TED Conference Is Really Sorry for Ignoring Women All Those Years, Launches TEDWomen


“It’s a boys club.” You’ve heard it about almost every industry imaginable; it’s always true. The tech world, though, is a special sort of sausage club. The global TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) conferences, held annually since 1990, aim to give a stage to ambitious social entrepreneurs with potentially world-changing ideas, all with a technological bent. Unfortunately, but not unpredictably, it skews male. Take, for instance, their tag page for “women”; it’s underwhelming. But they have a solution! It’s a conference just for women and it’s this December in Washington, D.C. That’s what women want, right? Something for themselves? It’s called TEDWomen.

The conference is pitched like this:

Over the last several years, our ideas about women have changed. A new lens reveals women as powerful change agents in the areas of economic growth, public health, political stability and beyond. TEDWomen will bring them into focus.

Does this miss the mark a bit? It sounds condescending, maybe. Like women are “the other” and their ideas are out of “focus.” Allow smart TED men to put them in the proper context! A “new lens reveals women as powerful change agents”? A woman didn’t write this, did she? Which isn’t to say the spotlight is unwelcome:

Who are the women who leading change? What ideas are they championing? How are they shaping the future? TEDWomen will also reveal how women and men, in concert with one another, orchestrate different but complementary approaches to ideas worth spreading.

Okay, okay. But the segregation may be dispiriting to some (many?):

The cross-disciplinary, cross-generational program will focus on how women think and work, communicate and collaborate, learn and lead–what this means and why it matters to all of us.

“How women think and work”? It’s a touchy situation.

When the New York City tech start-up scene made the cover of New York magazine back in April, the gender inequality was very apparent: Of the 50-plus entrepreneurs featured, only six were women. According to the New York Times, women create only 8 percent of venture-backed tech start-ups. In the piece, one female technology professor was quoted as saying, “Men refer men. So if we just keep it status quo, for all the reasons defined in these self-reinforcing networks, they will stay self-reinforcing with the white, geeky, male, Stanford/Harvard-dropout types.” Tech lord/Money Bags McGee Fred Wilson chimed in, too: “I mean, I don’t know what the problem is.”

So maybe shining a super-bright spotlight onto women is the way to start the process toward gender equality in this particular arena. But expect a backlash. Twitter is already bubbling, with one message coming through as particularly poignant:

“Thank you for shining light on our dark corner, bros!” wrote Evie Nagy. Yeah, oof.

Please sound off in the comments.