Three years ago, I wrote an article titled ‘The Award for Being a Woman’ after I was nominated for NSW Woman of the Year. You can read it here. What propelled me to write that article was a surprising and eye-opening conversation with my three then-pre-teen boys about their confusion at the existence of a “woman’s” award. And, the discomfort I didn’t realise I would experience during the award ceremony.
Since then, I have quietly chosen to not accept any nomination for a “woman’s” award. It is a not a huge stance, I am not waving a flag and one day I may change my mind. But for now, it is just personal decision to want to be judged on an even footing for my work and my impact and because I know my boys are still watching.
In 2011, I was nominated for and won the EY Social Entrepreneur Of The Year award. It is hands down my proudest honour received to date. It completely changed the trajectory of Miracle Babies Foundation, the charity I had founded and had a huge effect on me personally.
That conversation with my sons happened 4 years after I had won the EY award and one of the things I have really grown to value about being involved in that award program is the fact that it is not gender specific. I was on a level playing field, being judged solely on what I was outputting personally and professionally.
Since my win, I have attended the EY award ceremonies at both the Regional and National levels every year and for the second year in a row, I have been invited to be a regional judge. Also, for the second year in a row the awareness of female nominees, or rather lack of, has been brought to my attention.
In the Eastern Region this year, only 2 of the 14 phenomenal companies nominated were founded or operated by female entrepreneurs. At the award ceremony held on 3 August, I was asked to address the audience, stepping in for our Chair of Judges. I explained the vigorous process the nominees experience, the judging criteria, and that the six person Judging Panel (which included 3 women) truly had the difficult task of choosing great from great. When the national finalists were announced, there were no female winners.
This has been met with public and private comments of disappointment spoken to me personally and on some of my social media posts about the event. I get it. I do. And knowing the process of this particular award from both sides, as a winner and a judge, I feel compelled to defend it. Again, the fact that it doesn’t matter if you are male or female is one of the reasons I am associated with and advocate for this award.
I won’t lie, every year, when the nominees are announced I scan the list of names hoping to see women there and a lot of them. And every year I feel just as disappointed as anyone else when there are only a couple compared to the number of men.
But it is easy to express opinion after the results are out. This difference needs to be addressed long before, at the nomination stage, because the unfortunate truth is, year after year, women simply fail to self-nominate.
Why? And how do we change this?
How do we help women with sizeable businesses to nominate or accept nominations? How do we understand the reasons they are not? Are they too busy, are they not willing to take on more than they already are, do they believe they don’t stack up or are they uncomfortable with accolades?
Research has shown that when compared to men, many women can be reluctant to shine a light on themselves. They struggle more to self-advocate and self-promote. And I wonder if is this more so the case when the awards are not a “woman’s” only award?
Win or lose, I know firsthand, that just being nominated is an incredible platform for any entrepreneur and their business and one that should be taken advantage of. It is certainly something I hope the incredible female entrepreneurs nominated this year are doing.
Awards and nominations like this can;
- shine a spotlight on your business and put you in front on an audience you may not normally have access to
- give you insights into your business in a way you wouldn’t otherwise take the time to explore
- boost your confidence and credibility and may inspire you to scale and take risks
- be an incredible marketing tool which can build reputation and validate capability
- build comradery and energise your team
This year, I have also been asked to judge this award at the National stage of the competition, where the 2018 EY Australian Entrepreneur Of The Year will be named. That winner will then move on to compete in Monaco in 2019 for the World title. I have not seen the finalists list yet. My guess is that it will not have the number of women I know people, including myself, are hoping for.
Instead, what I can hope for is that more women will watch, read and be inspired to take part next year. Please self-nominate and I challenge anyone reading this to nominate the phenomenal female entrepreneurs they know and encourage them to say yes to the opportunity. Ladies, we are ready for you!