I recently opened my news feed to read the Arizona Commerce Authority touting an entrepreneurship roundtable with Gov. Doug Ducey.
Around a boardroom table sat approximately 20 of Arizona’s top entrepreneurs. They gathered to discuss entrepreneurship in the state, the successes and challenges.
In any other situation, I’d be applauding Ducey for taking initiative and doing some grassroots community engagement, except if you looked at the photos, you would see that 100% of the participants were men.
That’s right. The only woman at the table was Sandra Watson, the CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority. Not one female entrepreneur sat at the table to represent our entrepreneurial community and bend Ducey’s ear.
If this was supposed to be an advisory group to shape the state’s future and help Arizona be the most innovative for business, it was missing a key component. One that has been proven in study after study to result in higher revenues and better business sustainability.
Before you peg me as a man-hater, I don’t doubt that every man at that roundtable deserved to be there. In fact, I know and am friends with quite a few of them.
I absolutely agree those men deserve to be there leading a discussion on what the state’s ecosystem should look like. I’m not bashing men here. They’re important to the recipe for innovation.
Adding women doesn’t mean we have to get rid of men. If you want to do impactful research, you need a large quantity of high-quality participants at the table.
Typically when I call out these inequities, I get three common responses:
Excuse 1: It’s a supply problem
There aren’t enough women leaders, so we couldn’t get the diversity and inclusivity we wanted.
Except this isn’t a “chicken or the egg” thing.
This is a “you didn’t try hard enough” thing. Women have been leading firms and companies now for decades. All you need to do is google any of our women entrepreneur awards that are announced annually to find leaders who are doing great things.
Such as azcentral’s Who’s Next list, Phoenix Business Journal’s 40-under-40 honorees and the Athena Awards, among many others. Or just ask a woman, any woman on the street, in board rooms, wherever. We know each other. Or reference Girls in Tech’s gigantic leadership list.
Excuse 2: It’s someone else’s fault
Oh, it wasn’t my idea, we just decided to pull the people from (insert special event/referral source/partner org).
When you bring people together, it is your responsibility to make sure the people you bring in as influencers are representative of the whole. Anything less is contradictory and incredibly damaging to our future and for the people that would be affected.
In entrepreneurship, the hardest thing to figure out is product-market fit. Does your product fit your customer’s needs? How do you find this out? You talk to your customers.
This is where a lack of representation gets dangerous. When the governor sits down at a roundtable with just men, he is effectively saying that the product (policy making) is a fit for just one kind of customer (men).
And not only that, the customers’ feedback will shape the decisions. And so the cycle of gender inequity continues.
Excuse 3: We’ll try harder next time
Oh, shoot. Well, it is what it is. We’ll fix it next time.
I’d like to believe that, but here’s the deal. We’ve been at this for decades. Even Forbes recently posted their top 100 most innovative U.S. leaders and named only one woman.
Their response was to describe their judging criteria, which only shed more light on how deeply rooted gender bias is in everything we do. (If you have any other response but frustration, then reread the first two excuses).
Creating gender equity is a fundamental necessity for innovation to prosper. The governor should be demanding diversity in his meetings.
Men who sit in those meetings should be pointing out that half their peers aren’t there to contribute. Women need to refer other women to elevate visibility.
Arizona’s political leaders need to know we exist. Actually, they should know we exist. We have ideas, so hear us.
We shouldn’t have to fight to have a seat at the table. Half of the seats should already be reserved for us. If our state’s policymakers continue to only listen to 50% of our innovation community, then we will only be realizing half of our state’s full potential.
Jenny Poon is the founder of CO+HOOTS Coworking, a nationally recognized purpose-driven workspace for entrepreneurs and startups. The Business Journal named her the 2016 Businessperson of the Year.
This story was originally published on AZCentral.com 9/15/19.