GES 2016— The incredible women I met and what i’ve learned from them.
We all know. Silicon Valley isn’t the most diverse place in the world. and it is not worst either. But at GES2016, for 3 entire days, it was, in every single sense, a haven for diversity.
To put in perspective, I grew up in a house with 4 women. My mom and 3 older sisters. My parents were divorced. So I’m used to see the world from a woman’s perspective. The struggle to juggle multiple fronts at an endless war against prejudice and in favor of independence. Specially, financially and emotional independence.
Being a minority changes you profoundly. When you let gender/race define your opinion you are wasting a great opportunity to learn more about what a human being is made of.
I was not born a feminist. I have chosen to be one at GES2016.
And that happened when I watched a panel with Bedriye Hulya and from Turkey and Marion Atieno Moon from Kenya.
Bedriye Hulya when asked about what could men do more to help:
“ I have one advice for men trying to help women: Get out of the way. Just let they do what ever they want. They don’t need your help. Let them just be.”
The crowd went nuts. A lot of clapping. From me, a lot of claps and laughs. Laughing from embarrassment for have been trying to “help” women my whole life. Including “helping” my mom, my sisters and my wife.
I also heard from Marion Atieno Moon(great name btw) in the most charismatic way:
So, men think we need to be saved from something. Like we are always in danger. And I just say: no. I don’t need to be saved. I just need you to stop saving me.
And the panel was just amazing. 2 mens. 2 women. With equal voices and completely different perspectives.
But the first day at GES was just beginning and I was caught by surprise with the inspiring Sheila C. Johnson. What an amazing woman. She founded in 1979 Black Entertainment Television. The first black oriented tv channel in the US. Now she is the founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts. She said something that made me go on the back stage to talk to say thanks to her. During the presentation she said:
To investors out there. Embrace diversity. Invest on black, brown, woman. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. This is the essence of innovation.
I was lucky enough to have a chance to talk to many participants. One of them was at 6:20am on the line to see President Obama speak. She was Saima Hanif, a 27 years old PHD Scholar from Pakistan. I extend my hand to say hi and she didn’t want to touch hands. She was covered from the head to her feet, with only her face and hands uncovered. instead of an awkward moment I just said sorry and move on to ask what brought her to GES. She told me she was a PHD from Pakistan who created a new way to detect Hepatite C. During the next hour we stayed at line, I could learn more about Pakistan and what she had to endure to get an education. Behind all the clothing was a scientist and just judging her appearance I would never guessed that.
Also from Pakistan I met the daughter of a political refugee couple who was born in London where her father asked asylum. Her name is Mavra Bari Mavra Bari from we create. She was born premature, at only 6 months and was really thankful to be born in the UK otherwise she would have died in Pakistan for lack of proper care. She does an amazing job by empowering women in Pakistan.
From the White House I was impressed by Penny Pritzker mission to bring diversity as an important factor at GES2016. I had a chance to pitch Trakto to her and the PAGE members. She is a kind and classy, strong woman who is already a powerful voice in business. She is a billionaire. But this is a fact that I learned tonight while writing this article. I was already impressed by the willingness in her speech to advocate for investor to embrace diversity and by her staff who showed much respect for her.
My list could go on and on.
During the 3 days I spent at GES I engaged in many conversations with strong, passionate and incredibly smart women from all over the world and from many different backgrounds. And I what I’ve learned from that exchange was this:
You probably have an amazing woman at your side, working with you or even on the mirror. All you have to do is just let them do what ever they want. And please, don’t save her from anything. If they need help. They will ask.
At GES 2016 success came in all colours, shapes and specially gender.