TEDWomen – Really?

By now, you may have heard that the famous and high-powered TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) organization has decided to launch TEDWomen.

YAY, right?

Not so fast.

I’m actually pretty annoyed that TED is ghettoizing women. I think more women should just be on the regular TED program, rather than this BS “well, the ladies weren’t good/smart/innovative enough to make the REAL TED program, so we gave them their own event – which will also ensure that they’re only talking to each other and don’t bother us BIG IMPORTANT MEN with their silly little ideas.”

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this.

But I doubt it.

21 thoughts on “TEDWomen – Really?”

  • Have to agree with you. Whose idea was it? Please don't tell me a woman came up with it. Yes, it's lonely to be the sole gal – that's what afterparty vent sessions are for.

  • I completely agree. I hadn't heard about TEDWomen until I saw your post, and quite frankly, I was appalled. Nothing that marginalizes women – as this does – is a good thing. It's great they want to include more women, but they shouldn't have to do it in so blatant and (dare I say) segregating a manner.

  • See excellent in depth-comment thread on this issue, including responses from the TEDWomen producer and others involved in the organization, here:

    Short version, through my own lens: The intention is that TEDWomen is intended to be “about,” not “for,” women. The speakers and attendees will be mixed gender. Some of their promotional language is a little ham-fisted. Myself, I'm not entirely sure that a separate conference with this name and branding produces the desired effect of lifting up important issues and innovations about the role of women in our world.

  • Ok, I fully admit I’m going to step into it and you all are probably going to flame me. Here goes….

    I think it might be a good idea. (duck for throwing objects)


    Because I’m the father of a super smart, creative, smiling daughter.

    (oh yeah, and I bawled like a baby the first time I saw http://www.thegirleffect.org and then promptly made a donation)

    I’ve always been friends with and worked with women. Many of my closest friends and people I admire are women. I geek out just as much over Charlene Li as Andy Sernovitz or Mia Hamm as Brandon Donovan or Mitsuko Uchida as Yo-Yo Ma. I have always believed the quality of the thought and work is more important than the sex of who did it.

    So why do I care?

    Because as a father, I look for opportunities to educate and inspire my daughter. I pray every night for her to grow up to be strong, confident, know she can change the world, and when she does come up against sexism or a man who belittles her she doesn’t let that stop her.

    Content and ideas that address issues that will matter to her presented by women that will inspire her just might be a good idea.

    (duck again)

    Now, it remains to be seen the final content and community that comes together and there’s clearly a challenge to be overcome. But we still live in a world where women are second-class citizens in many countries, where an unmarried female Supreme Court nominee is asked irrelevant questions and where women still get paid less than men.

    As a father of a young girl growing up in this world, I’m OK having these discussions and inspiring her to take those challenges head on. And I hope that’s what the planners of this TED conference were thinking.

    OK, flame away…. (and if I turn out to be wrong, I'll freely admit it)

  • Ray – thank for your much more measured response than mine. 🙂

    I have a daughter too, though, and I also look for people and ideas she can be inspired by. But I feel that anything that is “about women” as some kind of zoo animal “look what they can do, isn't it wonderful” kind of thing is just gross. Belittling. Annoying as hell.

    I actually really love the TED talks and I have a bunch of them bookmarked for both of my kids (my son too). The speakers are both men and women (obviously) and it's the fascinating topics I want them to listen to and watch and pay attention to, not the gender of the speaker.

  • Love TED talks as well, but don't like this move at all. The website reads: ” A new lens reveals women and girls as powerful change agents in the area of economic growth, public health, political stability and beyond.” ACK. What “new lens” has just discovered the contributions that women have made and make in the world?

  • Yes, having these discussions is good. Even in 2010, women are still treated as second-class citizens, make less money than our male counterparts, etc… etc…

    The discussions about these issues are good. The actual practice, or continued implications that women are inferior to men (i.e. having TEDWomen vs. TED) is not.

    Perhaps the event will be worthwhile. But some of the language they've used (“a new lens” and “about women”) is pretty low.

    Young girls SHOULD have strong role models – both male and female ones. But those role models shouldn't be separated. And whether or not TEDWomen does that or not remains to be seen. From first impressions, though, it's belittling and insulting.

  • Some thoughts:

    1. Segregating women (for any reason) is silly, short-sighted, and condescending.

    2. Shannon, are women really treated as second-class citizens in the US? That would be news to Hilary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, and a host of other women who have reached the top of their professions.

    3. We should stop feeding the myth that men are paid more than women. When adjusted for all considerations (e.g., job flexibility, actual experience, etc.) men and women essentially receive equal pay (notwithstanding the breathless reporting of NYT and other outlets). Details here: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2411/are-women-paid-less-than-men-for-the-same-work


    Wes Trochlil
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  • Wes, thanks for linking to that “Straight Dope” column–although it doesn't read quite the same way to me as you seem to be characterizing it (my apologies if I misunderstood you).

    To quote from the column: “Despite progress, women on average still get paid much less than men. In 1979 women working full-time earned about 60 percent as much as men; by 1998 that figure had climbed to 76 percent. … Some research suggests that when women behave as men do–not having babies, mainly–the income gap largely disappears. If so (I won't claim the matter has been definitively settled), the question facing women is a stark one: What do you want, kids or cash?”

    Note that he says that “some” research suggests that the income gap “largely” disappears, and “I won't claim the matter has been definitively settled”–which to me is a ways away from saying that the gender-based salary gap is a myth.

    Just to cite one data point: According to the salary survey ASAE just published, women CEOs currently make less than male CEOs in nine out of 10 budget categories of associations.

    Another interesting study was published in Harvard Business Review in March. The study showed that women MBA graduates lagged men in salary from their first professional jobs onward, even when adjusting for demographics and life choices. There's an interesting sidebar comparing the experiences of men and women who left the traditional career track for a while, too.

    Elizabeth, sorry for sidetracking the discussion a bit from TEDWomen! Wes's comment just really interested me. =)

  • Love the conversation and Lisa, don't worry about “hijacking” – you didn't.

    I did just delete an anonymous (and poorly spelled) comment (and Maddie's response) because that's what I do here. Sorry – to stay you have to own your comments.

    (And yes, I know the first comment in this stream is “anonymous” but it was from my colleague Sohini who accidentally posted it without an identifier and emailed me immediately after.)

  • This is KiKi and I have to agree with the majority of comments here regarding the TEDWomen talks being a bad idea.

    I'm actually surprised that this was even created since I think of TED as smart and forward-thinking.

    I understand why they think it is important to provide role models and share discussions about issues revolving around women in society, but there was probably a better way to go about it, in my humble opinion.

  • Perhaps “second-class citizens” is a little too heavy of a term, and yes, Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, et al are amazing role models. But how many discussions went on wondering if those women neglected their families and children while trying to reach the top of their profession? No one questions a man's family values when he accomplishes great things, but it's often a novelty when a woman does, because society expects her to be the primary caregiver in the home.

  • I'm personally just looking for the day that when someone looks at me they will see me as a person.

    I deal with this a lot in my art and in my work life. Though as a woman I own the fact that I may have a different perspective than a male counterpart, I consciously try to see things from all aspects.

    Not to bring up the “F” word, but true feminism to me is the opportunity to be equal and not singled out because I am female.

    A much smarter approach for TED might have been a track that focuses on women's issues. It would have been a chance to examine the specific issues within the whole setting instead of ostracizing it, which is what I feel this action has done.

  • If a movie is about women, it's called a chick flick. If it's about men, its called…a movie.

    It's fine to segment an audience around interests, but a person's gender does not determine their interests.

  • Glad to see some blog drama on someone else's blog for once 😉

    I share Lynn's opinion that equality is about being in the game on the same field, not in a separate “girls only” game on a different field. What's next “Asian TED”? “African American TED”?

    And as for the salary equality thing, in addition to the salary survey Lisa cited for association CEOs, I'll add a recent survey on social marketing salaries where the average woman's salary was $64k to the average man's salary of $104k. How's that for equity?

    Or how about publishing?

    Also, I think the old notion that women are the only ones who want flexible schedules to care for kids is just that–old and outdated. These days there are plenty of men who are either working less or “off-ramping” to be home with kids…yet somehow the gender salary gap remains intact.

  • As someone who cares deeply about ending the discrimination, mistreatment and suffering women and girls experience throughout the world, I think the TEDWomen conference is a very positive thing.

    Far from an attempt to marginalize women, I see TEDWomen (and the related TEDx events that will be organized worldwide around it) as a powerful platform for creating and celebrating a future in which all women and girls will have the opportunity to realize their full potential free from the constraints, limitations and dangers they too often face today.

    TED is all about “ideas worth spreading.” I believe letting the world know of the extraordinary dreams and talents of women and girls everywhere is just such an idea, and one we must evangelize through every means possible.

  • Jeff, sorry but your comment is extremely condescending – as is this whole TEDWomen thing. Here we have a blog conversation (one of many all over the blogosphere) where most every woman commenting is stating our opinions on why we feel this is a bad idea. But somehow, none of our opinions count, because the intentions of TedWomen are noble and therefore must be right?

    Way to perpetuate the myth that we women don't know what we're doing and need help from on high. Are you kidding me?

    Here's a really great post by CV Harquail, following a post she wrote on the Huffington post about this issue. In it she says:

    “In diversity work we distinguish between intention and outcomes. TEDWomen may have been intended to celebrate women’s ideas, but the outcome is that TED as an organization has offended people with simplistic thinking about discrimination and how to resolve it. Actions with good intentions that reinforce discrimination are still reinforcing discrimination.”

  • Hi Elizabeth — June Cohen here, from the TED Conference. I'm one of the producers of TEDWomen, and also the Executive Producer of TED Media (I launched TEDTalks and TED.com). I completely respect where you're coming from on this. But I wanted to clarify a few things about our intent with TEDWomen, which I think are important.

    I understand after reading your post and the comments here that the launch of TEDWomen raised the question: Is TED segregating — or ghettoizing — women? The answer, from our perspective, is a definitive “No.” We're not launching TEDWomen instead of balancing out our speaker line-up (which was already a priority), or to keep women out of the main conference. This is a “Yes, and” rather than an “either/or”.

    The numbers here are important. We generally have 30-40% women speakers at all TED events. This isn't ideal, by any measure, but it's respectable and improving. Throughout the 90s, TED was tech-centric and, yes, male-dominated. But TED is a different organization today. If you look — for example — at the program for TEDGlobal (held last month in Oxford), you'll find an extraordinary group of women, from Kiva founder Jessica Jackley to “Half the Sky” author Sheryl WuDunn to psycho-economist Sheena Iyengar to author Elif Shafak to neuro-technologist Tan Le to musician/activist Annie Lennox. We're passionately striving for a balanced program in all our conferences, and will continue to!

    But the broader question, I think, is why we decided to launch TEDWomen. The idea for the conference was brought to us by Pat Mitchell (legendary journalist and president of the Paley Center). We loved the idea for its journalistic interest: It seemed to us that the time was right to capture an evolving narrative about women and girls. We regularly produce specialized events — for example, TEDGlobal in Africa, TEDIndia, and TED@State (held at the U.S. State Dept) which focused on international development — and believed that a similar opportunity had emerged to turn the TED lens on the stories of women and girls as architects of change around the world.

    So the intent behind the conference is to seek out talks about women and girls (not just by them). As with every TED, the speaker program at TEDWomen will include men and women. And we will of course continue to invite women to all our events.

    I really appreciate your viewpoint, Elizabeth, as well as that of everyone who has weighed in — either with excitement or concerns. The conversation has sharpened our own thoughts, and also our understanding of what's at stake and what's at play. We're happy to continue the conversation. You can reach us at tedwomen@ted.com or on Twitter at @tedwomen.

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