December 6, 2012

On Saturday, December 1st, I acted as master of ceremonies at a TEDxWomen event. This was my first up-close- and-personal encounter with the mysterious world of TED. TEDxWestVillageWomen (TED abhors spaces between words, although ironically the theme of the day was 'the space between') took place not in the West Village but in a 19th century mansion on the Upper East Side that is now home to the Ukrainian Institute. Thanks to the event's Ukrainian co-organizer Dora Chomiak, we got to swan around in Edith-Wharton-like splendor for an afternoon. We'd never have had access to the beautiful staircase, glittering chandeliers and multitudes of mahogany carvings if we'd been in the Village. 

Photo (L to R): Ashley Welde, Laura Overdeck, Ashley Milne-Tyte, Dora Chomiak, and some of the mahogany we spent the afternoon with

About 50 women climbed that staircase to the third floor for the event (no mean feat in itself), which began with a brief introduction by me, Dora and her co-organizer Ashley Welde. They both explained that they wanted to use the afternoon to allow a group of smart women with different perspectives to get together to discuss ideas about women's lives they don't have the time to get into in everyday life. The idea was that the afternoon act as a tonic but be as concentrated as a cordial. We spent an hour and a half watching the live stream from TEDxWomen in Washington, DC (mandated by TED, who's a strict taskmaster). A highlight for me was Emily May's talk on the success of Hollaback, and their initiative to make the public shaming of sexual harassers on the streets of New York a citywide phenomenon starting early next year. Some of the sessions were a little gloopy for some of the assembly. I must be getting more American by the year because even these excesses didn't bother me too much. After a break, Laura Overdeck of Bedtime Math, our star speaker, talked about the high levels of math anxiety in girls and what we as a society can do to curb this problem. I hope to be able to post video to Laura's talk before too long. It was a great one. This line really stuck out:

"Just being reminded that you're female makes you do worse on a math test."

It's true. When girls are reminded that they're girls by ticking 'F' at the top of a page, their results are worse than if there's no reminder of their gender. Women's poor math skills haunt them throughtout their lives and careers, which is why it's so vital to work on this problem. I am guilty of lifelong math anxiety, and only recently have considered how much this has affected my career prospects and salary potential. The more girls who can grow into math-literate women, the better. We chewed on this and other elements of the day until 5p.m. The only downside, really, was that we needed more discussion time to digest all the brainfood.