TEDWomen A Resounding Success! Or Was It?

tedwomen.jpg The virtual torrent of hallelujah tweets was predictable.

TEDWomen twitterati worldwide, myself included, fell coiffed heads over stiletto-ed heels and raved non-stop on Twitter about the first-ever TED conference dedicated solely to "women issues."

Several days later, the buzz hasn't let up... Anyone who's ever experienced a TED conference would know why.

TED is the ultimate intellectual/cultural/creative idea fest: a heady mix of eclectic speakers and topics, avant-garde entertainment, interesting and interested fellow attendees, an impossibly fast-paced and inevitably juicy program jam-packed from dawn till dusk and beyond, rich production values and an electric atmosphere that is almost indescribably energizing.

Think: plug yourself directly into a nuclear reactor and throw the switch.

(In case you don't have clue what TED is, learn the basics here, and see some cool examples of TED Talks here. And a word of advice: whoever you are, wherever you are, register for the next and closest TEDx event within reach –  the worldwide list is here .)

Love At First Sight

I fell in love with TED several years ago, purchased an associate membership in late 2009 so I could watch TED 2010 livestream online in February, and attended my first TED conference – TED Global 2010 – in Oxford, England, in July. My characteristically high expectations were exceeded in almost every way from start to finish.

(The only flaw was the underrepresentation of women on the TED Global stage – more about that later.)

Even viewed from afar (I'm based in Dubai and experienced TEDWomen online), the conference was a spectacular success. How could it not be? The program comprised a breathtaking diversity of highly accomplished speakers, entertainers and artists (90% of whom were women), from around the world.

Collectively, they addressed a wide range of fascinating topics and issues with intelligence, insight, and incisive wit.

The audience, comprising hundreds of (mostly) women at the event itself, as well as hundreds more (again mostly women) at TEDx events and in the online livestream community, lapped it up.

Apparently there was a huge thirst to hear fellow women speak from a TED stage, and engage with fellow female TEDsters globally. TED women worldwide drank their fill from an overflowing wellspring of feminine TED energy. YES!

So yes, as an event, TEDWomen was overwhelmingly successful. Sincere thanks and buckets of kudos to the entire TEDWomen team, led by Pat Mitchell and June Cohen – you did an outstanding job and produced an exemplary event.

The Question of Gender Parity

And yet, the question that generated what Mitchell and Cohen respectively described in their opening remarks as a “lively exchange" and a “spirited response” leading up to the conference remains unanswered:

Will the staging of TEDWomen be an effective strategy to help achieve greater gender parity and diversity at other TED and TEDx events around the world, a goal which I and others in the TED community strongly support?

In a post conference blog, TEDWomen speaker Johanna Blakley remarks:
…TED has had a terrible record at achieving anything like gender parity in its line up of speakers over the years… Could it be that future TEDs will look a lot more like TEDWomen? We can only hope."

I suggest we do a lot more than “only hope.” I suggest we DO something! Others agree.

she_should_talk_at_ted.jpg US-based trio CV Harquail, Gloria Feldt and Debra Condren have established "She Should Talk at TED,” a Facebook-anchored campaign, as a first step. They've also come up with four main strategies and a list of supporting micro actions that will create an enabling and inclusive environment for aspiring women and diverse others at all kinds conferences everywhere – not just TED. (See their idea round-up here.)

Harquail and her colleagues also intend to invite TED powers-that-be to talk about making TED conferences more inclusive.


But TEDsters don’t have to wait to see what the outcome of those conversations might be. While ideas are being exchanged, I encourage TEDsters to lobby their local TEDx organizers to work harder to achieve gender parity at their events.

TEDx events provide a huge opportunity for making giant grassroots steps on this important issue, because the gender parity record of TEDx events is worse than that of the main TED events. (See more about that, including five specific actions you can take here .)

In a TEDWomen follow-up blog entitled The Ecstasy And Agony Of TEDWomen, Sharp Skirts founder Carla Thompson says: 

…TEDWomen got a lot of flack when it was announced. So much flack that hosts Pat Mitchell and June Cohen implicitly said from the stage that there wouldn’t be another one.”

What a shame that would be!

TEDWomen was a great conference, and proof positive that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing women speakers queued and ready to step onto TED stages globally. Let’s see more of them at TED and TEDx events everywhere, and achieve gender parity across TED before another TEDWomen is held. Talking to ourselves is energizing, but we must be heard by men to really make a difference. Preaching to the converted just takes us round and round in circles.

That’s why gender parity is an idea worth spreading and implementing – the sooner the better.

You can help. Take TEDxActionNow.

Related links: