Post-festival blog post from a young man who was behind the camera
I’m a 22 year-old male and the women’s entrepreneurship festival that took place at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program last Wednesday turned out to be a huge source of inspiration for me. I hope I don’t lose an street credibility for that statement but let me preface my thoughts on the event by explaining exactly why I was at the conference in the first place.
Currently I am graduate student at ITP. As a former undergraduate student entrepreneur I am all too familiar with what the tech/entrepreneurship/leadership conference has to offer. While building my company as a student at the University of Maryland I travelled across the country, regularly attending conferences to build connections and relationships that could potentially prove beneficial to the growth of my small company. So last weekend when shifts for my student job on the ITP floor were posted and the schedule read that I was to work the WE festival I was fairly confident I knew what to expect.
The role appointed to me by my boss was to video tape the Knowledge Makers panel during the AM breakout session and the Taste Makers panel during the PM session. At the outset my efforts were more focused on getting the camera to work than on finding out what entrepreneurs would be speaking on the panel. Luckily I got the stubborn thing setup correctly and was comfortable enough with the video being captured to share my attention between the camera and the discussion taking place.
Initially the discussion appeared to be going as I anticipated. Diana Rhoten, the Senior Vice President for Strategy in the education division at News Corporation, was moderating the panel involving women entrepreneurs in education. Rhoten asked questions to the panelists that provided unique insights about the education sector that could only be given by someone that had been through the industry’s wringer and lived to tell the story. This was normal. What wasn’t typical was what happened next.
In both Knowledge Makers and the Taste Makers panel moderated by Rachel Skylar there appeared to be a sense of genuine personal interest and concern for the mutual success of both the women attendants and the panelists that simply doesn’t exist in male dominated tech conferences. I repeatedly noticed a tone of discourse that resembled a sisterhood or sorority gathering where current sisters were mentoring future members of the organization. Like a mother warning her young daughter of the perils that awaited her upon entering the real world. Each question or inquiry asked by an attendant wasn’t just returned with a textbook answer but instead was filled with compassion. I defintely got the sense of a community.
My question is, when and where was this bond formed? Why did people who had probably never seen each other prior to the conference care so much for each others well-being and success? Was it perhaps the shared experience of giving birth while running a company, having to juggle work life with ones responsibilities as a mother, or maybe its having to face the similar struggles of being a leader in a male dominated corporate world? What these experiences have in common is that they attempt to defy the logic that has defined society for centuries. A society where the role of women was was that of reserved house wives and not confident leaders.
I believe the sisterhood atmosphere I witnessed at the festival can be attributed to a “me against the world” type attitude that has been formed in the women entrepreneur community. Like a mid-major team that has overcome adversity and made it to the final four of the NCAA tournament and is poised to take on the traditional powerhouse school. The blood, sweat, and tears incured during the journey now acting as the material for the bond that unites them.
The attendants at the conference were willing to make that extra effort to teach, mentor, and support each other because they were in this together. When you see someone going through the same tough challenges you are it becomes that much easier to root for them and do all you can to see them succeed. This same unbridled compassion and collaboration is what entrepreneurship conferences were intended to represent. A place where those who know can connect with those that don’t know. An environment where the first and foremost objective is to exchange ideas and build relationships. I saw this at the Women’s Entrepreneurs Festival and it made me smile. It doesn’t hurt that these specific crop of entrepreneurs consisting of grandmothers, mothers, and sisters have been doing this out of necessity for their entire lives.