More than 100 students, faculty, alumnae, and friends of Barnard gathered on campus for TEDxBarnardCollegeWomen, which brought together women entrepreneurs, artists, and innovators for talks on re-imagining leadership. In the spirit of TED’s mission of “ideas worth spreading,” this event was organized by the Athena Center for Leadership Studies and took place Saturday, December 1. TEDxBarnardCollegeWomen was among 150 locally organized TEDxWomen events held that weekend, while at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C., Pat Mitchell and the Paley Center for Media hosted TEDxWomen2012, which was livestreamed to the satellite events worldwide including the one at Barnard.

TEDxBarnardCollegeWomen opened with remarks from President Debora Spar, who spoke about the nature of female leadership and posed the question, “What are the skills you need to lead as a woman?”

The 10 speakers who followed, all leaders in their fields, provided resounding answers to President Spar’s question in a series of 15-minute presentations that addressed the Athena Center’s “Core10,” a set of competencies central to the success of women leaders.

Christa Bell, a feminist theater and performance artist who is also a national poetry-slam champion, kicked off the line-up. Speaking about inspiration, Bell described founding her own religion, which she calls “She-ism—the women worship way,” and how she uses it to measure her life through joy and pleasure.

Bell was followed by Rachel Schutt, a Google statistician who talked about the power of advocacy and explained using mathematical data to connect people and spark real-world solutions. Connection was also a theme in artist Emilie Baltz’s talk on communication. “In our society, we approach things singularly, when we have to understand the whole,” said Baltz, founder of the design firm BALTZ WORKS.

Isisara Bey, founder of Journey Agent Productions and vice president of programs for Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, spoke about vision. Issuing a challenge to the audience, Bey said, “In order to harvest, you have to plant. What seeds are you planting in your own life?”

Community activist Karen Washington has certainly heeded this call to harvest in her work—she is the former president of the NYC Community Garden Coalition and the founder of Black Urban Growers. In her talk on leverage, Washington said, “I looked down at my skin color and realized that life was not a level playing field.” She described using racial stereotypes to enact changes within her community.

As founder of her own party-planning company, Jennifer Gilbert had much to say about entrepreneurial spirit. She said that starting her business “wasn’t just to make more money or survive, it was to thrive and create something meaningful.” Binghamton City Councilwoman Lea Webb shared this vivacity as she spoke about achieving her political ambitions and the satisfaction she experienced, as the city’s youngest and first African American City Council representative, paving the way for Binghamton’s first grocery story, which improved the community’s access to nutritious food.

In her talk on negotiation, writer Linda Kay Klein, director of Echoing Green’s Work on Purpose career development program, described her journey from a conservative religious upbringing to attending one of the country’s most liberal colleges. She explained the challenges she faced in becoming “a strong, powerful woman, while I had been raised to be a little girl.”

Actor, director, and playwright Melissa Maxwell spoke about courage. She remarked on the terrible power of fear, noting that “some of us collect fears like pairs of shoes.” Feeling afraid was also a theme in storyteller and playwright Michaela Murphy’s presentation on resilience. “Fear can be a supporting player, but not the star in your life,” she said.

Through their stories of adversity, joy, and strength, the 10 presenters provided a moving experience and the first TEDxBarnardCollegeWomen concluded with a standing ovation from audience members, who came away inspired and looking forward to similar events in the future. 

By Hannah Miller ’15 for Barnard’s Communications Department

Photo: Christa Bell speaking at TEDxBarnardCollegeWomen. Credit: Barnard College/Sam Stuart