Behind the Scenes of the TEDWomen Talk

The first-ever TEDWomen conference was organized around the question: "How are women and girls reshaping the future?"

Writing in The Huffington Post on Wednesday, leadership and organizational behavior consultant C.V. Harquail didn’t pull any punches:

The TEDWomen conference finally puts women and women’s ideas in their proper place: at the margin.

TED, the digital world’s most prominent aggregator of big ideas, thinks it can resolve complaints that its programs are male-dominated by creating a one-off conference, TEDWomen, that focuses on ideas by and about women. From an organization that claims to be all about cutting-edge ideas, TED’s decision displays simplistic, outdated, and unenlightened thinking. Despite its good intentions, TED’s women conference demonstrates the very discrimination it is supposed to address.

Association blogger Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE, was even more withering the other day:

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.”

TED has also involved itself in the conversation. June Cohen, executive producer for TED Media and one of the producers of TEDWomen, sent a thoughtful response to Harquail’s blog, which Harquail then commented on. And Cohen posted to the TED Blog:

Now, I understand (after reading some insightful comments) that the launch of TEDWomen raises the question: Are we segregating women? The answer is “No.” We’re not launching TEDWomen instead of balancing out our speaker lineup. This is a “Yes, and” rather than an “either/or.” We generally have 30-40% women speakers at all TED events. Though this isn’t ideal, it’s improving, and we’re proud of that. …

So why launch TEDWomen? Because we wanted to have a long and thoughtful conversation. We’ve been discussing these new ideas about women at every TED, but we know there’s more to say.  

I get the feeling that the debate will continue right up through Dec. 7-8. What do you think?

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.