Powerful Women Talk about How to Build (and Find) Your Identity
AAUW is grateful to AT&T and AAUW of Maryland for their sponsorship of the 2018 Women of Distinction Awards ceremony.
How does it feel to be the first?
Second Lieutenant Simone Askew, who made history in 2017 as the first black woman to be appointed first captain of West Point’s Corps of Cadets, is tired of that question. Asked the same thing over and over the last year, she knew that something about the phrasing of the question bothered her, but it took a while to put her finger on it.
“Why was it that both the positive and negative things that were said about me were infatuated with my gender and my race?” she wondered. That realization hit home, she told the audience at the 2018 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, one day as she sat in a brief at West Point about why women need male mentors. The conversation took a sexist turn, bringing up the “fact” that women are more prone to cry than men. Askew remembers feeling stunned and furious in that auditorium. How had she been reduced to a gender stereotype?
“I’m done waiting to be defined in a way that is all-encompassing of who I am,” she realized that day. “You are all awesome!” she told the NCCWSL audience, “not because you’re female leaders, but just because you’re leaders.”
Victims’ rights lawyer and fellow awardee Carrie Goldberg also spoke about defying society’s prescribed identities. “You aren’t who they think you are,” she urged. “You can be whoever you want, and you can change a million times.”
Aisha Bowe, who was unable to accept her Woman of Distinction Award in person, live video chatted the audience from Jerusalem. Bowe took an unusual path to her current role as chief executive officer of STEMBoard, beginning with a C in an economics class that shattered her confidence. It wasn’t until her father encouraged her to take more math classes at a community college that she shifted that mindset. She received As across the board — and an epiphany: “What if there was more for me? What if all the things I thought about myself were wrong?”
Today, Bowe’s company builds a pipeline for other women and people of color in tech. “We all deserve a place in these rooms,” she said, to resounding cheers.
For those who haven’t yet figured out their life mission, “Not to despair,” Goldberg reassured. “It wasn’t the schools or the jobs that brought me to my calling; it was the bumps and the bruises.” And her hard work has paid off: In the last week Goldberg’s firm successfully filed a motion on behalf of an abortion provider that had been hacked, a client’s stalker was arrested, and another client’s assaulter, Harvey Weinstein, was indicted in New York.
Plus, says Goldberg, “It is really awesome to be the boss.”
Organizer Carmen Perez also won a Women of Distinction award but was unable to attend the ceremony as she was called away to her work on the Free Meek Mill campaign. AAUW of Maryland, a major sponsor of NCCWSL for many years, also honored a special Woman of Distinction: singer, actor, and producer Kate Campbell Stevenson.