Last week I had the exquisite experience of hosting the International Women’s Forum Global Leadership Conference in Boston. The Conference, in which 858 global female leaders came together to discuss today’s issues, was a tour de force. Susan Hockfield, MIT President Emerita, gave a fiery talk about education and its future, including her exciting vision of how technology is bringing education to poor, rural communities around the globe. Dr. Paula Johnson described advances in women’s health, including mandates she helped achieve for including females in research from rats to people.
My panel on local Boston entrepreneurship included Diane Hessan, CEO of The Startup Institute, Professor Sangeeta Bhatia of the Koch Center at MIT, Professor Myra Hart of Harvard Business School, and myself, and was moderated by Sara Castellanos of the Boston Business Journal. We discussed venture funding, distinct challenges female entrepreneurs face, our own personal experiences, and fielded pithy questions from the group. After I stated that over 75% of female entrepreneurs self-fund their companies and that this is ridiculous, a painful discussion emerged from Canadian women recounting difficulties female entrepreneurs face in seeking venture backing.
We toured our guests through Boston’s cultural jewels including:
- The Massachusetts Statehouse where Sam Adams and other patriots rested their hands on the antique wood tables, led by State Auditor Suzanne Bump
- The Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum with legendary Director Anne Hawley who lived through the Great Art Theft and built the Museum into its powerhouse state
- Professor Douglas Melton’s Harvard Stem Cell Institute where they discovered how to develop stem cells into pancreatic beta cells to soon remove diabetes’ symptoms
- Boston Children’s Hospital, where they lead the world in pediatrics and are developing online pediatrics to help diagnose and treat children globally led by CEO Sandi Fenwick
- The African American Meeting House, so important to the community, and
- The Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science Laboratory where the Internet as we know it came to be at MIT led by Professor Daniela Rus.
Our guests raved about the back-stage knowledge but most importantly the world-beater people they met.
We hosted roughly 500 women at 44 Dine a Round locations around the city, mostly at our members’ homes. Those intimate dinners engaged us in discussion about women’s issues around the world. I met a Lebanese leader who works in security and spends much of her time in Kurdish Iraq. Her fatalistic stories about who lives and dies were sobering. She described two cases in which a man got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. In one case a bullet hit the man’s bed while he was out of it. In the other case the only bullet of the entire night hit the man while he was peeing, killing him.
The week culminated in a spectacular 1,300 person Gala complete with a full orchestra and enchanting musical performances. Honorees included Susan Hockfield, Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, Dr. Paula Johnson, Micho Spring of Weber Shandwick and Gloria Larson of Bentley University. I believe I had the best time of anyone there, celebrating with our city leaders and my friends and family.
Now, one week post-Conference, I have a rosy haze as memories rise of women who got under my skin, women who are strong and battled injustice, women who fought for women’s rights so the rest of us could fight a little less hard, women who balanced a family with full time work and full time give-back, women who write words of stone: generals, scientists, business people, physicians, statespersons, lawyers, leaders.
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