Technology, Entertainment, Design, and Empowered Women at TEDxRyersonU

TEDxRyersonU held their second annual women conference two weeks ago in none other than Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone. The space was rearranged to create a small, intimate stage for three outstanding female change-makers. With self-authorship, narrative, and monitoring as overarching themes, speakers Lesley D’Souza, Cassandra Gentile, and Bailey Parnell shared their expertise on what it means to be a woman in today’s modern world. The evening was filled with amazing ideas worth sharing, including a breathtaking spoken word performance by Cassandra Myers.

Lesley DSouza

Despite having a shaky introduction exacerbated by tech issues, Lesley D’Souza executed a compelling speech about self-authorship. Using her personal story as a working mother to propel her narrative, D’Souza talked about ingrained expectations of women in childbearing and raising. She confessed, “[When I had my first child], I put work behind me because I thought being a mom meant being a martyr.”

Feeling unfulfilled while on maternity leave, D’Souza shared her anxiety about being away from the workplace. Ultimately, she made the decision to return to the workplace.

I stayed connected with the workplace not because I felt obligated, but because I wanted to. The ability to be whole person makes me a better parent.

D’Souza’s three tips for countering the stereotype that working parents are more distracted and unfocused are to: (1) talk about it, (2) support your friends and colleagues, and (3) ask for what you want. “We can have flexible, compassionate workplaces,” she concluded, “[if we] stop judging parents and coworkers and help them find the balance that they need. People shouldn’t have to choose between success at work and their home life.”

D’Souza is a mother of two and currently the Manager of Student Affairs Storytelling at Ryerson’s Student Affairs department.

Cassandra Gentile

Trailing D’Souza’s talk, Cassandra Gentile shared her story about the power of self-narrative, specifically in the context of time and busyness. She draws attention to three uses of the word busy in everyday conversation: (1) as a way to be concise, (2) as a way to maintain privacy or seek avoidance, and (3) as a form of self-pity and dissatisfaction.

Gentile pointed out that the last usage is the most damaging to our personal narration as it implies disinterest with the task at hand. She argued that by shifting your perspective to be grateful for the opportunities you have, your entire outlook on life will change drastically.

“Self-narration is a powerful tool used to define who we are,” she explained. “You are your negative self-pity… until you’re not.” She challenged the audience by asking,

Do you use ‘busy’ to feel like a productive human being? Are you using ‘busy’ as a placeholder in your sentences? Think of the possibility that can arise when we swap out busy. Being busy is about creating who you want to be, not what looks good.

Gentile opened up about her own struggles and association with being “sick”, referring to an inflammatory condition she has that causes her knees to swell after strenuous movement.  She admitted, “Without this narrative, [it felt like] I would not exist.” She wants others to hone in on why they use the word busy and what self-narrative underlines the usage behind the word.

As a young woman passionate about preventative health, nutrition, and food innovation, Gentile is keen on changing the ways we label ourselves and take control of our own lives.

Bailey Parnell

After an emotionally charged poetry performance by Cassandra Myers, Bailey Parnell graced the stage to talk about the importance of self-monitoring and self-care in relation to social media. She asked, “Is social media hurting your mental health?” after reciting an internal monologue that every social media user has undoubtedly had while scrolling through their own personal feed.

Parnell, an award-winning digital marketer and entrepreneur, first recognized that social media was impacting her well-being on a four day vacation to Jasper, Alberta. “The first day [without internet] was hard,” she admitted. “I experienced phantom vibration syndrome and felt disconnected.”

For many, this is a relatable reality. Parnell revealed that 90% of 18-29 year olds are on social media, dedicating an average of 2h per day checking their feed. She connected this high usage with the top three diagnoses on university campuses: anxiety, depression, and stress.

The four most common stressors from social media, she pointed out, are: (1) comparing your behind-the-scenes with everyone’s highlight reel, (2) attributing your sense of value through social currency – “The Economy of Attention,” (3) having FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out, and (4) experiencing online harassment.

Abstinence [from social media] is not an option, but we can practice safe social.

Bailey Parnell

Despite social media being her life “economically and professionally,” Parnell believes that social media is not inherently harmful if people develop mindful strategies and keep a safe distance from social media. Ultimately, Parnell is optimistic of social media’s role in our present and future.


Some hard-hitting ideas worth sharing by these empowering women. What takeaways will you be applying into your everyday life? Share with us by tweeting @RUStudentLife, or tweet our presenters @LesleyDSz@cassgentile, @MyersCass, and @BaileyParnell.