Women in Tech

TEDWomen2015: Notes on Momentum. Moving forward. Gaining speed. Building traction.

The theme of this year’s #TEDWomen2015 conference, held last week in Monterey, CA, was Momentum.  It promised to be an exploration of bold ideas that create momentum in how we think, live, and work—and it did not disappoint.  It was my first time to attend a conference of this sort, but I walked away feeling inspired and motivated to pitch in and continue to raise awareness around women’s issues.  The content was a bit overwhelming at times, but what was clear is that there is a lot each of us can do to contribute to the advancement of women and girls in the world in our own communities, communities like ARA that support the advancement of women in technology.

What follows are some of the quotes, revelations, and insights that I pulled from over 40 speakers from all over the globe who shared their voices.  Please be aware that some of this content may be disturbing. I have not changed the content but rather quoted it to keep the speakers’ messages intact so that you can gleam your own learnings, emotions, and personal momentum:

“Life isn’t about balance, it’s about resilience,” stated Jane Wurwand of Dermatologica in an opening talk about investing in ideas.

One of the most moving talks was delivered by Sakena Yacobi, whose courageous efforts have brought education to young girls and boys in Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite threats against her life from the Taliban.  “As a leader, you have to be able to hold it together and show strength…. Education transforms people…. Men should know the potential of women.”

Another of the speakers that really stood out was Michael Kimmel, author and sociologist. He began by declaring, “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.”  He went on to express that “The more egalitarian our relationships are, the happier and more successful our relationships are,” and asked men to pitch in and help out.

TEDActress and activist Maria Bello asked the audience, “What are the labels that you give yourself?  Now which ones hold you back?”

Peace expert and founder of the Voice of Libyan Women, Dr. Alaa Murabit asked, “Why are we equal in the eyes of God but not in the eyes of men?” She also politely reminded us that “When you remain silent, you allow.”

A big highlight was the presence of former president Jimmy Carter, who spoke out about violence against women and its many forms: human trafficking, genital mutilation, honor killings, etc.  He stated, “Many of these acts are justified through male misinterpretations of religious scriptures found in the Bible and the Quran.” But many of these abuses occur because “the average man doesn’t give a damn. The average man…quietly accepts his position of privilege.”  Carter also threw out stats like no other 90 year old man I know, a sampling follows:

  • Only 23 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and those women make significantly less on average than their counterparts
  • Women still make 23% less than men on average for the same work, but more than 60% of college graduates are female
  • Thirty million people live in slavery; 80% of them are women
  • The US has been in more wars than any other country since WWII

Mary Robinson, former and first female president of Ireland, spoke out on climate change, noting, “We are not on course for a safe world.  We face an existential crisis.”  She implored that we all take action to help slow down climate change so that when our children and grandchildren look back 40 years from now, they will say, “Wasn’t it good what they did in 2015.” We are all in this together.

One of the more impassioned speeches was delivered by Linda Cliatt-Wayman, a principal at Strawberry Mansion High, which had been placed on a Federal Watch List for being one of the top five most dangerous high schools in the nation.  Linda applied her skills with three powerful slogans:

1)      If you’re going to lead, lead

2)      So what. Now what? [on facing what seem to be insurmountable challenges]

3)      If nobody told you they loved you today, remember, I do [loudspeaker message to the students every day].

The school is no longer on the Federal Watch List and students have made tremendous improvements. Linda is now known as a game changer.

Not shocking, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin had much to say, including “The bond between women does not just enrich lives, it can change the world.” On the difference between men and women’s same sex friendships, “Women are face-to-face.  Men’s friendships are side-by-side.” And also, “It’s not that we’re better than men; it’s that we don’t have our masculinity to prove.”

TEDPerhaps the most important aspect of a conference is its takeaway impact, the passion that it has sparked in the audience.  How will this information and inspiration change our approach to leadership, to personal relationships, life goals?

In my personal contemplations on the word, I concluded that Momentum is in everything. It is a bi-directional life force that either speeds up or slows down, but is always in motion.  It has aspects of both the positive and negative, and can be captured in the elements and even our bodies. It is our breath in the air, the wave in the ocean or the ripple in a pond.  It is the life force that grows through the crust of the earth and nourishes us, and it is the fire both from within and from without.  More so, it is in our blood, beating to our own rhythm, our own pulse.  It is birth, life, and death.

Momentum is within all of us.  It is the exhilarating feeling we get as we find our individual voices and connect more deeply in our communities.  Momentum shines through inspiration and is what drives each one of us to try to understand our own purpose on this planet.  It allows us to push beyond our alleged limitations and grow; to achieve, to fail, and to try again. Momentum teems through the veins of organizations like ARA that were born to connect, inspire, and provide a forum for some of the strongest voices in our community to progress and grow.  With that community, we can come together, support one another, and begin to transform old paradigms.

And so it is my challenge to you all, as readers, to think about how momentum plays out in your own lives, and what you can do to help further the causes of women and girls on this earth in this lifetime.