So what happens after 78 women from 19 countries spend a month in Silicon Valley through a State Department program? They head to Washington, DC – of course!
As a cultural mentor, I was able to accompany TechWomen in early November for a round of panels and touring in our nation’s capital.
Our first full day was exciting as we navigated the Metro to get to the White House. Sadly, the President was not out front waving to us, but we did get some great photos. Afterwards we headed off to various destinations. Many of the women, being in science and engineering fields, were excited to visit the Air and Space Museum. I took a different path and for the first time visited the Library of Congress, seeing a Gutenberg Bible and the famous reading room.
That night we went as a group on a walking tour of the World War II memorial, the Martin Luther King memorial, the Korean War memorial and the Lincoln memorial. I had never been to the MLK or the Korean memorials and both are something to be seen at night. The Korean memorial was the most striking – by design it is meant to convey the feeling the soldiers had walking through a hostile jungle. At night, the stares of the statutes and the limited light in the area were surreal. It was a bit frightening and too realistic – making it all that more powerful of a reminder of the cost of war.
And then something happened: after walking through the Korean war memorial and before we visited the Lincoln memorial, one of the women asked “Why are we only seeing things about sad things?”. In my last blog, I mentioned how seeing your world through the eyes of someone else can be a life-changing event, which is why this question really stood out for me. MLK and Lincoln were both assassinated; the Korean war and WWII were deadly and long. What does it say we memorialize those who died in violence and war and have so few monuments to peace and harmony? Her question was striking because I really didn’t have a good answer. The best comment I heard was we do this so we “don’t forget important things” but aren’t accomplishments in peace and love as needing of remembrance?
The next few days were full of great speakers and dialogue. For me, the luncheon on the top floor of the State Department building was a stand-out event: Dee Dee Meyers moderated a panel of TechWomen who shared how they had changed and evolved over the course of the program. One woman from Morocco hit home with her honesty about changing her perspective. She said she had always felt very competitive with other woman and now she knows we need to support and help each other. When another woman wins, it doesn’t mean she lost. I’m proud of her for saying that so publicly, in such a large group, all eager to tweet the words she said.
Later on the same day, Jessica from Cameroon moved me to tears when she stood up to ask an official from the State Department why we, as a nation, spend time and money on them (TechWomen Emerging Leaders) when there are people all over our country who look like her and they need our help as much – if not more. Jessica may never know it, but she had a big impact that day – she made me look around at my own backyard and try to find what I can do locally. More to come on that in a future post.
Too soon, the week had to end and we all had to return home. I told several women that I wasn’t going to say “goodbye” because I expect to see them again. And as I told Saze, I expect it will be on the cover of Forbes where I see her again. As it turned out, she and her company Motley Media were mentioned last week in a Huffington Post by Dr. Jill Biden!
Again I close this post with the realization that TechWomen changed my perspective on my own world and life. Time will tell how big or small the difference will be, but I know I have been changed for good.