A TED Conference Dedicated to Women and Men?

Posted on December 15, 2010 by WITNESS

By Jenni Wolfson

Last week I attended the first ever TEDWomen conference in Washington DC, held in partnership with the Paley Center for Media.  The main question underlying TEDWomen was “How are women and girls shaping the future?”

For those of you not familiar with TED, it started out as a conference and has since broadened its scope. It’s mission is to spread ideas, in their own words: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world.” There is synergy between this mission and our own which is a belief in the power of visual imagery and storytelling to create positive change.

When TED announced the TEDWomen conference idea, there were mixed reactions. Some people perceived it as sidelining women’s issues and others felt that TED’s energy would be better spent trying to get more women speakers on the main TED stages. This Huffington Post blog goes as far as to call it sexism. Many others embraced it enthusiastically.

TEDWomen co-host Pat Mitchell, President & CEO of the Paley Center for Media, explains that the focus of this conference is “on women as change agents, innovators and idea champions.”

When asked why not TEDMen? Pat sums it up eloquently:

“It’s an irresistible question, isn’t it? But embedded in that question is a dangerous assumption: People tend to assume that the balance between the sexes is a zero-sum game, that when women win, men lose. But it’s simply not true. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: When women win, we all win. This is one of the key reasons that women are such effective change agents.”

I embraced the idea of TEDWomen and signed up soon after they announced the conference. It’s not easy to write a blog post after listening to around 70 speakers and performers in a day and a half, so many of whom were inspiring, engaging, funny, groundbreaking… Not to mention the wonderful people I met who were off the TED stage.

Since there are only a handful of TEDWomen talks posted online so far, I will refer to those.

Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf talks about the leadership challenges a woman faces. When asked how she feels about being called the Iron Lady of Africa, she responded “I’m in a post-conflict country where men are ferocious. We have to tell them something that will scare them!” Watch excerpts of her conversation with Pat Mitchell here.

I enjoyed the talk by Halla Tomasdottir on a feminine response to Iceland’s financial crash. Tomasdottir has been instrumental in rebuilding Iceland’s economy since its collapse in 2008 using what she calls putting “feminine values into finance.” She opens by saying that things got so bad economically in Iceland that “somebody put our country up for sale on eBay. 99 pence was the starting point with no reserve!”

The five feminine values that Tomasdottir mentions are independence, risk awareness, straight talking, emotional capital and profit with principles. She doesn’t say that men are to blame for the crises, but she does say that in her country “men were at the helm of the game of the financial sector and that kind of lack of diversity and sameness leads to disastrous problems.” So she focuses on “embracing the beauty of balance”:

Educator and activist Tony Porter gave a brave talk, drawing on intimate stories from his own life to show how boys and men are brought up in a way that can result in them disrespecting and abusing women and each other. He makes a call to men everywhere to not “act like a man.” His solution is to break free of the “man box” and to teach boys to be men. He said that “My liberation as a man, is tied to your liberation as a woman.” Porter ends his talk by sharing that he asked a 9-year-old boy what it would be like if there was no man box. And he said, “I would be free.” You can watch his talk below:

Here are some of the other talks that I found fascinating and would encourage you to watch when they come online (via the TEDTalks YouTube channel):

– Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, talking about how to elevate women in the workforce
– Deborah Rhodes, talking about a groundbreaking new method for breast cancer screening
– Arianna Huffington on the power of sleep
– Caroline Casey on the importance of disability awareness
– Eve Ensler on violence against women and girls, and surviving cancer

As is typical with TED, there was a surprise guest.  Check my photo below to see who it was!

I definitely hope that we will see a more equal number of male and female speakers at TED in the future, and that we will hear more ideas, by and about, the crucial issues facing girls and women. But in the meantime, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to spend a couple of days meeting and listening to girls and women sharing inspiring and groundbreaking ideas about how to make this world a more interesting, balanced and just place.

Update: Find videos, photos and blog round ups at http://conferences.ted.com/TEDWomen/

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  3. Jenni Wolfson December 21, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    I just came across this interesting blog post from someone else who attended TED Women, and I could definitely relate to it, especially as a mother. http://herbadmother.com/2010/12/i-am-a-mother/

  4. Jenni Wolfson December 21, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Another talk that I enjoyed has been posted now too from TED Women. Kiran Bedi is Director General of the Police in India and also unconventionally ran one of the country's toughest prisons. She's a firecracker with a sense of humour! http://www.ted.com/talks/kiran_bedi_a_police_chie

  5. OwenMarcus December 20, 2010 at 9:09 pm

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  6. Tina December 15, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    I cannot express how thrilled I am that TED did a whole conference based on women. Wow. TED is all about the spread of ideas. Witness about empowering through video. It is such a perfect match. Please post with share all of the videoes and I will pass along. I am a violence researcher and have been working for years and to see this happening is almost magical to me. You have nbo idea how many social problems revolve around violence towards those with less power, women, children, lower social classes, etc. If people complain, and they always do, communities can create their own TED conferences as suggested by TED themselves.

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