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.

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7 Responses to “First Take Away as a TEDster”

  1. Marsha Ratzel January 28, 2011 at 3:39 am #

    right on Sheryl!!!! I had the privilege and luxury of going to Simmons College years ago for my BA. It’s an all women’s college and so ahead of its time. It was the 60s and everyone was going co-ed…except places like Simmons. They imparted to us that we were not the same as men…that we were different and never to shy away from that. I think TEDWomen are part of that idea. You can also tell Simmons was ahead of their time in that they felt professors needed to be masterful teachers first and publishing researchers second. Twice exceptional!!!!

    Later Simmons started an all women’s managerial master’s program…first of its kind in the US. They celebrate, teach to, and emphasize how women need to become aware of our differences, to play to those…and how to compensate for the things our gender inherently needs to overcome. They have incubated thousands of women into career paths with that empowerment boost that they would have never found at any other school.

    I cannot tell you what it meant to become a young professional…going to college with women. Suddenly I was called on in class, my profs expected me to know and understand the math and economics I was studying, called upon to be a leader and it was assumed that I would flourish & be successful. They simply empowered you to be all that. But in the context of being a person first, a professional…never giving up an inch of ground because you were a women but because you were one. Somehow what they instilled in you never diminishes…it builds that quietness that is because what others may see as a negative you hold as a strength.

    I’ll bet that these kinds of experiences you described will be exactly the same way. They will unlock the ah-ha. And that will set you free.

    I’m glad you’re considering this issues and writing about them so everyone can take a moment to reflect on their journey. It gave me pause to remember and promise myself renewed attention to this fact. Thanks.

  2. Susan Graham January 28, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    And after reading this, it made me think, once again, that, as an individual and as an educator, how important it is to remember that:

    There not a single right way to be, but there are multiple ways of being right.

    Thank you for a reminder how much it matters to value what each person brings to the table and how those different gifts and perspectives enrich life for everyone.

  3. Liz Davis January 31, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    Sheryl Thanks for your thoughts. I’m so sorry I missed your Educon session! I really appreciate you bringing this issue to the table. You are one of the women that I aspire to be like. There are many rock star males who share great ideas in education, but not as many women. You have shown me that it is possible for a women to get “up” there.

    Recently, however, I’ve hit a bit of a glass ceiling and haven’t been able to figure out how to get through it. I’m not sure if it is me or my gender (or both) that is getting in my way.

    Ironically, I have also been afraid to say anything about the gender elephant in the room. I don’t really enjoy confrontation and I’ve been afraid of the push back that might come my way if I put that out there. I think that is gender related in itself.

    To top it all off, I work in an all boys school where the majority of faculty are men. I have had to learn how to be a woman in an all male institution and it has been challenging at times, but it is also a great place to work.

    I guess it is up to me to figure out my place in the edtechosphere. I appreciate your suggestions and thoughts on how to do that.

  4. Brenda Sherry February 2, 2011 at 2:01 am #

    Hi Sheryl,
    I’m going to definitely listen to some of the Ted Talks from that conference about women…thanks for sharing that.

    Pam Moran’s comment at your Educon session about her relationship with her Dad really hit home with me. I think I really was the boy my Dad never had, although his encouragement of my interests was not gender identified. I took dance and played instruments on the one hand, but equally enjoyed the rougher field hockey and ringette games on the other.

    Dad has made me believe that I could ‘be’ anything that I wanted to be and he embraced my love of change and adventure. As I reflect on what you are saying here, I’m realizing that I’ve been an early adopter since day one and that my Dad encouraged that ‘give it a try’ attitude. At 18, when I saw that there weren’t any recreation programs in my area for disabled children, I wrote my job description, pitched it to the City and began the program which exists to this day…rather cheeky perhaps, but I like trying out new ideas. Action and learning are things that I truly love!

    One thing did occur to me at Educon though…and Peter Skillen and I had a good chat about it after the Friday panel. There is a lot of conversation going on in the edtech world, and I daresay lots of gazing inward. I think the female (and male) influence in edtech could really help students to take action. Women nurture, coach, and often lead in a different way than men and I think that with this influence we should be using our connections with social media to greater good for the planet.

    Imagining the power of women leading youth globally is pretty awesome! :)

  5. Heather Dowd February 3, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    Thank you! Your post has given me a lot to think about. I spent much of my early adult years as physics and math student feeling that women can do anything men can do. I still believe this is true, but like you mention, deep down I believed that being a woman was a weakness…something to overcome. You’re right. That’s not true. All skills are needed at the table to solve a problem…men, women, young, old, and any other adjective you can use to describe us.

  6. Sunddip March 6, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    I loved to read your thoughts on TED Women. I found the experiences I had at the TED event where I recently spoke to be very similar to yours. People are very passionate and the room is full of energized listeners ready to take on the ideas that are “worth spreading.”

    Here is the link to my video, which happens to align with the work that you do as a 21st Century Presenter – I hope that you can take this video and pass it onto others you may know as the goal of educational change is to spread a message so we can enact change:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX5gqTJVuvk&hd=1

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