By Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
I got invited to TEDWomen in DC and I have been waiting to write about the experience until I could do so objectively. It’s funny. I had someone tell me a few weeks ago that they did not even believe I was there. (I was – I have the t-shirt, the bag, the water bottle. I am a TEDSTER.) Obviously, if you do not blog about it, then it isn’t real yet. And in some ways maybe that is true. If we just experience — just go and do but fail to reflect deeply upon that experience transparently, sharing what we learn along the way — then something is lost. It is through elaboration that deep retention occurs.
I’ve often thought maybe that’s what is wrong with our schools. We are so busy teaching that we never stop and deeply reflect on the process and what we and our students are learning. Students are so busy doing what we ask them to do, getting the assignment done, that they rarely have time to make sense of it all either. What if we just slowed down our “race to the top” and pondered what we are doing, learning, teaching? What if we took the time to co-reflect with our students and colleagues, in the role of co-learners, in an effort to discover the wisdom hidden in our efforts.
But I digress…
I am a Woman – Celebrate that Fact
The biggest take away I have from my TED experience is that it is not only OK to be a woman in a male dominated field, but I need to be here – and my field needs women’s voices. Rather than trying to be gender neutral in my approach, I need to bring who I am in every sense of the word to the table. My identity has always been connected to being smart, creative, fearless and effective. I have never allowed myself to admit to being a girl – not in my professional world. Even as I write the word, it conjures a feeling of “lesser” in my gut.
Rather, I always wanted to be selected and respected for my talents, abilities, and success and not because I might bring a woman’s perspective to a job. I hoped that I could somehow divorce myself from the fact of my gender if I only worked hard enough. TEDWomen — and in particular the presentation by financial services entrepreneur Halla Tomasdottir (“A feminine response to Iceland’s financial crash”) — made me realize that being female is part of my strength, not a weakness, and that it could give me a competitive edge. Here’s something she said:
It’s the female trend, and it’s the sustainability trend, that are going to create some of the most interesting investment opportunities in the years to come. The whole thing about the female trend is not about women being better than men, it is actually about women being different from men, bringing different values and different ways to the table. So what do you get? You get better decision-making. And you get less herd behavior. And both of those things hit your bottom line with very positive results.
And near the end of her presentation, this was a major “a-ha” for me:
I went through the first 10 or 15 years of my career mostly in denial of being a woman. Started in corporate America, and I was absolutely convinced that it was just about the individual, that women and men would have just the same opportunities. But I’ve come to conclude lately that it isn’t like that. We are not the same. And it’s great: because of our differences, we create and sustain life. So we should embrace our difference and aim for challenge.
As I watched each of the TED women take the stage and listened in awe as they spoke of obstacles they had overcome, about ways they brought a more female perspective to the work they do (often in male dominated fields), I realized I had misplaced a huge piece of my life puzzle. The world does not need women who act gender neutral in a male dominated work space. It needs strong, intelligent women who bring all their femininity with them. In the authentic mix of both genders, each being true to self, balance is achieved.
I will be sharing more of my reflections and learning from TEDWomen. But here is my first one – feminine values count.