Startup Weekend Melbourne has hastily added a female judge and speaker to its upcoming event following an embarrassing online backlash against its lack of representation of women.
The event, which puts budding entrepreneurs into teams that create businesses over the course of a weekend, originally had six judges, all male, along with an all-male panel of five speakers.
However, following the launch of an online petition by outraged female entrepreneurs, and questions posed by StartupSmart about the line-up, organisers performed a swift U-turn, listing Monica Tsai, director of investments at SingTel Innov8, as a judge and Nicola Gracie, founder of FitIntegrate, as a speaker.
The Support Women Start-ups petition, which attracted 25 signatories, has since been taken down.
Comments on the petition include, “Having no women on a panel in this day and age? Come on, you can do better than that,” from Jodie Hunter and this comment from Jessica Lowry, the petition organiser: “Awareness has to start from somewhere. If we ignore the fact that no women are included we’re moving backwards.”
In an email sent to StartupSmart, female tech entrepreneur Tammy Butow says she was shocked to see no women in the Startup Weekend Melbourne lineup.
“I thought that was kind of strange as I speak at events, and I organise Girl Geek Dinners Melbourne – we have over 200 women,” Butow says.
“I couldn’t understand why there was no women. I wonder if I go there, will there be any women?”
Dinesh George, organiser of Startup Weekend Melbourne, tells StartupSmart the judging list “is by no means a final thing”, insisting more names will be added in the lead-up to the event.
“It is solely based on meritocracy really. We had females on it – we were just waiting for their authorisation to put them on,” he says.
“As we get closer to the date, you will see more names come up, both male and female.”
“I don’t think [women will be deterred from attending] because we’ve already seen several women buying tickets. And at our Sydney event, around 15% or 16% were female.”
In a statement put up on the Startup Weekend site, George adds: “What a day! Before the event has even started our judging panel is already making the news!”
“We are very proud to have such a passionate community supporting the petition for greater diversity and access for people to exercise their entrepreneurial curiosity.”
The Startup Weekend event will be held at Melbourne incubator York Butter Factory, which was recently involved in a furore after a staffer sent an allegedly sexist tweet.
Stuart Richardson, co-founder of the York Butter Factory, was selected as one of the judges for Startup Weekend Melbourne.
While the event is being hosted at YBF, Richardson had no involvement in the selection of judges, coaches and speakers.
However, despite the outcry, Richardson dismisses the protests by female entrepreneurs as “not an issue”.
“I don’t think it’s worthwhile even discussing to be honest… It’s not an issue for the industry or for the York Butter Factory,” Richardson says.
“I’ve been involved in running many Startup Weekends now and the female participation rates are something that’s quite strong… Diversity is the key to entrepreneurship.”
According to Richardson, the organising committee sent out an invitation calling for judges, coaches and speakers.
“An invitation was sent out to a wide variety of people that are seen to be very active in the community and could contribute to the Startup Weekend concept,” Richardson says.
Orsi Parkanyi, founder of Women as Entrepreneurs, says she’s not surprised there were no females among the lineup.
“I think it’s not something that consciously happens – it’s not like they purposely don’t take on women. I truly believe it’s just something that hasn’t been noticed,” Parkanyi says.
“I think it’s good that the media talks about this. The more we talk about this, the more people will have an eye for it and then it will change.”
“This is really just the beginning. It’s something we need to draw attention to and then, if we talk about it, then more people will have the eye for it.”
Rebekah Campbell, founder of tech start-up Posse, adds: “There are a bunch of good female entrepreneurs out there, so events like these should seek them out.”
“It’s important to have role models in order to inspire others. It wouldn’t put me off as I’d go for it anyway, but it may put off younger female entrepreneurs.”