To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, I thought I would recognize some amazing women whose ingenuity and perseverance have changed lives.
Women’s achievements in innovation often go unnoticed. You are probably familiar with Marie Curie, whose discoveries changed our use of radiation in medicine and won her a Nobel Prize.
But did you know that Hedi Lamarr was a gifted inventor? Lamarr gained international fame as a Hollywood glamour girl in the 1940s and 50s. But she is less well known for co-developing a “frequency hopping” system during World War II to guide Allied torpedoes to their targets, avoiding the threat of jamming by the enemy. Although the U.S. Navy originally declined to use this technology, Lamarr continued innovating and her work supported later developments in Bluetooth, GPS and other wireless technologies.
While Hollywood recognized Lamarr’s film accomplishments by honoring her with a star on the Walk of Fame in 1960, it wasn’t until decades later that she received awards for her inventions. And finally, in 2014 she was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
I have to admit that I was personally unaware of Lamarr’s off-screen achievements until my friend and fellow innovator, Josh Cohen at GIANT Innovation, told me about her scientific work. There are many other women who similarly have flown largely under the radar, including many Nobel prize winners, female entrepreneurs and other female innovators.
So I wanted to take a moment to recognize some of my female colleagues who are pushing the envelope here at WTW. These ladies may not (yet) have achieved international fame, but they are undoubtedly making an impact in our industry.
Let’s start with Helene Galy and Claire Wilkinson – the dynamic duo behind one of our most exciting new innovation projects, which, when launched, will support small businesses. This project originated through our global innovation challenge called Horizons, which gives every WTW colleague a chance to propose ideas and, if selected, take up to four months out of their jobs to be intrapreneurs, leading projects through a rapid prototyping and concept testing cycle.
One of the great things about the Horizons challenge is that it enables our leaders to hear from colleagues in every business and in every corner of the globe – colleagues whose ideas may not otherwise get elevated to executives’ attention.
In 2021, all three winning ideas from Horizons were led by women. Besides Galy and Wilkinson’s project, Tasha Pettet was one of the other winners. Pettet’s project promises to be a truly revolutionary disruptor to the insurance value chain. I fully expect to see Pettet and her team take home some insurance industry awards when this innovation hits the market. So stay tuned for that.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of the women on my iLab (WTW’s Innovation Lab) team. They include: Katie Plemmons, the best innovation coach in North America if not the world; Paige Seaborn, who has done a fabulous job scaling our Innovation Masters program to build colleagues’ innovation skills throughout WTW; Claudia Guembe, who joined our team just a few months ago and already has had an impact in driving colleague engagement in innovation; Constanza Lobo-Guerrero Rodriguez, who is leading our innovation culture strategy; and our newest hire, Meghan Haley, who joined us following a stint at her own startup and who is now running innovation sprints. I can’t imagine a more high-powered group of women innovators and consider myself lucky to work with such a talented team.
We didn’t always have such high female participation in our innovation efforts in WTW. In fact, we’ve worked hard to include more women in innovation over the last several years. Read more about how we did it.
So as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to recognize and thank my colleagues and all of the women innovators out there – keep on creating!