Wearing your hero’s name on your nametag

A snapshot from our storytelling exercise yesterday at USV: “Tell us about a woman you admire and why you wrote her name on your nametag.”

At our Women’s Leadership event that we hosted yesterday at USV, we kicked off the day with an unlikely prompt: “In addition to your own name, add the name of a woman you admire to your nametag.”

My colleague Jackie Barimah conceptualized this exercise as a fun icebreaker for the group — a way to help remind us to look beyond ourselves and take a few minutes to pause and reflect on the bigger picture of how we see ourselves. To bring it home, during our introductory exercise, we asked each woman to stand and speak not only about herself, but about the other woman that she identified. Who do you admire, we wanted to know. And why?

As to be expected, a lot of “brand name” women came up: Michelle Obama, JK Rowling, Oprah. But we also had several women reaching into familiar (as opposed to celebrity) territory. “My Mom” came up at least a handful of times. A couple of women added friends of theirs who have gone on to great things. One woman wrote the name of her doctor, for both leading an inspiring life of her own and for sharing her story with her week after week.

During this storytelling exchange, I also noticed a particularly interesting element of group cohesion and support from the women in the room. To stand as you spoke in a room of 40 other women added severity and intention to your choice. Early on in the exercise, a group norm was established to “golf clap” for everybody, which continued until the very end. And as time went on, the safety in the room expanded, with people fearing less about the name they added, and maybe opening up a little bit more about how that individual impacts their own life or goals.

In the end, three large themes emerged from the choices we selected:

  • Women like Ada Lovelacee, Madeleine Albright, or Ann Freud, who were trailblazers at being “first” in their domain, paving the path forward for the rest of us
  • Women like Beyonce, Rihanna, or Roxanne Gay, who stand tall for something so much larger than themselves and somehow continue to manage and inspire people they’ll never meet in person
  • Women we know personally, like our moms and our friends, whose stories may closely mirror our own, and whose perseverance and gumption serves as a constant reminder that we can (and we shall)

It struck me that there was something beautiful about the delta in itself. To stand as a mid-level woman in your career and simultaneously introduce yourself and to share the path of the footsteps of someone you perceive to be at “pedestal level” of admiration takes some kind of guts. It’s almost as if each of us was saying (in our own way), “Here’s who I am today, and here’s who I want to become.”

There’s power in articulating these things out loud. Not to mention accountability when it’s done live in front of a group.

But perhaps my favorite part of this game was at the very end of the day, after we all finished brunch, after our Q&A time ended, and after the breakout sessions wrapped out. While looking around the room to close out the session and send everyone back to the “real world” in their offices and their all-hands meetings, my eye caught on the nametag of a girl sitting in the front row. Under her name, she had in big, bold letters: “BEYONCÉ.”

I couldn’t help but grin.

When else, I wondered, is it encouraged to put your name side-by-side with someone like Beyoncé? And how great must that make you feel to head into the rest of your work day? I like to think that woman spent the rest of her afternoon with a little more sass in her step.

Maybe we should wear the names of our heroes on our chests more often.

P.S. In case you’re looking for a little inspiration this Women’s Month, here’s the full list of names that came up in our session yesterday. Have anyone else you’d add? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll add it.

Ada Lovelace
Alyssa Mastromonaco
Anna Freud
Jeanette Rankin
Jenny Han
JK Rowling
Juliette Low
Lauren McKean
Madeleine Albright
Margaret Bourke-White
Michelle Howard
Michelle Obama
Mindy Kaling
My doctor
My grandmother
My mom
My step-mom
Reshma Saujani
Roxanne Gay

Originally published at Dry Erase.

VP @ BolsterTalent, alum of @USV, @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC