March 15, 2010
This morning, Allyson Kapin, Susan Mernit, Charlene Li, and Deb Schultz led an intimate conversation at SXSW about business and industry challenges with regard to gender (and more) and what they’ve done to be successful. The panel set the tone by taking a collaborative approach from the onset, having the group vote for the Twitter hashtag we would use and having the crowd pull their chairs in close in a half circle to feel more intimate and conversational.
Each panelist spoke about some of her experiences and then opened it up to a broader conversation where women and men could talk about various problems they’ve faced and approaches they’ve used. This was much more than a “feminist” panel, and the interactivity was inspiring. The stories shared helped shine a light on the insidious little comments that many of us have heard our entire lives, yet not fully understood or just taken as fact. Charlene Li told a story about her father suggesting she change the spelling of her last name so people wouldn’t initially know she was Asian, for example, and Deb Schultz recounted an anecdote about how men assumed she was a “booth babe” at events. Hearing how they responded and have used these experiences to shape their paths was illuminating.
I will admit that initially I was concerned about the session turning into a long rant of people telling their own stories of discrimination, but that never really happened. Instead, the conversation was steered in the most positive direction, encouraging everyone to challenge themselves by embracing self promotion and confidence and showing your own value to the world. One question that struck me was when Charlene asked the audience, “how many of you came to SXSW with a personal promotion plan? Don’t have one? You better.” That comment further illustrates the idea that the best way to make people take notice is to be so good and so out there that they can’t ignore you.
The man sitting next to me stood and spoke to the group about his experience on the flip side: being a man working as an image consultant for women. He plans to use what he learned from the session to work with his clients and help women become their most authentic and confident selves.
We also discussed failure and how important it is for women to learn how to fail, not take it personally, and use the experience to propel themselves to the next thing. Susan Mernit went from shutting down her new startup to having one of her most productive years ever. But perhaps my favorite part of the session was when the group was discussing one woman’s personal challenge to promote herself as an expert. The panel had wonderful suggestions but it was 22-year-old Corvida Raven who stood up and spoke so eloquently about knowing yourself, being honest, and expressing what you love and are passionate about.
“Passion is more contagious than expertise” – Corvida Raven
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