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TED 2014: Where are the women?
Timid. Unprepared. Unsure. These are not words that describe the amazing women you know, so why are women less likely to accept invitations to speak at TED, and more likely to cancel at the last minute?
The TED stage is a global platform for virally spreading your message, your passions and your ideas. For four days each year, just over four dozen speakers give 18-minute talks in front of an audience that has paid nearly $8,000 each to attend. Videos of the talks have surpassed one billion views online, and the popularity of TED has also led to spin-off conferences such as TEDx.
Historically, though, only 40 per cent of TED and 20 per cent of TEDx speakers are women.
TED Media executive producer June Cohen released a video in July to address the issue, entitled “Where are the women speakers?”
She highlights some of the reasons why achieving gender parity is difficult, and how the team is working to improve the ratio for the 30th anniversary, when TED relocates from California to Vancouver next year.
“Women are phenomenal communicators, and it’s no surprise that some of our most popular TED talks have been delivered by women — Jill Bolte Taylor, Brene Brown, and Amy Cuddy for example,” she said in an exclusive interview with WE. “The challenge is just finding great speakers and getting them to take the stage. Women are statistically less likely to appear on the public stage than men. This makes them harder to find. Once discovered, women are far more likely to say no and also more likely to cancel speaking opportunities. Most women have no idea that when they turn down a speaking invitation they are doing something ‘typically female,’” she points out, jokingly.
Last year, Lainey Gossip’s Elaine Lui was invited to speak at TEDxVancouver on the sociology of gossip, and jumped at the chance: “It was nothing short of wonderful. For me, in particular, because my profession is gossip blogger — it’s not journalist — a lot of people roll their eyes. Being able to have 18 minutes to defend my profession, not just for me, but for other people who are doing it well — really gave people some insight and a better understanding of my job and my blog. Being able to articulate that in a video is such a great tool.”
The “infotainer”, whose new TV show The Social launches on CTV Sept. 2, adds that she isn’t surprised by the stats, but counters that TED’s gender ratio is miles ahead of the corporate world, with only 14 per cent of executive officers being female.
One-minute audition videos for TED2014 are being accepted until Sept. 1. Janice Tomich of Calculated Presentations helped ‘Guerilla Gardener’ Ron Finley reach the TED stage last year. This year Tomich is working with a female client on her audition.
The Vancouver speaking coach has some tips for making your presentation as inspirational as possible: Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to create a presentation, especially practising; Don’t memorize a script. Pull out your key messages and speak to them; Remember it is all about the audience. Understand who they are, what they want to know and how they want to hear it; And work in stories — they will make your presentation memorable.
Meanwhile, Cohen shares that they are having “enormous success” recruiting women for 2014, and encourages even more to apply. “We will work with them to make sure they are absolutely prepared for the stage.”
More with June Cohen
Describe the criteria for choosing videos for posting to the site:
TED's editorial team selects one video to be posted each day, and we seek those with a great idea worth sharing — covering any range of topics. The talk must be engaging, thought-provoking, and have a unique perspective. We've posted 1563 TED talks — 73 per cent by men and 25 per cent by women. In 2013, the percentage will be about 30 per cent women. We're actively working to increase these numbers across the board — among the TED and TEDx communities.
Can you point to some female speakers you admire, from TED or otherwise?
There are so many! Amy Cuddy for bringing our attention to the power of body language; Liz Gilbert for her insights on creativity and incredible humor and eloquence; TED fellow Jessica Green for conveying her complex scientific work with clarity; Biologist Bonnie Bassler for her enthusiasm and gift as a science educator; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for her fiery, yet compassionate take on the best way to help Africa; Nat Geo photographer Beverly Joubert for the talk she have with her husband, showing the power of teamwork (and the wonder of nature); Margaret Heffernan for her strong, wise truth-telling; Chimamanda Adichie for her amazing articulate-ness and beautiful voice... So many more!
Why should a woman want to be on the TED stage?
From my vantage at TED – and as a female public speaker myself – I see that women are missing opportunities to speak. Worse, the world is missing a chance to learn from them, so doing something about this has become something of a personal cause for me and my colleagues at TED (men and women!).
When women decline speaking opportunities -- and so many of us do -- we contribute to the false perception that the world lacks female leaders. There are far more powerful women than we realize; women are just quieter about it.
Why talk at TED? To advance your idea; to reach the broadest possible audience; to find new collaborators; to inspire others. Also, as I mentioned above, to reverse this notion that the world lacks female leaders! If the world can’t see women talking about their work, how will anyone know they’re there? In the past, only 15% of speakers recommended to TED have been women. We want to see those numbers steadily increase.
This is a topic my colleagues and I have been passionate about for years. (I first gave this talk two years ago in New York.) We want to draw attention to this challenge and encourage more women to publicly speak.
To learn more about how to apply click here.
Photo of Elaine Lui by Maurice Li.