EY should just drop its Woman Entrepreneur category

  • Entrepreneurial spirit, purpose, growth, impact are not gendered qualities
  • Those invited to judge can help make point by refusing to judge the category

EY should just drop its Woman Entrepreneur categoryThe EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2022 Malaysia awards were held on 13th January this year. Congratulations to all the winners and finalists. Thirteen entrepreneurs were vying for the top award in four categories besides an overall Entrepreneur of the Year Award to represent Malaysia at the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Award come June 2023.

Among the four categories is one dedicated to recognising female entrepreneurs, namely the EY Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2022 Malaysia award. EY deserves extra marks for contributing towards Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals – Gender Equality.

Or do they?

To quote from EY’s press release, 'Nominees will be assessed by a panel of independent judges guided by a set of globally benchmarked criteria that include entrepreneurial spirit, purpose, growth, and impact’.

Entrepreneurial spirit, purpose, growth, and impact. None of these are gendered qualities.

There are disciplines where gendered categories make sense. Certain sports for one, where physical traits influence performance. But nothing can explain gendered categories in the arts, humanities, and sciences other than entrenched orthodoxy. The Brit Awards are just one of many that are dropping gendered categories.

So, we should ask, what exactly differentiates a 'Woman' entrepreneur from a 'Man' entrepreneur? Some may be quick to point to the barriers to entry women face. All that is true and well documented.  Also credit where due, EY does have a programme that supports female entrepreneurs.

But access is not the same as success. We should solve for the former and not discriminate against the latter. Do women entrepreneurs register for a different class of company when they submit their documents to Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia? Do they have a different set of standards when accounting and auditing their business? Do they sell in a parallel market where only female entrepreneurs compete in?

The key metric that this award seems to miss is that entrepreneurs ultimately only compete with themselves. They compete against the urge to give up. They compete against their lack of confidence, against getting rejected, and against painful and costly mistakes.  The other categories for the awards were Emerging Entrepreneur, Technology Entrepreneur, and Master Entrepreneur. It is hard to see why a female entrepreneur can’t be judged in any of these categories. Do women entrepreneurs bear even more challenges given their dual roles in providing care for their families? Well, yes, and shouldn’t that be counted towards entrepreneurial spirit, grit, and determination? The irony is that a separate category devalues those challenges.

We should not confuse this with pushing for greater diversity and representation in management. Women's representation on the boards of the top 100 public listed companies in Malaysia stood at 28.2% in 2022. Across all public listed companies, women held 13.5% of board positions in Malaysia according to a report on Board Gender Diversity within ASEAN from 2017. This is compared to a 14.9% average across ASEAN. There are still some ways to go to reach parity. This underrepresentation is a distortion in our economic systems due to various issues that need to be corrected, but that 28.2% of women would certainly not accept an award for being the best 'Woman Board of Director’.

One might argue that having an award for Woman Entrepreneur could inspire more women to choose entrepreneurship, but it would be hard to gauge the impact of such an approach. Those already in the ring ought instead to be judged on their entrepreneurship qualities and nothing else. The judges who are invited to judge across the awards can help make the point by refusing to judge in such a category. Female entrepreneurs can decline nominations in gendered categories and instead be asked to be nominated in the general categories. 

But better still, EY should just drop the Woman Entrepreneur category altogether. 


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