Earlier this week at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA, I was the keynote speaker at the second annual Conference of Women@theFrontier founded by Susan Fonseca-Klein, also founding architect of Singularity University, an interdisciplinary university based at the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley whose mission is to educate and inspire leaders to address humanity’s grand challenges.
There was huge attendance and great panelists, including Lt. Col. Jackie Parker, the first woman Air Force pilot to attend U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California; Francine Gordon, a celebrated executive coach and organization consultant in the Valley; Sandra de Castro Buffington, the director of Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S); Courtney Macavinta, the Co-Founder of The Respect Institute and Joy Buolamwini, a 21 year old Computer Science major at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
From trench warfare to power: Women@theFrontier is a great expression and reminds us of pioneers on their journey west in the 19th century, and that the feminist movements of the 20th century have helped women conquer new territories and affirm their rights. But I also like to go back to the actual etymology of the word “frontier,” as I did during my keynote. The word “frontier” comes from an old French word that designated the front line of an army organized to stand up to an enemy. As people would organize to defend their country, the word ended up meaning the borders between states. In the 21rst century, Women@TheFrontier, must not only have to stand up to prejudice, discrimination and inequality, but also to their own fears of getting out of their comfort zones. They must use the considerable amount of power they have secured over the last fifty years. As Gloria Feldt says in No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think about Power, which I discussed a few months ago: “By far the most confounding problem facing women today is not that doors aren’t open, but that women aren’t walking through the open doors in numbers and with the intention sufficient to transform society’s major institutions once and for all.”
The power of empowering: Today, younger women can build up on this history and move on from corrective and defensive activism (addressing inequalities of all types) to transformative initiatives. The demographic in education plays in their favor: The male/female ratio on campus today is 43/57 – almost an exact reversal of what it was in the sixties. Women “are shaping the Internet” using the Web not only as consumers, but also and more generally as a productivity and networking environment. Bolstered up by their experience in removing barriers for themselves, they now have the ability to remove barriers for everybody.
The power of women has scaled tremendously. During the conference, Sandra de Castro Buffington explained how she leverages the power of the entertainment industry to improve the health and well being of individuals and communities worldwide. The energy of 21-year old Joy Buolamwini is definitely “without borders,” with already multiple initiatives under her belt (from building technological tools for the Carter Center to helping in the fight to eradicate blinding trachoma in Ethiopia to leading a software teaching initiative for the Zambian Institute for Sustainable Development).
“Women are at the forefront of developing solutions to the world’s greatest challenges,” said Susan Fonseca-Klein. “W@F is an opportunity to showcase leading women creating positive change, global in reach and exponential in impact, leveraging technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.”
The capacity for and effectiveness of change grows exponentially as more and women come together. Women leaders build the basis for repeated multiplication and pervasiveness. For example, think of the way my friend Sramana Mitra is democratizing entrepreneurship education with her 1M by 1M program!