/ by Tania Katan

When you receive a letter that has an official The White House logo on it, you basically have two options: jump for joy or run for the hills! Fortunately, I was a jumper. It read:

Dear Tania,
Congratulations! You are one of the nominees chosen to attend The United State of
Women Summit on June 14th here in Washington, D.C. We appreciate the work you do to
further gender equality and hope that you’ll be able to attend.

So, yes, my job at Axosoft (and in life) is disrupting the status quo, especially when it comes to gender representation in STEAM fields! As co-creator of the #ItWasNeverADress campaign, I speak to thousands (getting close to millions) of people about shifting perceptions and assumptions about women in the world.

Last week, I joined 5,000 women in Washington, D.C. for the first-ever White House Summit on the United State of Women.

And, I’m sad to report, like most government agencies, the line to get in was really long! Fortunately, everyone in line was a “changemaker.” It was filled with leaders, organizers and activists from around the globe who are rallying for economic empowerment, changing health and wellness policies, creating bridges into education, starting businesses, and changing the culture to end violence against women.

It was like summer camp for the most inspiring people you will ever meet!

After more than 13 hours of the most electrifying, heartbreaking and dynamic speeches, stories, panels, and songs; after the President of the United States of America said, “This is what a feminist looks like”; after Jaha Dukureh, a survivor of female genital mutilation said, “I stand here to represent a forgotten population: girls who are a footnote in research papers and never make it past lunchtime conversations”; in the wave that is Oprah Winfrey taking the stage and in her iconic “You get a car!” voice screaming, “We are here for the UNITED STATE OF WOMEN!!”; in a room full of women of color; full of survivors; full of doers, dreamers and those who dare, we reached a peak.

Perhaps that’s why they called it a summit.

When I left this historic event, deeply moved and profoundly inspired, I kept thinking, what’s next? How do we take this momentum and turn it into action? What can we do every day that will make a difference? How do we continue this movement? How do we, in the words of First Lady, Michelle Obama, “BE better”?

“BE better.”

Turns out, the trailblazers presenting at The United State of Women Summit created a map to help us take action! I identified 6 key roadside attractions I’d like to point out.

6 stops on the road map to being better

1. Disrupt the status quo.

“Disruption is the only thing that causes change.” -Brittany Packnett, Teach for America

Go ahead, pick a system that is clogged up: the economy, education, health care, safety… and interrupt it! Let’s take women in technology for instance. As an Evangelist for a tech company, Axosoft, my job is to stand up in front of 2,000 or more technologists and tell ‘em why it’s important to embrace diversity.

Oftentimes, I’m the only playwright in the room, the only woman in the room, the only LGBT person in the room. As I see it, the more I show up, the more I’m myself, the more I point out subtle (and not-so-subtle) injustices that exist when we think everyone is the same, the more meaningful conversations we can have.

“Strategically disrupt the status quo by men and women working in tandem. There must be a willingness to be present, a genuine desire to listen, and the ongoing commitment to transform men.”                                  -Matt McGory, Actor on How To Get Away With Murder

2. Make a pledge.

A pledge is a promise, an undertaking, an action. And guess what? We’ve been pledging our allegiance to the flag of this awesome country since we entered the school system, so we know how to do it!

Make your pledge to ensure all human beings are seen, heard, safe, supported and given the resources that every human being deserves.

“I will use my voice in service of those who don’t have a voice right now.”
“So, President Obama and I started It’s On Us—to wake-up our colleges and universities–and the country–to the epidemic of sexual violence on their campuses.”                                                       -Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States

3. If you don’t see something, say something.

Oftentimes we are at work, on a panel, in the audience or simply flipping through a business journal and become painfully aware that women and people of color are missing from these spaces; so let’s say something!

Adecco’s research shows that 85% of large global enterprises believe that diversity is critical to fostering innovation in the workplace.

If we say something, we’re helping our companies become more innovative and we’re honoring the company we keep!

“If your companies, organizations, and boards don’t have women, you’re not doing women’s work.”                                          -Cherno Biko, CoFounder, #BlackTransLivesMatter

4. Humor is a serious tool.

As we all know, chitty-chatting about politics can raise one’s heart rate and, sometimes, alienate the very people we need to connect with in order to create change. Next time you find yourself, ahem, raising your voice at an opposing P.O.V., try finding a connection that you and your adversaries share. Crack a joke, and you just might just make a new ally!

“We use humor. It’s a great way to get people in politics talking about important issues.”                              -Erin Loos Cutraro, Co-Founder & CEO, She Should Run

5. Stop name-calling and start dreaming + doing!

When Mikaila Ulmer took the stage, small in stature, but HUGE in confidence and focus, she reminded all of us big shot adults, that the true source for innovation is dreaming; no matter if you are 11 or 100 years old!

“Entrepreneurs hold the American dream & the biggest dreamers are kids.”                                         -Mikaila Ulmer, 11-Year-Old Businesswoman and Entrepreneur

When First Lady Michelle Obama was in conversation with Oprah (yes, it was amazing), she spoke candidly about the name calling she’s experienced on social media, the bullying aimed at women and at people of color, and the intensity added when your husband is running for president.

Early on in her husband’s bid for office, she stopped engaging in all the noise and realized that, ‘It’s what I do, not what you call me.’

Do you have a dream of leading your team in creating new software, wanna write a book, travel around the world, start your own business?

Ask yourself, ‘What is one thing I can do today, to move forward on my dream map?’

It’s time to do one thing. Reach out to a software developer, start writing, buy a ticket, email an entrepreneur and ask for advice. All it takes is one gesture to swiftly move your dreaming to doing!

6. Make caring your business.

“When you’re building a culture, every person matters.” -Melanie Whelan, CEO, SoulCycle

Whether you’re at the helm of a large company, like SoulCycle, or compelled to start an organization, like Kechie’s Project, caring is a powerful catalyst! What do you care deeply about? It’s time to pair your skills with your caring and innovate the workplace as well as the worldplace!

“In 2011, my 68-year-old mother was kidnapped for ransom in Enugu State of Nigeria and was held for two months… This situation has increased my drive to give a voice to other women in Nigeria and other countries in Africa, who cannot speak out for themselves against the onslaught of injustices.”  -Nkechi Ogbodo, Founder and President, Kechie's Project                                                                          

What do you stand for? What are you willing to stand up to? How will you dream big and do better? Tweet your actions @taniakatan or share on Face Book