I am the conference general of a large entrepreneurship conference in Gothenburg this fall. Part of that is getting in good, entrepreneurial speakers, preferably with varying backgrounds, experiences, thoughts – and genders. The sad truth is, it’s not always that easy finding inspiring persons on the female side of the gender spectrum in the world of entrepreneurship, especially not in tech which is where most of my activities seem to take place.

I received an email from an entrepreneur we would love to have speak, because she seems really cool. She wrote the following:

“I got your information from […], who will speak at your conference. He said that you are interested in finding more female speakers.”

Now, what she is referring to are not my words. I know who they come from, and I understand that they are well intended. However, there’s still a knot being tightened somewhere in my guts when I read things like that.

No. I am not interested in finding more female speakers. I am interested in finding good speakers. Engaging speakers. Inspiring speakers. Yes, I would love it if our speakers end up with a good mix of genders and other diversity aspects. No, I am not going to add speakers because of their gender.

I’ve had the discussion with the person responsible for those words in the past. I’ve asked them to not refer to me or others, while I am present, as “female entrepreneurs”, but simply entrepreneurs.

I am very happy that this particular entrepreneur who contacted me has an interesting profile, a solid repertoire and portfolio and a lot of stage experience. My response back was:

Our lineup is getting close to done, but we are indeed looking for the few remaining names – and I think you have a very interesting profile so I’m glad you got in touch! Yes, I think the subject you mention would be a perfect fit.
When it comes to the ‘finding female speakers’ part – that would be the words of someone else than me. It is true unfortunately, that it is harder to find inspiring girls than guys in the world of entrepreneurship, and it is much needed with role models of more than one gender. However, I’d like you to speak because you seem like a cool person, not because you are a girl – if you get my drift. 🙂

She got my drift.

Of course this is a complicated matter. Of course we need to encourage more girls to join the ranks of entrepreneurs, techies and business leaders. I do understand the idea behind Affirmative Action and I unfortunately see the need for it, even though I so badly wish for it not to be so. This issue is never, ever going to be black-and-white for me. I am conflicted about it. I am torn. I am unsure.

This is what it boils down to for me: If we keep distinguishing between “entrepreneur” and “female entrepreneur”, “engineers” and “female engineers”, “leader” and “female leader” – we keep affirming that we are not really entrepreneurs, engineers or leaders – we are just trying to be.

I am an entrepreneur. I am not a “female entrepreneur”. Yes, my gender identity happens to be stated by an f – but that has nothing to do with my professional identity.