Last Thursday, thousands of women in more than 200 locations around the world came together to participate in TEDxWomen, a TED spinoff devoted to women only. TEDxWomen is where Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg gave the talk that led to her book and movement “lean-in” and where Jane Fonda gave an unforgettable talk about life’s third act.
Tel Aviv, the lungs of Israel’s modern economy, was no different, with a hundred influential Israeli women who came together at the cinema complex of the McCann Erickson offices, to discuss the role of women in shaping the world and the problems women face in the workplace. Chief among them is the fact that only 7.9 percent of CEOs in Israel’s top 100 publicly traded companies are women, according to the Israel Women’s Network.
“The room was packed,” describes Maya Elhalal, organizing her second TEDxWomen event. “All the women there were unique and ranged in age from 20 to 80. There were business leaders, social entrepreneurs, artists, educators, politicians, doctors, women with army careers, all ‘leaning into their careers’ and breaking the glass ceilings wherever they go. Not as a goal in-itself, but as an inevitable and welcome byproduct of pursuing their visions, predominantly in spaces still dominated by men, and being damn good at it.”
Seven inspirational women
The TEDxTelAvivWomen event featured seven women who have all put conventions aside and shattered society’s glass ceilings.
Stav Shaffir, at 28 the youngest member of Knesset in Israel and the darling of the social justice movement that exploded in the summer of 2011, was one of the seven women profiled. She described the humble beginnings of the protests, with ten friends gathered in an apartment to discuss the high costs of living and the rapid expansion into a nationwide movement that changed Israel’s political and social landscape.
She also talked about realizing that demanding change was not be enough – she would have to be part of that change. She talked about entering the seemingly impervious, elitist, and predominantly male world of Israeli politics. Shaffir is now sitting on the Knesset budget committee, but joked that she still doesn’t own a car and still needs to share an apartment with friends.
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No to conformism
Throughout the evening, the importance of women not conforming to the expectations and stereotypes dictated by society became increasingly evident. Rather, the message being shared was for women in today’s world to trust their abilities and allow their actions and accomplishments to speak for themselves.
This theme was most evident in the story of Malvina Goldfeld. Born in Moldova, raised in Israel, and educated at the Ivy Leage schools of Princeton University and Stanford Graduate School of Business, few women seem to have shattered as many barriers as PayPal’s new Head of Business Development for Africa.
“The problem with letting people put you in a box, whether it’s by gender, religion, or nationality, is that you become a reflection of that stereotype,” said Goldfield, who is is fluent in English, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese, with good knowledge of Arabic, Japanese and French. These social categorizations merely act as over-simplifications for others to make sense of the world, she added. Her message was “to be is to do.” In more words, to let one’s actions speak louder than any one box society tries to fit them into.
Other women profiled included artist Maya Gelfman, social entrepreneurs Shula Recanati and Hana Rado and peace activist Robi Damelin.