TEDxSeattle: Tall Order packed McCaw Hall’s nearly 3,000 seats on Saturday, November 17th. TEDxSeattle is a nonprofit event that is licensed by TED. It is independently organized and ran by volunteers. Elizabeth Coppinger, Executive Director and Curator proudly announced that the 9th annual TEDx occurrence in Washington was the longest continually running TEDx event in the United States, reaching back to its more humble beginnings gathering around 600 people as TEDxRainier in 2010. “What makes the impossible, possible? A tall order requires a dream and a strong determination, whether the challenge is reaching for the moon or the first diploma in the family… Today’s speakers bring their dreams to the stage to share their vision, their challenges, and their firm belief that the impossible is possible,” said Coppinger. The day was broken into four sessions: awakening, discovery, revelation, and transformation. These sessions presented a diverse range of speakers from a prosecuting attorney to musicians and poets.
During the discovery session a woman named Sara Sanford took the stage and gradually brought the audience through frustration, anger, and finally hope as she addressed the inequities women face in the working world. Sanford is the founder and executive director of Gender Equity Now (GEN), a data-driven approach to bring gender parity to the workforce. Sanford said that she is accustomed to receiving messages from women telling stories of how they are mistreated in the workplace. Their names are sometimes left off of presentations they almost solely produced, they’re the ones asked to plan parties, or sometimes they’re not even acknowledged in a meeting. Sanford said that so many of these women’s stories end with self-doubt. They finish their messages to Sanford with “it’s probably just me” before following up with “do you think this is a gender thing?”
Sanford used to say “it’s probably just me” to herself despite having an ideal upbringing. Her mother pursued a master’s degree and has had her own private practice for decades. Her father acknowledged the different expectations for girls and boys and encouraged Sanford to pursue her own projects, to use her voice, and to write. Sanford explained how she had a “corporate feminist’s dream job” where she launched an initiative to recruit more female employees in the finance sector. She only had to gather the support of all the executives. She gathered all of their support but one. She exhausted every method of communication to try and understand why this man wouldn’t get back to her regarding her work. Did he hate this proposal? “It’s probably just me,” thought Sanford.
Then she ran into this executive in the hallway. He handed her the proposal she had written. “Sara, [a male colleague] just emailed this to me. You should take a look. It’s a proposal for us to hire more women. I think he has a really great idea here and we should really get behind it.”
“[The executive] was never against hiring more women. He just needed to hear from a man why it was important to hire more women… and I said nothing. The woman that was raised to use her voice said nothing because I knew somehow, I was a guest in a place that wasn’t meant for me… instead of questioning my environment, I questioned myself,” said Sanford. Sanford explained that women are leaving the fastest growing sectors, such as tech, at 45% higher rates than men citing culture as the primary reason.
Sanford stated that the key systemic problem is unconscious bias. “The messages women send me are not about them being harassed. It’s about them being tolerated,” said Sanford.
“No one ever comes home and thinks, ‘I’m just so lucky to be tolerated at work. It’s great.’” Sanford explains how GEN partnered with the University of Washington and created the first standardized certification for gender equity in US businesses. GEN measures hidden opportunity gaps for women like access to mentors that go beyond the wage gap. GEN measured the gaps between men’s and women’s experiences to excess the culture of specific companies. GEN found that among the factors that matter most to women were paid family leave, healthcare for dependents, and feeling that their ideas are heard and that they are properly credited for them.
On the heels of TEDxSeattle is TEDxSeattleWomen, an annual event that this year is occurring in Woodinville. Chateau Ste Michelle will host the event on the afternoon of Wednesday, December 5.