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5 TED Talks on Women and Leadership


Powerful women have been in the news a lot recently, helping companies large and small reach their full potential, making tough decisions, and refusing to let gender bias get in the way of their goals. For women who are just beginning their careers, it helps to see female leaders paving the path and breaking through the “glass ceiling” once and for all. Here are five TED Talks from women who are true examples of what can be accomplished with a bit of tenacity and ability.

Sheryl Sandberg – Why we have too few women leaders.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s compelling presentation about the importance (and purpose) of women staying in the workforce, she discusses the issue of women underestimating their own abilities, thus limiting themselves both professionally and personally. Sandberg provides three solutions to the problem, which ignore stereotypes and encourage equality in the workplace and home:

1. Sit at the table – According to Sandberg, women need to “own their success.” In other words, a female should not be ashamed that she has abilities that put her in the spotlight and encourage promotion. Sandberg states that a study found that “success and likeability are positively correlated for men, but negatively correlated for women.” Why is that? Why should women be ashamed of their contributions or try to deflect praise in fear of appearing vain? Instead, we should not look at gender and focus on the contributions made by individuals, not by genders.

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2. Make your partner a real partner – Society puts more pressure and emphasis on boys to succeed in their careers than girls, with the expectation that women will eventually stay home and raise the children while the husband is the breadwinner. Times have definitely changed and more women are breaking the mold by going off to work while the husband takes on the role of stay-at-home-dad. Statistically speaking, women do twice as much housework and three times the amount of childcare than their significant others, whether or not they have a full-time job. It’s not surprising that mothers are the ones giving up their careers to care for children, as opposed to fathers. However, as Sandberg points out, “households with equal income and equal responsibilities have half the divorce rate,” so it may be good for couples to even out responsibilities in order to benefit the family unit, rather than catering to one person or the other.

3. Don’t leave before you leave – Because society puts so much pressure on women to be good mothers and stay home with their children, women often begin limiting themselves and, more importantly, their careers well before they need to consider these life events. Sandberg points out that women tend to “check out” prematurely because they’re either afraid of getting too far in their careers to take a break to start a family, or they’re worried that having a career means there will be no time for a family so they begin “leaning back.” Keep your foot on the gas pedal and move forward with your dreams, then make the call when the time is right.

Amy Jo Martin – Innovate your life.

Social media maven and founder of Digital Royalty, Amy Jo Martin discusses the importance of innovating your life in order to “have it all” and also touches on her journey of discovering that for herself. Through her career as a successful entrepreneur, her experiences as a breast cancer survivor, and her role as a disaster awareness advocate during Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, Martin unveiled her “purpose” and realized that she could promote good through her influence on social media. Amy Jo Martin’s three main takeaways from her presentation are:

1. You can have it all, but you have to define what your “all” is.

2. You can choose whether or not you want to innovate your life.

3. Give yourself permission to make those changes and forge forward.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon – Women entrepreneurs, example not exception.

In her TED Talks presentation, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon reported on women entrepreneurs who live in war-torn countries and who are making headway in emerging markets with their business ventures. Just as Sheryl Sandberg did, Lemmon touches on the fact that when people speak of successful men, they are rightly considered “icons, pioneers, or innovators to be emulated.” However, when a woman is in the spotlight, she is an “exception to be dismissed or an aberration to be ignored,” and that is the very misconception that needs to change in order to close the gender gap to create equality for women around the world. Lemmon’s closing statements are powerful: “[W]e must move beyond micro-hopes and micro-ambitions for women,” and encourage women to not limit themselves personally or professionally, despite what society suggests.

“Never import other people’s limitations.” – Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Arianna Huffington – How to succeed? Get more sleep.

Arianna Huffington, who is best known for her website The Huffington Post, gives a short talk on “sleeping your way to the top,” literally. Huffington discusses the importance of a good night’s rest in order to be happier and more productive, while also noting that “[a] high I.Q. does not mean that you’re a good leader, because the essence of leadership is being able to see the iceberg before it hits the Titanic.” Although simple, this TED Talk reminds people that sleep deprivation can negatively affect your personal and professional life, so be sure to get some shut-eye tonight.

Susan Cain – The power of introverts.

Susan Cain’s presentation sheds light on the quiet talents of introverts and how we, as professionals, should embrace the introverted way of conducting business. Here are a few of the arguments Cain provides for introverts in the workplace and as leaders:

1. Introverts are routinely ignored for leadership-type roles, despite introverts tending to be very careful and less likely to take on “outsized risks.”

2. Introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts because they are less likely to impose their ideals onto their employees and more likely to encourage them to “run with their ideas.”

3. Because introverts and extroverts bring unique ideas to the table, there needs to be a better mix of the two in leadership circles to promote a more balanced outcome in the end.

Lastly, Cain stresses that “solitude is a crucial ingredient to creativity,” and some of the greatest leaders and innovators were introverts: Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Darwin, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Steve Wozniak (invented the first Apple computer), to name a few. We can encourage creativity to develop in the workplace by promoting a better balance of introverts and extroverts in our leadership circles.

Tell Us What You Think

What women have inspired you the most in your career? Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments section below. 

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Sheryl Sandberg

(Photo Credit: Financial Times photos/Flickr)

Leah Arnold-Smeets
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