to women who love outdoor sports or women who are just cold in their office. We helped Kristen answer a critical question: “What is Brilliantly’s core value proposition, and how do we meet real needs for women?”

Our Innovate team led a series of design thinking exercises to move ideas to action, with participants leaving with a set of tools and frameworks to:

  1. Identify the core value proposition
  2. Surface and articulate risky assumptions around the new value proposition 
  3. Shaping a plan to validate and test assumptions

We met with WIN’s Sabrina Romviel and Makena Naegele for a retro after the event, and here’s what we learned. 

WIN was founded in 2016 with the goal of closing the gender gap in the field of innovation. Can you tell us a little more about this and how you’ve seen the field and WIN evolve since WIN was founded?

Sabrina: We were founded with this mission to close the gender gap in innovation and innovation leadership and create clear pathways for women to have seats at tables. Initially we were so focused on traditional innovation leadership roles, like Chief Innovation Officers or other positions with “innovation” in the title. 

Over the past few years we’ve expanded our definition of innovation to recognize that anyone can be an innovator regardless of their title, and we’re now targeting new audiences accordingly, like startups, product incubation and even in-house innovation arms. We hosted our first in-person event in January, where we had a panel drawn from all these fields to discuss what innovation means to them. 

What we’re trying to push forward now is not only championing women in innovation consultancies, but also in leadership in general.

Makena: I like to think of WIN as your women in business community. With every event that we do and every design workshop, it’s open to any woman who’s interested in innovation.

You talked about how WIN as an organization has expanded its definition of innovation and evolved. Is that in response to how you’re seeing the field at large talk about innovation? Or is that something that WIN would like to drive by saying that innovation is not this narrowly defined thing, and that as long as you are breaking norms and trying new things you are an innovator?

Sabrina: We’d like to think that WIN is on the driver side and expanding the definition of innovation. Innovation is now such a buzzword that we’re trying to make the concept as tactical as possible by showing how innovation occurs in all these different fields and ways.

Makena: Innovation is always going to be important, so an innovative mindset is a really powerful skill for members in our community. We really try to champion the idea that anyone can innovate. 

We hosted a Taking Action workshop in collaboration with WIN in June. How do you see events like these benefiting WIN as an organization and its member community? How do you see events like this taking shape in the future?

Makena: It was such an impactful event with Giant Machines because everyone managed to contribute. Even if attendees came into the room thinking “I don’t know if I can contribute since I don’t really know anything about innovation or product ideation”, they felt empowered to do so. WIN is going to partner with Capgemini on a design thinking workshop – the Capgemini Applied Innovation Exchange in collaboration with WIN – we’re going to partner with an emerging tech startup around their core business challenges. The GM workshop really inspired us to do more of these practical, tactical, hands-on events.

Sabrina: The sense of accomplishment that came after the GM event was new to me and the other attendees. It’s great to have panel discussions and see people who look like you discuss their experiences, but the tangible feeling I had after Taking Action that I had not only learned something but also did meaningful work was incredible. These types of events are something that WIN can absolutely focus on in the future: we’re trying to “product-ize” our events where attendees can take a framework for innovation and product ideation back to their everyday roles, and Taking Action was a key proof of concept for that idea.

Makena: Giant Machines had frameworks that I had never seen before and I’ve already applied to my day-to-day. These frameworks can even be things that you can put on your resume.

Aside from partnerships like ours, what opportunities excite the WIN community and help strengthen diversity and representation across the innovation community and industry? How is WIN bringing more of that representation into the community?

Sabrina: We created the WIN Awards to celebrate leaders, rising stars, and the different awards are designed to speak to different audiences. This year we are also celebrating “Movers and Makers” to initially begin thinking about bringing people from various ages and stages in their careers into innovation work and immersing them in the organization.

Regarding diversity, we are working to make WIN a more diverse organization by encouraging diverse voices to come in. We prioritize diversity at our events—for example, at a recent panel event on fintech innovation we partnered with Barclays to bring in multiple women leaders who are innovating for social impact. 

Makena: We market extensively to promote diversity at our events, and we’re very thoughtful about the events that we put on, the partners we choose, even the startup founders. Diversity and inclusion is important in every panel, and we try to be very intentional. 

Sabrina: We also encourage inviting men to our events—we recognize that in order to grow and get seats at the table we need men as well to act as champions and as sponsors. 

What have you heard from your members about the skills and opportunities they would like to build as practitioners / innovation leaders?

Makena: At our events we do “Ask and Give” sessions, where women looking to pivot have a chance to connect with other attendees and those with the capacity to mentor or add staffing for projects can find matches. Incorporating those sessions into every event we do really helps our members build upon their skill sets and go to the places in their career where they want to be. 

In terms of specific skills, the core innovation attributes of ideation, prioritization, and design thinking are all top of mind for our members. In our upcoming workshops we’re hoping to hone in on commercial skills, so going beyond coming up with an idea to think about how to monetize it and analyze the market potential. 

Sabrina: On the other side of hard innovation skill sets, there are soft skills that can help you grow to the next step of your career that our members are eager to build: it’s one thing to have the skills, but it’s another thing to have the confidence to build yourself up.

Makena: In the future WIN may host a retreat for women to focus on these soft skills, like presentation skills, comportment, speaking. Soft skills are technical skills at the end of the day.

Imagine you’re looking back on the field of innovation from the year 2030. How would you complete this thought about innovation: “I can’t believe … was the case even just a few years ago.”

Makena: I think it’s crazy that there are so few women at the intersection of innovation and technology and how that manifests in practice. For example, VR headsets were created by men, so women often get dizzy after wearing them for a half hour because there are different centers of gravity between the sexes, which says a lot about the space. We’re heading towards a future with more women innovators, and there’s so much opportunity (generative AI, AR/VR, etc) that I hope the status quo changes quickly.

Sabrina: I can’t believe innovation wasn’t as widely taught in 2023 as it is today. I was lucky to have found an innovation-focused program at my college, but so many of my colleagues didn’t have the strategic backbone of innovation coming out of school. I hope that innovation becomes a way of thinking that is taught in schools like STEM, with frameworks and tools being made widely accessible. 

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