In early 2020, Kathryn Clouse and other members of the Kohler Co. Women@Work Business Resource Group (BRG) activated a brand-new focus area: Gendered Innovations. Their goal was to promote ideation and product development around the unique needs of female consumers. They weren’t certain where their ideas would lead, but they were determined to give a (louder) voice to women designing and using products all over the world.
Their first major breakthrough came in the form of the first annual Kohler Co. Gendered Innovation Hackathon.
“We invited associates from across the company—not just engineers and designers—to compete in three rounds of ideation over the course of the one-day hackathon,” explained Kathryn. “It was basically a huge brainstorm around designing products to suit women.”
Kathryn, an engineer by trade, also has a background in diversity and inclusion, which drives her passion for unearthing feminine needs and ensuring they’re well-represented in the products Kohler Co. and other manufacturers’ designs. She particularly wanted to showcase the ideas of women not typically associated with innovation or technical roles—everything from sales to marketing to HR. The hackathon was the perfect platform to do this.
The theme of the day was The Female Body & Managing Women’s Health. Seven teams formed around different gender concepts, including physical health, mental health and feminine health (menstruation, pregnancy, hormones and menopause). They conducted consumer research, wrote a proposal and pitched their concepts to executive judges.
The results were inspiring, for both participants and executive decision-makers. Here are some of the responses:
“My takeaway from today is to be more inclusive in my problem solving. There is a lot of potential. This workshop has been important in understanding how much we need to focus on this.” – Sindhura Maganti, Mechanical Project Engineer
“Being able to learn from the experiences of women who live with these needs every day is very empowering for accomplishing our goal today and for future development as well.” – Chris Skaletski, Sr. Supply Management Specialist, NPD
“Amazing energy and passion! We could feel it ... that’s where we see some of the best ideas come from. A lot of great ideas we saw here that we think could go to the next stages.” – Shawn Oldenhoff, President – K&B North America
According to Kathryn, the next steps are determining how to take the momentum, creativity and content and start synthesizing it. This includes prioritizing ideas, determining where Kohler Co. products could have an impact and connecting with the right product category leaders to get then in the new product queue.
“We have a unique opportunity to create a more empowering environment for women—inside Kohler and out,” added Kathryn. “Our businesses are using that captive audience to inform product development and make the world better. These are products for women, designed by women.”