In answer to a question on our Facebook page, we thought it important to note what it’s like to go looking for presenters with great stories, and discover that many of the women you feel should take your stage, for a number of entirely valid reasons, just won’t do it, or find they can’t devote the needed effort.
So, here’s the not always satisfying story of how we go about finding women presenters.
Our ideal is an even split between men and women. Realistically, due to a number of pretty-well documented factors, 40 per cent is a number that’s difficult to achieve, and when you get it, it’s a fantastic result in the real world (though we’d still prefer half-half). To our frustration, 30 per cent is sometimes reality, though it’s pretty normal.
Our all-women Speaker Team put together a target list of presenters this year that was very even, and we had two fantastic female presenters lined up with stories we believe should have been told who both ended up pulling out. We’re working on them for next year.
It’s worth noting that the majority of our volunteer team are women. And they’re strong personalities, with views and experience that don’t at all make them shrinking violets. There’s certainly no bias to picking male presenters. Every presenter we thought had a story we wanted to put on stage was identified and vetted by our Presenter Team. We realise and understand the frustration of seeing a male-heavy presenter lineup.
The reality of putting together something like TED or TEDx (and many other conferences) is that women in a position to speak, with great stories to tell, often prioritise leading and mentoring their teams, don’t feel they’re ready or expert enough, or want to focus on family and other non-work commitments, well ahead of the time it takes to put together a conference presentation, travel, and spend days away in order to do it, let alone the 50-or-so hours it takes to put together a TEDx quality talk.
One minor point of relief for us is that it’s no less difficult for the main TED conference to find great women presenters. This issue was actually covered by TED’s June Cohen at TEDGlobal this year, and it’s worth watching to see the frustration that she (and we) face.