Innovation Through Diversity
23 Aug

Innovation Through Diversity

Recently Dov and Elma Levy attended a panel hosted by the Center for Transatlantic Relations (CTR) at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University and the Embassy of Denmark to explore ways to diversify the innovation sector by strengthening female entrepreneurship and innovation.

The concept of the discussion was outlined as follows:
“Evidence shows that gender balanced organizations contribute to diversified discussions and debates, as well as a healthy, productive work climate, which is good for business. This seminar raises the question, whether it is a problem for our corporate and organizational culture – and our GDP – that the innovation sector seemingly does not attract women? Innovation is where foundations for new businesses are laid out. Innovation and female entrepreneurship empowers women and gives women a strong platform in market economy. In other words, women and innovation comprise an attractive match.”

In the evening, there was a dinner at the home of the Danish ambassador. Elma and Dov were asked to provide opening remarks. We wanted to share these remarks as these words reflect how we all feel about diversity here at Dovel.

First of all, I would like to thank Ambassador Lose for including us in this distinguished group, and Helena for coordinating the invitation. We are honored and excited to be here this evening.

My name is Elma Levy and, no, I am not Danish, I am Dutch; however, I am frequently asked whether I am Danish and since in my mind both Denmark and The Netherland are equally awesome, I consider it a compliment.

Helena asked us to speak for a few minutes and share our perspectives and experiences with female entrepreneurship and ‘how to ensure a diversified innovation sector in the U.S. and abroad’.

I came to the U.S. in 1982, with Dov; we build a life: house, kids, etc., and then the opportunity came to build a business. I did not know anything about building a business, but I learned, found a mentor, got started, made mistakes, and got better at it. The business, Dovel Technologies, is an IT Government Contracting business; it grew, organically as well as through acquisition, from 2 people to its current size of over 1000. Along the way I learned, through personal experience as well as through observation, the importance of gender balance in the workplace.

Through the many meetings, in which I frequently was the only woman, or one of a few, I observed how women and men come to decisions differently, negotiate differently, communicate differently, and relate to each-other differently – one style is not superior to the other, as a matter of fact, the gender styles complement each-other nicely, as long as both are respected, and represented more or less evenly and this is frequently not the case.

Right now, I see a more gender balanced workforce, but the styles are not yet equally respected, both by men as well as by women, and this has since become a real topic of interest for me: to respect and recognize the value in the difference in communication style between the genders.

How does this relate to the concept of female innovation?

Innovation can be defined simply as a “new idea, device, or method”. But just thinking of a new idea it is not sufficient, it needs to be expressed, explored, accepted, and implemented. For many women, an open, non-judgmental, and accepting environment will encourage them, free them to take risks and bring forward ideas without fear of being ridiculed or dismissed. Knowing that they will be listened to, and respected, allows them to express themselves freely.

I am sure that many ways to increase female innovation have been explored in your panel debate today, but my experience as a business woman has taught me that one key approach is to address the gender differences and coach men to recognize the value in what women bring to the table, and how they bring it, and to coach women in the work place to ‘lean in’, to be articulate and confident and demand respect through behavior. This will go a long way for a woman with an innovative idea to become a female innovator.

Ambassador Lose, distinguished guests, the fact that the discussion is taking place is already encouraging. In her opening remarks, Elma already gave the secret up, we are co-founders of a technology company and we managed to do it and stayed married for 35 years.
From my perspective, we managed to get a technology company off the ground because we both understood that both of us have something equally valuable to bring to the conversations. But when we are talking about female entrepreneurship or a female taking a leadership position in the workplace, we all should do our part to make it happen. This is even more important in the high-tech industry that in many cases is dominated by stories mostly about male success stories (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, etc.)

Realizing that we need more females in technology, entrepreneurship, and leadership has caused Elma and I to do whatever we can to help females in taking the necessary steps to success. We both remember when our company was small and as a “small woman-owned company” we looked at places where we could get benefit from our status and we saw “kitchen cabinetry” (keep in mind, we are a high-tech company building some of this country’s largest, most mission critical computer systems) or when our daughter started her undergraduate degree in a class of 130 students with 5 women and how challenging it was for her (at the end, 3 graduated). But she didn’t give up and she made us believers that with proper encouragements and support, the sky is the limit.

Having a technology company means, having a very diverse workforce. And in general, different nationalities exhibit different behaviors. But we are working hard to ensure that women do not put themselves down, that when there is a meeting, women take a seat at the table vs. near the wall, that even though their voices are not as loud, they are heard and the ideas they have are being given equal consideration but mostly, that they are looking at themselves as equal.
Again – we believe that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and that it can improve the world. So, thank you for inviting us and we are looking forward to robust discussion.