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Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

How to Tell a Better Story

Last year I was invited to talk about Women Catalysts at an International Women’s Day event at Google as part of a global series of celebrations put on by Women Techmakers.

I was one of a handful of women slated to give an Ignite-style talk. If you’re not familiar, Ignite Talks are 5 minute presentations with 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. Scary, yes. But a great opportunity for us.

So I wrote, rehearsed, edited, and rehearsed some more. At the risk of sounding braggy, I nailed my run-through. I felt good. I felt solid.

You see where this is going, right?

The day of the talk came. I got on stage and blacked out in front of about 500 people.

Oh, don’t you worry — it was filmed. You can watch it on my permanent internet record here:

Did I really say I have a dream? Because there aren’t enough face palm emojis in the world for that.

I got off stage and barely held back tears. I was sure I had let a lot of people down — Kim, our community, the nice people at Google. I was so disappointed in myself.

It took me awhile to realize that, in a weird way, I had the opportunity to prove my own point.

Here’s what I had planned to say:

Before I tell you what I’m about to tell you, a little context: I grew up in a very small and conservative town…and I was the girl who wore a “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt to school.

One day, many years later, I’m hanging out in the park with my best friend Kim flying kites and drinking beers when, seemingly out of nowhere, I say:

“Hey! Do you want to start a women’s speaker series with me?”

And because Kim is the kind person who is such an enthusiastic yes to life, she was in and that’s how Women Catalysts was born.

How many of you have heard of us? Or been to an event?

We’re on a mission to inspire the catalyst in every woman through powerful storytelling, lasting community, and the best resources.

We started Women Catalysts for a lot of reasons and today I’m going to be talking about one in particular: the power of shifting the storylines that hold us back.

These are actual headlines from around the time we first had the idea for Women Catalysts.

Lean in.

Don’t lean in, lean out.

Ask for what you want.

But make sure you do it just right.

You’re probably not going to get it anyways!

How do you feel when you read those? They’re problematic for a lot of reasons, right?

I feel really frustrated. But even worse than that, I feel disempowered. Like I could follow all of this contradictory advice but would it even matter?

What would?

I might not be able to fix it overnight, but I can start with the stories I tell myself and share with my community. It starts with me and it starts with you.

And the reality is: I know a lot of incredible women who defy these headlines.

Women who start companies and non-profits, who make art and write books.

They do all of these amazing things not because of some trite, dated notion of “having it all” but because they care and because they have something to offer the world.

Over the past year I’ve gotten to interview many of these women for our speaker series, Catalyst Conversations.

Women like Zakiya Harris, who started Hack the Hood, and is also a mom, a musician, an educator, and so much more.

Women like Elle Luna, who left her job in tech to make art and inspired millions of people around the world with her story, “The Crossroads of Should and Must.”

Women who have a dream…and who make it happen.

How do you feel when you hear stories like these?

These are the kind of stories I want to share. Because they give me the courage to believe that I can do it too.

And we have! Last week, Women Catalysts celebrated our first birthday.

While I still have a ways to go on my personal mission to close the gender wage gap, we’ve come a long way in a short time.

With the help of our small but mighty team, we lead talks and workshops in San Francisco, New York, and LA. Women Catalysts has become the kind of community that people come to for inspiration and motivation — the place where you can meet a new best friend or your future business partner.

We’ve also raised over $15,000 for non-profits doing really important work in our communities.

Most recently, we launched our group leadership program for aspiring changemakers, The Catalyst Collective.

I’m telling you this because I’m really proud. Because we love to celebrate! And even more than that, I’d love for you to consider this:

We all have the power to change our narrative and to change our world.

A little over a year ago, this was just a dream for us and now here we are with all of you. Where might you be in a year? And what will your story be? Who will you inspire with your words and with your actions?

Because the stories we tell matter. What you do matters. You matter. What change do you want to see in the world? Take fierce action with great love and be a catalyst too.

Once I got over the initial disappointment, I realized that “I blew it” was just a story I was telling. That it didn’t have to be the only story, or the end of the story.

And it’s not. Because here’s the thing:

It’s all fuel. You get to decide how you use it.

As part of our vision to create more opportunities for women to be seen and heard, Kim and I used this experience to come up with a new event for Women Catalysts. It’s called Lightning Talks — talks are just three minutes and there are no slides, because slides are the worst. And there’s wine, because wine is the best.

And after this video came out a couple of months ago, my friend Laura told me she was using my talk for a women in tech program at Everwise.

“For what not to do?” I joked, sort of.

Believe it or not, they’re not using it as a cautionary tale. The content of the talk is being used for program participants to consider their own goals and the impact they want to have.

I wasn’t sure if she was serious at first but one of her teammates confirmed, “I’ve seen it a ten times at least. I just thought you were really passionate.”

I am.

Here we are at the end of what’s been a tough year for a lot of us. And before we know it, it will be the end of 2017. So I’ll ask again: where might you be in a year? What story will you be telling and who will you inspire with your words and your actions?

If these are questions you’d like to answer for yourself, Women Catalysts is hosting a call on Sunday, December 11— it’s free and anyone can join. Because you matter and the world needs more catalysts like you.

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