By Theresa Weston and Melissa Helpinstill
At DuPont, we believe that finding innovative solutions to problems begins with speaking to those dealing with those problems in the first place. Today, we are using technology and machine learning to crowdsource our ideas from the experts.
Regardless of the methods, one thing that hasn’t changed is our focus on thought diversity, pulling people with different expertise and backgrounds together to find the most effective solutions for our customers. As women in construction, we have each been the only woman in a room at one point in our careers. In order to truly foster innovation, leaders must cultivate greater diversity and inclusion to reap the benefits of true diversity of thought.
Before product development begins, experts and teams must first understand the problem they are trying to solve. Through a method known today as ethnography, DuPont scientists and engineers head into the construction zone to study their subjects at work.
One of our most successful experiences with this process occurred 20 years ago, when builders reported struggling with water and air intrusion at window and door openings. Tasked with finding a solution, Teri and her team traveled to job sites across the country, observing deficiencies in existing window installation practices and conducting in-depth conversations
about their concerns.
When they returned, an intellectually diverse DuPont team got to work on fixing the problem, often leading to debate. While different perspectives can delay finding a solution, the result is often finding a better one. Teri and her team ultimately identified the installation issues that inspired the development of DuPont FlexWrap and DuPont’s future flashing product line.
Decades later, ethnography is still essential to understanding both business and user needs. But as society advances, our problems become more complicated to solve, requiring an even greater pool of diverse thought to find innovative ideas.
That’s why DuPont is building on its strong heritage of research and innovation with technology designed for teamwork. Complementing ethnography’s external problem-identification process, the company is now turning to its international internal network for solutions.
In August, DuPont introduced the Ideation Challenge, a crowdsourcing effort to address obstacles in construction. The program recruited about 5,000 DuPont employees around the globe who specialize in construction – the industry where we both work – to gain insights from the people who know the subject best.
Ideation Challenge technology provided a digital framework for sharing and collaborating on solutions. Employees could expand on others’ suggestions, and vote for those that were most promising so that they became more visible across the network. Overall, this technology allowed DuPont to scale thought diversity to the worldwide team, bringing the company one step closer to the next big idea in construction.
With DuPont’s goal of full gender parity by 2030, we are no longer the only women in the room and are now leading a thriving network of female professionals, scientists and engineers — Teri as a DuPont fellow, the highest technical professional level in the company, and Melissa as a co-leader of DuPont’s Global Women’s Network, the company’s largest employee resource group.
With business’s increased desire for creative solutions, it is important now more than ever that women take advantage of today’s opportunity and assert themselves as a valuable piece of the innovation puzzle. Women should be willing to speak up and be confident in what they have to say and share it ideas without worry of what others will think. Finding a male ally can be valuable. Better yet, find fellow females and
create a community of change.
Theresa Weston, Ph.D., began her career at DuPont at the Experimental Station and now leads building science and construction technology research for DuPont Performance Building Solutions. She is one of only 13 DuPont Fellows Melissa J. Helpinstill has worked for DuPont for 20 years and is currently the Global Strategy & Growth Leader, Performance Building Solutions and Corian Design. She is also the co-leader of the Global DuPont Women’s Network, the largest diversity network in DuPont, which focuses on engaging, equipping, and empowering women for individual and corporate success. Melissa lives in Middletown.