Chicago Ideas Week at a Glance
What do creativity, navy seals and gender equality all have in common?
Chicago Ideas recently hosted its sixth annual Chicago Ideas Week, a festival that brings entrepreneurs, philanthropists, celebrities and other thought leaders from around the globe together to discuss topics from health to hip hop.
Our Chicago team (plus a special guest from the San Francisco office, Celina Poonamallee) attended a few sessions throughout the week. The first being Creativity at Work, which reminded us that creativity is truly at the center of almost every field. A diverse lineup of speakers—including an astronomer, a New York Times reporter and the designer behind Nike’s Air Jordans—explained how they transformed their careers and lives by thinking outside the box.
Our favorite highlight of the session was Jesse Itzler, a millionaire entrepreneur and author of “Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet.” To say Itzler has a unique background would be an understatement: He sold his first two companies (to Berkshire Hathaway and Coca-Cola, respectively), ran 100 miles in under 24 hours, is married to the founder of Spanx and started his career as a rapper with his single “Shake It Like A White Girl.” Despite all these accomplishments, Itzler recently found himself functioning on autopilot. Naturally, he invited a Navy SEAL into his home for a month to “shake things up a bit” and then wrote a book about it.
Itzler explained that he sees creativity as a survival skill, a concept that should be familiar to anyone in the tech space. Innovations come to life in Silicon Valley every day. No organization, from legacy companies working towards digital transformation to startups trying to stand out from the crowd, can survive without creative ideas.
Another session, Venture Capital: The Glass Ceiling No One Ever Talks About, put a spotlight on the gender gap that is too often overlooked in today’s market. The panel of women entrepreneurs moderated by CNN’s Poppy Harlow included some incredible and inspiring women, including Sarah Kunst, founder and CEO of Proday; Beth Haggerty, co-founder of Parity Partners; and Shradha Agarwal, co-founder and president of Context Media.
The panel began by describing the issue at hand: Less than 5 percent of all ventures receiving equity capital have women on their executive team. Driven by a natural gender bias, women entrepreneurs have been facing an uphill battle to achieve success compared to their male counterparts. One of the panelists, Shradha, even shared that when she and her business partner began pitching for their first round of funding, she was was asked not to attend the VC pitches in order to avoid the bias and enhance their odds at securing the financing.
This session hit a chord with us, causing us to reflect on how inspiring it is to work for a company founded by three strong women entrepreneurs. Because we are so luckily surrounded by a female-powered culture, it’s easy to forget that this gender gap is a critical issue in today’s society. We learned that to make an impact and change the stereotypes of the future, we need to change the culture. In the words of the panelist, start by simply showing up and speaking up. We need to amplify each other’s voices,both men and women. And we need be confident in our abilities, applaud success and recognize our accomplishments.
Whether it’s instilling some more creativity in our work or making changes to increase diversity and equality, we can all make an impact and implement real change.
What will you do to close the gap or shake things up?
Don’t forget to connect with us on Twitter @HighwirePR and check out @chicagoideas for highlights of Chicago Ideas Week.