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PlayMINT - Still Playing or Already Leading? Design of a Digital Learning Game to Promote Female STEM Students' Innovative Work Behavior and Digital Leadership

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Although the proportion of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) professions has increased significantly in recent years, they are still striking underrepresented in study programs and companies of the STEM area. Moreover, women only occupy 21% of STEM leadership positions in Germany. These numbers underline a serious gender gap in the STEM field. To address this gender gap and benefit from the work and innovation potential of STEM women for companies in times of the digital disruption, we develop the competency-based learning game PlayMINT. PlayMINT intends to stimulate interest in and prepare female students for STEM beyond study programs to encourage women to start STEM careers and to promote them into STEM leadership positions. Based on existing research in leadership and management, we design PlayMINT with the goal of teaching concepts and competencies, which are relevant to leadership, innovation, and digital transformation. Our assumptions underlying PlayMINT are that creative self-efficacy, effective interpersonal communication, and general business knowledge are predictors for higher innovative work behavior in the STEM area and that empowering, envisioning, and general business knowledge promote digital leadership. PlayMINT aims to realize these suggestions for female STEM students, in particular from computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering, because these fields show the most pervasive gender gap within the STEM fields. PlayMINT leads participants through the innovation process in a robot company by playing the role of a female engineer. Her mission is to implement a medical robot for spinal surgeries as a new business idea. PlayMINT will provide valuable contributions to STEM study programs, to STEM companies, and society in general.
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PlayMINT - Still Playing or Already Leading? Design of a Digital
Learning Game to Promote Female STEM Students’ Innovative Work
Behavior and Digital Leadership
llse Hagerer1, Theresa Treffers1,2, Antonia Hoffmann1, Carolin Richly1, Stephan Baier1 and
Isabell Melanie Welpe1
1Technical University of Munich, Chair for Strategy and Organization, Munich, Germany
2Seeburg Castle University, Seekirchen, Austria
ilse.hagerer@tum.de
theresa.treffers@tum.de
DOI: 10.34190/GBL.20.177
Abstract: Although the proportion of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) professions
has increased significantly in recent years, they are still striking underrepresented in study programs an d companies of the
STEM area. Moreover, women only occupy 21% of STEM leadership positions in Germany. These numbers underline a
serious gender gap in the STEM field. To address this gender gap and benefit from the work and innovation potential of
STEM women for companies in times of the digital disruption, we develop the competency-based learning game PlayMINT.
PlayMINT intends to stimulate interest in and prepare female students for STEM beyond study programs to encourage
women to start STEM careers and to promote them into STEM leadership positions. Based on existing research in
leadership and management, we design PlayMINT with the goal of teaching concepts and competencies, which are
relevant to leadership, innovation, and digital transformation. Our assumptions underlying PlayMINT are that creative self-
efficacy, effective interpersonal communication, and general business knowledge are predictors for higher innovative work
behavior in the STEM area and that empowering, envisioning, and general business knowledge promote digital leadership.
PlayMINT aims to realize these suggestions for female STEM students, in particular from computer science, electrical
engineering, and mechanical engineering, because these fields show the most pervasive gender gap within the STEM fields.
PlayMINT leads participants through the innovation process in a robot company by playing the role of a female engineer.
Her mission is to implement a medical robot for spinal surgeries as a new business idea. PlayMINT will provide valuable
contributions to STEM study programs, to STEM companies, and society in general.
Keywords: STEM, gender gap, competency-based learning game, serious game, innovative work behavior, digital
leadership
1. Introduction
Knowledge in STEM is key to the successful digital transformation of companies (Ashurst et al., 2012). Skilled
labor from STEM professionals is highly required because they produce most innovations (Mumford et al.,
2002). Besides, digitization depends on effective leadership (Zeike et al., 2019). Companies need digital leaders
with extended competencies to cope with upcoming challenges from digitalization (Akdere et al., 2019). Due
to the increasing demand for STEM professionals, it is an opportunity for companies to recruit STEM women.
Although their proportion in STEM professions has increased in recent years, it is still only 15% in Germany,
and the proportion of female STEM students is only 29% (Bundesagentur für Arbeit, 2019). Hence, it is
important to address female underrepresentation, particularly since many indicators show that companies
with a high proportion of women in management positions are economically more successful (Desvaux et al.,
2010).
Reasons that impede the professional advancement of women lie in prevailing stereotypical role expectations.
Women are attributed to be sensitive and caring. In contrast, men are ascribed an analytical, dominant
behavior that is more in line with the role expectations of leaders (Heilman, 2012). Companies have
undertaken several actions to raise their proportion of women. Quotas, target agreements (Mölders et al.,
2018), and mentors promote women to management positions. New career models foster the compatibility of
family and career (Peus and Welpe, 2011). Unconscious bias training shall prevent stereotypes from
influencing decisions (Kimmel, 2015). However, the persisting gender gap shows that these activities are
insufficient.
Our paper aims to address this shortcoming by arguing that there is need for behavioral training and changes
in social norms. We claim that it is vital to support female STEM students from their graduation into STEM
careers. Thus, this paper shows the design of the digital learning game PlayMINT, which teaches relevant
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competencies to leadership, innovation, and digital transformation like innovative work behavior and digital
leadership.
2. Theoretical background
2.1 Digital leadership in the STEM context
Technological innovation especially affects the STEM industry, e. g., in the form of new computing
technologies like broadband internet access, mobile devices, wearables, biotech, artificial intelligence, and
augmented or virtual reality. Digital technology causes an exponential pace of change. As a completely new
challenge, leaders must integrate and leverage these key technology trends (Brett, 2019). Research has shown
that a firms digitalization depends on effective leadership (Zeike et al., 2019). Hence, a leader with the right
competencies can open up its employees towards new technologies to transform the company digitally.
Scholars identified empowerment and envisioning as main competencies of digital leaders: During digital
disruption, leaders empowering is necessary to help employees overcome fears (Keuper et al., 2018). An
empowering leader enhances the meaningfulness of work and imparts employees substantial impact on
overall organizational effectiveness. He allows self-determined work (Spreitzer, 1995) and conveys a vision
concerning digital transformation to prepare followers for digital disruption (Westerman et al., 2012).
Visioning leaders perceive salient trends, expand the horizon of others, and are open to change (Kets de Vries
et al., 2004).
2.2 Innovative work behavior in the STEM context
Innovative work behavior is one of the main mechanisms for organizations to improve their competitiveness
and ensure long-term survival (Domínguez-Escrig et al., 2019). Digitalization can be regarded as a consequence
of innovative work behavior, which is defined as the individual pursuit of initiating novel ideas at the
workplace (De Jong and Den Hartog, 2010) and consists of three stages to improve performance: generation,
promotion, and realization of ideas. For the achievement of these stages in the STEM context, current research
puts a strong emphasis on the development of interpersonal competencies for effective leadership, although
their technical expertise is advanced. Particularly, creative self-efficacy and effective interpersonal
communication are suggested as key competencies for innovation (Akdere et al., 2019). Creative self-efficacy
describes the belief to achieve creative results (Tierney and Farmer, 2002) and is positively related to idea
generation and innovative behavior (Ng and Lucianetti, 2016). Managers with creative self-efficacy introduce
more innovations because creative self-efficacy influences entrepreneurial and innovative intent. Effective
communication is another crucial competency for STEM leaders. It means the ability to engage in relationships
through active listening, assertive self-expression, and receiving and responding to feedback (Rubin and
Martin, 1994; Akdere et al., 2019). Leaders’ effective communication reduces the likelihood of uncertainty
related to change (Daft and Lengel, 1986). Figure 1 illustrates the interrelations between the described
constructs.
Figure 1: Conceptual model underlying PlayMINT
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3. Method: Using serious learning games
To address our assumptions that behavioral training is best for competencies like innovative work behavior
and digital leadership, we develop the digital learning game PlayMINT. Because the amount of traditional
teaching methods in higher education is extensive, a digital learning game may generate more interest among
students than passive forms of knowledge transfer. Indeed, research has shown that learning games can
effectively transmit knowledge, skills, and motivation. They also increase the self-confidence of participants
(Young et al., 2012). Besides, an educational game provides a safe learning context in which participants can
actively gain experience and critically reflect their actions (Li and Tsai, 2013). Thus, serious games show better
learning outcomes compared to traditional teaching concepts and a more positive attitude towards the
learning content (Divjak and Tomi•, 2011).
4. Design of PlayMINT
PlayMINT seeks to give a broader sense of STEM studies by teaching knowledge about general management
and training leadership competencies to improve innovative work behavior and become digital leaders.
PlayMINT guides female STEM students through the stage-gate process (Cooper, 1990) based on a new
business idea located at the interface between computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical
engineering. The setting is a robot company where players take the role of a female engineer with the mission
to develop a medical robot for spinal surgeries. Players should perceive the company and the business idea as
an exciting and relevant setting to inspire entering a STEM career.
Within the stage-gate process, the players have to fulfill tasks to complete their mission. Every task intends to
train a leadership competency, i.e., creative self-efficacy, effective communication, empowering, and
envisioning. The tasks are designed as interactive dialogues with colleagues. Within the conversations, players
can select answers, which we derived from scientific scales that measure the respective competency (Rubin
and Martin 1994; Zeike et al. 2019). Players get points for their responses. For example, a task is to convince a
colleague to hand out the financial projections before the deadline to improve the planning. Depending on the
answers the player gives in the dialogue, her score on effective interpersonal communication increases, she
comes closer to the task fulfillment, and, ultimately, her mission. During some tasks, a robot pops up to give
advice. There are hidden knowledge nuggets about general management, for example, within posters. Figure 2
illustrates the design of the prototype.
Figure 2: Screenshot examples of the PlayMINT prototype
5. Discussion and Conclusion
We started this paper by noting that STEM knowledge is key to innovation and companies’ digital
transformation and stated female underrepresentation in STEM professions. We developed the competency-
based learning game PlayMINT to gain female STEM students for STEM professions and leadership positions.
We contribute to STEM research by providing PlayMINT as an educational tool to improve students
knowledge about general management and digital leadership skills. This is important because traditional STEM
curricula mainly focus on STEM knowledge and neglect the broader sense of STEM studies in times of digital
disruption.
Second, we contribute to research about digital transformation of companies by providing an educational tool
that teaches knowledge and trains innovative work behavior and digital leadership. While PlayMINT initially
targets female STEM students, companies can also use it as a human resource tool for STEM professionals.
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Third, we contribute to the field of game-based learning. Most serious games developed for professional
purposes are offline (Wattanasoontorn et al., 2013), not scientifically evaluated, and not open access.
PlayMINT is among the few serious games that are open-access digital learning games for future professionals
based on scientific methods. Finally, PlayMINT will openly provide its source code so that developers can adapt
this game to different professional contexts. In further research, we evaluate PlayMINT through a survey to
gain longitudinal data, which will give insights into the effectiveness of the learning goals of PlayMINT.
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