Lessons I learned the hard way through awards

Have you ever diminished good feedback after it’s come your way? A few weeks ago I received Commendation for ‘Women of Innovation’ prize as part of the Herald’s Global Game Changers Awards. After entering, I’d had coffee with my nominator who shared that I’d made a favourable impression on the judges. My first response was to doubt how stiff the competition actually was if I had stood out to them. I could see him looking at me, incredulous at this initial reaction – probably thinking ‘that’s the last award I’ll put you up for’. He then responded saying that ‘Women of Innovation’ had actually been one of the most hotly contested categories with nearly 100 applicants. Two things simultaneously went through my mind: ‘Wow – that makes me feel oddly better’ and ‘Why is it that women feel comfortable entering a ‘Women in…’ category but not the non-gender specific categories like ‘Best New Innovation’?

What does that mean about confidence levels amongst women but also the likelihood of them succeeding when they do enter mainstream categories? Confidence and perceived likely chances of success are interlinked. As anyone who has attended other industry based awards ceremonies can attest, women-led companies are rarely deemed the ‘winners’ by judges. Judging panels are often made up of white male experts who will have their own expectations as to what ‘great’ looks like. That doesn’t create the greatest confidence in a time-pressed professional woman about her likely chances of success. ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ the saying goes and how motivated am I going to be to spend my time entering a competition if I’ve not seen someone who looks like me ever win?  Indeed, I was once asked to help in a start-up hack-athon for undergraduates, I noted all the female volunteers served as mentors throughout the 16 hour weekend to help guide the students – it was a time heavy commitment. The men on the other hand had volunteered to be the ‘judges’ which required just 2 hours of their time on the final day. Canny for them to save their time  – but it would have been better if the organisers had noticed this disparity from the start and balanced the decks.

A great reminder to:

  1. Don’t diminish any positive feedback you get – it sends the wrong message to the listener, but also to yourself.  
  2. Ensure your judging panels are balanced demographically so that women are as likely to win, and therefore future women are likely to enter a wider range of categories.
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