There are generally few women on the stages at entrepreneurial conferences, and this year TechBBQ line up has provoked many inquiries – and with good reason. But it should not lead to women being favoured simply because of their gender.
As co-organiser of the entrepreneurial conference TechBBQ I am part of the group (of men), who originally initiated the non-profit conference and who decides who gets to go on the stage. In this year’s lineup, which counts more than 30 entrepreneurs and investors from Denmark and abroad, there is not a single woman – besides the fantastic host, Laila Pawlak from DARE2mansion and the Thinkubator accelerator.
This, I have received a lot of criticism for. E-mails, calls and twitter messages with the issue; “Where are the women?” And “Can this really be true?” I understand the criticism, and I am pleased that it comes. It’s nice to feel that people are aware of the gender distribution in the startup environment.
That being said, I will not choose a speaker based on gender. The TechBBQ group chose speakers based on what their companies have accomplished in relation to the validation and testing of their product on the market. We are also looking at whether they are different, quirky and visionary – and we also take into consideration whether we believe they are good at presenting on a stage. All these values are, for us, totally independent of gender.
Furthermore a large number of women from the tech startup environment has already been on the stage of TechBBQ in recent years, among other Tine Thygesen (Ever Places and Founders House), Camilla Ley Valentin (Queue-IT) and Mette Lykke (Endomondo) and we don’t want reputations. It takes several years for entrepreneurs to gather enough experience for us to invite them up on the stage, and the women we have asked this year, have not returned.
My breasts should not be my invitation
Personally, I do not favour quotas for boards of directors, and I will of principle not hunt female founders and entrepreneurs to the scene, just because they are women. Therefore there are no women on the list of speakers. And I have to add that I myself would be very annoyed to be invited up on stage, just because I’m a woman and not because I have fought my way up and forward to be top of mind in the selection process.
The same issue is discussed every year in relation to ‘Ivækstprisens‘ category ‘Female Entrepreneur of the Year’ (there is no category named ‘Male Entrepreneur’ of the Year). I have brought up the debate in articles on the subject every year, and I have spoken with several nominated women who are accepting the nomination with a combination of joy and regret. The entrepreneur Tine Thygesen (Ever Places and Founders House) wrote in a blog post that she received the nomination with mixed feelings, because a disability is placed upon you, and thus you are put into a context based on a weakness – not a strength.
As a woman in the tech startup environment I am naturally vexed that there are no women on stage at TechBBQ 2015. But what I regret is that there simply are no more women yet (and that the ones we asked don’t prioritise to participate). I do not regret the way we select the speakers. We have neither considered ethnic origin and age, even though it is also something that we have both talked about and chosen to ignore.
Personally, I don’t want to doubt the reason for an organizer to invite me to an event. I believe that I can fight my way forward, and I believe that the more women who launches tech companies, the more will follow.
I think, however, that we will see more women at the head of interesting startups already next year. I think it is teeming with female founders and directors who work very seriously with their startups – though it is in the early stage. So I am looking forward to having more women to chose from next year, and probably even a majority within two or three years. If the ones we approached had accepted, there would have been 2 out of 13 presentations from women this year.
So what should we do?
And finally; there need to be a focus on it. I don’t disagree with this, and I am happy to stand up and talk or write about it, as I have done earlier. In forums where precisely this debate is on the table, like the women’s networks Geek Girls or Ladies First.
TechBBQ is about meeting to celebrate the successes and the growth that the Danish startup environment has already seen, and which do not seem to be diminishing. I can mention several impressive women who are well on their way to becoming candidates for next year; Dorte Sejthen with Filihood, Rikke Biehl with Delogue, Mia Grosen with Comundu and Claire Ross-Brown with PitchXO. Not to mention last year’s Startupbootcamp Mobile, which consisted of eight female founders and directors, of which there are undoubtedly promising potential for a place on the list of speakers next year.
I hope to see a lot of women at the event, to network and drink coffee with investors and business angels, and I look forward to seeing a handful of them on stage with their established startups over the next year.
I will let Laila Pawlak’s words from the ‘Ivækstprisens’ debate last year conclude my speech:
“We must of course recognise that the statistics speak for themselves: there are fewer female entrepreneurs than there are males. Yet. Once there were not many women in universities – now there are more women than men who take a higher education.”