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Darden Women Explore Diversity in Business and Travel to TedxWomen

By – Yael Grushka-Cockayne

Exciting things are happening here at Darden – namely, the execution of my Mead-Colley dream idea!

In November, I announced the kick-off of the TEDxWomen competition and the start of our conversation: How can we change the statistics such as only 18 women CEO’s among the Fortune 500 companies? How can we promote the success of the female MBA’s during their studies and beyond? What are our personal and institutional responsibilities associated with supporting women to succeed in their business endeavors?   

As part of this discussion, I wanted the group to be inspired together.  I invited students to send me their proposals for a short TED talk on the topic of the promotion of women and diversity in business (loosely defined).  Twenty students joined the conversation and we each voted on our three favorite submissions. The top three submissions were invited to join me on the trip to attend the TEDxWomen event in Washington, D.C.  And so early in December , Ashley, Catherine, Julie and I spent a day and a half at the event. We were joined by one of Darden’s Alums, Natalie Schafer Foley (MBA2011). 

I think it is fair to say it was a thought-provoking, emotional, educational and inspirational weekend.  Together we learned and listened to a board set of personal stories of role models from different parts of society.  The rest of the group that did not travel with us were able to follow the live streaming of the event, most of which can be found on the event website http://tedxwomen.org/ .

Here are a few of our main takeaways:

Ashley Oost-Lievense, ’14:


  • Charlotte Beers:  I really admired the way that she successfully found a way to take a situation that could have easily become detrimental to her both personally and professionally and turned it around quickly and successfully in a way that kept her professional and personal life intact, yet sent a message to the inappropriate counterparty that she was not to be taken advantage.  As an aspiring business woman, I think it is important to find the right balance between dealing with discrimination in the workplace and clarifying one’s role as an independent, equal to one’s male counterparts.


  • Brittany Wenger: Brittany is an inspiration and role model not just for younger girls, but also for women my age who sometimes need a reminder that we are every bit as capable at succeeding in traditionally male dominated fields of math and science.  We just have to believe we are capable of doing so.


 Catherine Manfre, ’14:

By human nature, stories that affect us most are ones that we can relate to or identify with in some way. Anita Sarkeesian, a young woman who runs a site called Feminist Frequency, was the victim of online harassment after posting a project to research female video game characters on the site Kickstarter. Her social media accounts were hacked, threatening emails sent, and sexually suggestive, violent messages posted about her by others in the video game playing world. Where was the inspiration? Doesn’t this just sound like a horrible story? In addition to the fact that she ended up far exceeding her Kickstarter goal, she voiced a story that is easier to hear than it is to tell or experience. She seeks to create a place for women in a male-dominated industry and challenged the often unflattering portrayal of women in video games. As a fellow victim of sexual harassment and a woman beginning a career in business, her story was evidence for me that these obstacles can be overcome and women can have a place in whichever industry they choose. Overall the TedXWomen’s event was not just about listening to stories though, it was also about forming relationships with the other women I attended with from Darden and providing the context to begin to talk about the numerous issues, both real and perceived, facing women in business.

Julie Young, ‘13:

The women who spoke at TEDx all shared their personal stories or struggles and triumphs.  I was truly inspired by the women who discussed something they had become extremely passionate about, as they told us how they have used their own talents and resources (no matter how big or small) to made a difference in the world.  These examples ranged from two fourteen year olds who started an email campaign against Seventeen magazine for the photo-shopping they do on the models’ photographs, which serve as an example of beauty to self-conscious teenagers, to a woman from The Gambia who had been jailed 66 times for protesting genital mutilation in her country.  My favorite story was that of a young woman from Afghanistan who as a child attended a secret school because the Taliban forbade the education of women.  Her family and teacher could have been killed if the Taliban found out she and her sister were being educated.  She credited her father for having the family take this risk because of the value he placed on education, something that can never be taken away.  This woman went on to attend college in the US, and then returned to Afghanistan and started a private school for girls.  Although the Taliban is no longer in power, she and her students still receive death threats because some still feel that women should not be educated.  This inspired me as a student of business.  I have a passion for finance, and there are myriad female entrepreneurs who could benefit from finance training.  As my own educational training winds down, I need to be looking out into the community and the world to find opportunities to share the knowledge and education that I have been so lucky to receive.  This is actually what inspired me to apply for Frank and Veronica Warnock’s Global Business Experience in the Philippines.