On Saturday, 13,000 women around the world gathered in over 100 cities for TEDxWomen -- local, women-centered versions of the TED talks that most of us only get to watch online.
I was invited to join 100 women gathered at a conference center off of Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park., California From the outside, it looked like just a modest gathering of pleasant women, in an unassuming conference center nestled in the hills near Stanford University. But the location symbolized a lot more than that. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Sand Hill Road is ground zero for the venture capitalists of Silicon Valley. It’s where aspiring entrepreneurs go to pitch their businesses to big-money investors who could make the next high tech sensation. This is where people who control the purse-strings make the decisions that allow the next Facebook or Twitter to go from being a scribble on a cocktail napkin to becoming household names.
Image Credit: Grace Hwang Lynch
The online TED talks are inspiring in their range of experts. Branded under TEDx, this series of women’s conferences was independently produced by organizers in 130 different cities around the United States, as well as Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. The program was specifically aimed at women—and took on a distinctively female angle that happens when you get lots of passionate, motivated women together in one place. The Sand Hill Road event, like the other programs staged around the world on Saturday, was an independently organized event, under the guidance of TED. The Silicon Valley event was produced by Wendy Wallbridge, a coach to high tech executives, and author of the upcoming book Spiral Up! A New Map for Leading Your Life with Power & Grace.
Wallenbridge brought in a variety of speakers – including former Best Buy executive Julie Gilbert Newrai, founder of Women’s Earth Alliance Melinda Kramer, investors Betsy Hall McKinney, Jackie VanderBrug, author Lynne Twist, even professor of education turned hula hoop dancer, Nicole Wong. The themes circled around the ideas of promoting women into leadership, funding women’s businesses, and changing the atmosphere of corporate America to be more open to more feminine ways of relating and communicating. While there was the feel-good girl power element of sisterhood, there were also concrete pieces of advice and data proving the effectiveness of investing and promoting women in business. This is Sand HIll Road, and these women speak the local language of profits and return on investment.
And unlike the online programs, the local TED talks give participants an opportunity to talk with other like-minded women. Not that it was a homogenous group. The women included attorneys, accountants, marketers, musicians and non-profit directors. I even ran into BlogHers Lisen Stromberg and Meg Waite Clayton there. We were encouraged to break into small discussion groups at various times during the day, and nobody was left out. Looking around the room, you could see a group of very different, yet each strong and unique women. During one of the discussion sessions, a woman dressed in head-to-toe purple, from her suede shoes to her metallic fingertips, stood up and urged the audience to stop referring to feminine “traits”, but “competencies”.
Jackie VanderBrug, a leader in gender lens investing, drew the biggest laugh of the day when she quipped, "What would have happened if Lehman Brothers had more sisters?"
In the afternoon, the group in Menlo Park joined the women in other TEDxWomen locations to watch a livestream of speakers, moderated by Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler, from the main TEDxWomen program hosted at the Paley Center for the Media in Washington D.C.
Missed TEDxWomen? You can watch videos of some of the highlights at the TEDxWomen website.
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