TEDWomen December 2010 Washington DC

This week, we have a guest blog from Roya Baghai of the High Resolve Initiative. She attended the TEDWomen Conference in Washington DC in December and provided this summary of the event for us:

It’s been over a month now since my attendance at the first ever TEDWomen Conference in Washington DC and its indelible scenes are still playing in my mind. The conference featured high-profile speakers such as former and current U.S. Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright and Hilary Clinton and Ireland’s Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams as well as other less well-known, but no less inspiring and passionate women and men.

Officially, the subtitle of TEDWomen was “How are women and girls reshaping our future?” which formed a loose framework for the talks presented. In classic TED style, there was a diversity of presentations within this theme, in rapid-fire succession: over 70 presenters in one and a half days.

Some of the talks have already been posted online; here are links to some of the best:

To give you a brief summary of the conference is almost as difficult as giving a brief summary of all the movies nominated for Academy Awards in one year, however, the following is an attempt to capture some of the most prevalent themes or ideas.

Success

Success is a very personal thing to define. If success in the corporate sense is to be measured by leadership positions and financial reward then why is it that success and likeability are positively correlated in men and negatively correlated in women? (A point made very well in the talk given by Sheryl Sandberg). Why is fighting for equal rights for women also viewed in the same way: could this be a reason that many young women actively avoid the label of feminist because it will make them seem unattractive to men?

Diversity

While including 50% of the population equally is hardly embracing “diversity”, diversity of experience, background and thinking styles in a team has been proven to produce far more creative solutions. We need immense creativity to solve the problems of our world, as so far, the current mix hasn’t worked so well. But, as Madeleine Albright pointed out so wittily, it’s not about women taking over either, “because if you think that, you’ve obviously forgotten high school”.

Role Models & Identity

Madeleine Albright was a brilliant standout on stage. Her strength, intelligence, but most delightfully, her sense of humour and humility was witness to the blended masculine/feminine qualities coexisting happily in one person: the very balance that leadership needs. She shared some of her experiences and landmark moments as Secretary of State, including the time she realised, during a moment of insecurity of the weight of her appointment as first female Secretary of State, that the role was not about “her” but she was simply part of something much bigger, and that this gave her the confidence to transcend any self consciousness or pressure that this role represented. Another quote that many will remember is that she believes that “there is a special place in hell for those women who don’t help other women”.

Is it still necessary or relevant, in 2010/11, to have a conference that is focused on women?

We need to have more impatience for a time when the need for a special conference to highlight these examples of female courage, power and inspirational leadership is no longer needed. Women know that there are countless other examples of women who should be given the opportunity to have their voices heard and contribute equally with men. We need the opportunities to be inspired by them to allow a new generation of women and men to remind us that successful female role models can take many different forms, and that a new, wider definition of success in the corporate and business world will have profound positive repercussions in the well-being of not only women, but also men and families all over the world.

The real crux of the whole issue is that until we have a critical mass of boys and men who also believe in gender equality and fight for it side by side with women, “women’s conferences” will not be able to achieve much more than inspiration and motivation. To achieve the ultimate goal of equality, equality of action (that is, a unified effort by both genders) will be required. To make this happen, we must engage and involve boys and men in the dialogue, for them to spread the message that a more equal future benefits us all; that feminism does not equal man-hating, or that empowering women will disempower men. Let’s not forget men and boys, but bring them on the journey with us. Let’s not make men “the other” in the process.

Joss Whedon, (screenwriter, producer and director) sums it up beautifully:

“Because equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need [equality] to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture, is not a true part of the human condition. Misogyny is life out of balance and that imbalance is sucking out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it…We need equality, kind of now.”

Roya Baghai, Co-founder & Co-Chair, High Resolves Initiative, January 2011.