Meet the New Boys’ Club, Part 2

TED 2010 calls itself "what the world needs now".


Part 1 of this series here.

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  1. So this is the second time you’re bringing this up. I don’t know if showing this aggregate statistic is enough information to know what’s going on here. Specifically, this is not enough to accuse TED of being a “boy’s club”. Sometimes gender differences are a little subtle. For example, consider this article: It states that women are more reluctant to negotiate pay. Clay Shirky goes as far as to call guys con-men: when talking about negotiating jobs and pay.
    The important part of that idea is that, firstly, no one is to blame (i.e. there’s no malicious force at play), and secondly, there’s something which can be done about it. Your statistic merely points out a difference, but neither suggests a course of action, nor is it strong enough to imply the outright sexist force of a “boys’ club”. Basically, I don’t *believe* that the guys who organise TED treat women any differently, at least consciously. I’d also *believe* that if you could point out what they could do differently to resolve the difference (other than just counting the sexes) then I’m sure they’d do it.

  2. Can you produce a chart showing the number of self-promoters, one-insight-wonders and famous-for-being-famous types versus of the number of the seriously creative-with-track-record-to-prove-it types there? That might be more useful…

  3. Sunny – the thing about both TED and the Edge foundation (apart from them both being Californian) is that they are conferences/publications run by invitation, and with a self-professed goal of promoting new ideas. Here is TED’s description of its own conferences:
    The annual conferences in Long Beach and Oxford bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).
    Self-selection or negotiation don’t really play a role here, and there is a simple course of action – invite more women. By the way, I do agree that some of the TED talks are interesting, although the focus on Big Ideas is a bit simplistic, but if there is one speaker I’d be interested in seeing from the list it would be Elizabeth Pisani.

  4. It may be open to more debate as well. Looks to me like there is a fair proportion of the former, but that there are enough serious people there to make it an interesting event despite its flaws.

  5. Yes that’s true… but it’s such an eclectic mix! I see from your ‘About’ page that you’re not Californian. Neither am I. Perhaps that’s our problem.

  6. “The world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers”.
    The fact the the UK’s next PM David Cameron was there tells you all you need to know about both Cameron and TED.

  7. It’s slightly better this year (2013): Assuming i counted correctly, 33% of the speakers at the “young, wise, and undiscovered” are women. Two rather interesting phenomena: Session 8 is called “coded meaning,” and has the second to lowest count of women (one speaker out of 7). It gets “better”: In Session 11, we learn “who are we” from an all male cast of speakers… It seems there is some coded meaning here…

    (I found this post after looking for others who are annoyed about the increasing number of “coaches” speaking at TED, or at least at TEDx… Almost every single talk pitches an individual solution to social/cultural problems… Only thinly veiled systems justifications…)

    • Well it’s good to hear that it’s a little better, but then the “coaches” problem is something that I’d never thought of, so I guess that’s a wash.

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