Mik Griffiths and Ruth Mirams show us how to connect and tell stories

On women presenters… by a woman presen­ter

This guest post is by Dr Ruth Mirams, a presen­ter at TEDx­Can­ber­ra 2013. Ruth is one half of Para­mod­ic, an all women-owned, half indi­gen­ous-owned com­pany.

Speak­ing at TEDx­Can­ber­ra 2013 was one of the greatest exper­i­ences of my life! I was so nervous before­hand. I don’t share my stor­ies with many oth­er people, and I was going to share them with nearly 700 people in The Play­house and all those people who watch online. Eek! But how many people get the chance to stand on stage, tell their story, and do it with their best friend beside them (and a big thank you to the per­son who reminded me of this!)

The whole TEDx­Can­ber­ra exper­i­ence was incred­ible. The organ­isers were amaz­ing, and noth­ing was too much trouble. I have nev­er worked with a more accom­mod­at­ing, innov­at­ive and genu­inely friendly group of people. In par­tic­u­lar Ingrid, Kath­er­ine, Steph­en, Emma and Michael really went out of their way to help us, and I want to thank them spe­cific­ally for the work they put in, on an entirely volun­teer basis.

It grates with me there­fore that there are people who cri­ti­cise the organ­isers (in my exper­i­ence) for some sup­posed issue, exclus­ively through digit­al media. All of them are approach­able, and lovely people, so if you have feed­back, why not engage them indi­vidu­ally? Snarky com­ments are easy to make at a ‘face­less’ brand (TEDx), not so easy when you think of the people behind the Twit­ter handle or Face­book page.

Here, I par­tic­u­larly want to address the com­ments about the gender imbal­ance of the speak­ers. There were cer­tainly more men on stage at TEDx­Can­ber­ra 2013.

I am the daugh­ter and grand­daugh­ter of very strong women, and I am proud to call myself a fem­in­ist (although I’m not proud of everything done in the name of that label). I do not feel con­strained by my gender (or any of the oth­er labels I can wear), and I cer­tainly didn’t feel out­gunned by any of the men on the TEDx­Can­ber­ra stage.

This issue was dis­cussed at length before TEDx­Can­ber­ra, on Twit­ter on the day, and after­wards as well.

It needs to stop! It is not help­ing get more amaz­ing women on the stage at TEDx­Can­ber­ra, and it is not help­ing us redress inequal­ity in a wider con­text. So let’s stop with that dam­aging con­ver­sa­tion, and talk about what we can do about it; in my opin­ion, change comes through action not words.

I want to offer my sug­ges­tion of the action you can take. This is the most import­ant point in this post: if it both­ers you that there are not more women on stage at TEDx­Can­ber­ra (or any con­fer­ence, for that mat­ter), then nom­in­ate your­self or someone else to speak.

Get involved in redress­ing the gender bal­ance on stage, rather than cri­ti­cising it from the side­lines!

It is not up to TEDx­Can­ber­ra to have quotas (although I know they try incred­ibly hard for a gender bal­ance on stage). It is up to us as women to put our hands up to tell our stor­ies. TEDx­Can­ber­ra occurred on the day of the Fed­er­al elec­tion, and it occurs to me that our pre­de­cessors, the suf­fra­gettes, did not wait for soci­ety to give them a place at the bal­lot box. They stood up and took their place.

In the same way, we must stand up and take our place on stage. We, as women, must tell our own stor­ies, in our words. The only way we can do this is to nom­in­ate ourselves. We owe it to those women who have gone before us, our grand­moth­ers, moth­ers and aunties, to do so. I know they will be proud of the stor­ies we have to tell. If you don’t think you have a story to tell, then you surely know a woman who inspires you. There are so many incred­ible women with power­ful stor­ies, so if you know someone then nom­in­ate her.

I want to take a step back for a moment and make a couple of points that I believe are import­ant in this dis­cus­sion of women on the TEDx­Can­ber­ra stage.

First, most of the organ­ising team are women. In audi­tion­ing for TEDx, the people we dealt with, and who chose the speak­ers, were exclus­ively women. All of them are strong, inde­pend­ent and eman­cip­ated. I am sure they are not miso­gyn­ists. In speak­ing to them, the gender imbal­ance on stage is a res­ult of two things – far more men are put for­ward, and more women speak­ers drop out once they are chosen. Yet another reas­on why you should nom­in­ate your­self, or another woman with an inspir­ing story! Two women that TEDx­Can­ber­ra Cre­at­ive Cata­lyst, Steph­en Collins, par­tic­u­larly wanted on stage this year dropped out dur­ing the pro­cess; he’s going to try to get them for 2014.

The point I want to make here is that, at TEDx­Can­ber­ra 2013, women were mak­ing the choice to put men on the stage. This is a reversal of tra­di­tion­al power roles (with women choos­ing to let men speak). It makes me smile wryly then, when sug­ges­tions are made that women are not rep­res­en­ted at TEDx­Can­ber­ra. On the con­trary! It’s just that you may­be didn’t see them on the stage. In the last few years, we’ve heard a lot about ‘face­less men’ exer­cising power in Can­ber­ra. Well, TEDx­Can­ber­ra has some ‘face­less women’, and they are no less power­ful, although they are more likely to give you a hug than stab you in the back!

Second, I want to talk more broadly about equal­ity. TEDx­Can­ber­ra was held just after the 50th anniversary of Mar­tin Luther King’s inspir­ing ‘I have a dream’ speech. Dr King uttered the icon­ic line, “I have a dream that my four little chil­dren will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the col­or of their skin but by the con­tent of their char­ac­ter.”

I want to trans­late this to the issue of gender equal­ity at TEDx­Can­ber­ra, oth­er TEDx events and con­fer­ences gen­er­ally.

To me, equal­ity means it doesn’t mat­ter what gender the speak­er is, only that they have an incred­ible story to tell. To (badly) para­phrase Dr King, speak­ers should not be judged by their gender but by the con­tent of their TEDx talk.

Equal­ity is not about equal num­bers of men and women on stage, but that both have equal chance to be on the stage. In my exper­i­ence, this is abso­lutely the case. Ladies, nom­in­a­tions are open to us, equally. We need to put our own hands up, craft our own stor­ies, and speak in our own words. So nom­in­ate! I look for­ward to hear­ing your story.

5 Responses

  1. Adele Chynoweth

    You’re right Ruth. Women need to ‘step up”. But I spoke because TEDx organ­isers approached me and that’s one of the many reas­ons that I applaud TEDx­Can­ber­ra. The organ­isers are so pro­act­ive.

    And Ruth, you were awe­some, by the way. Yes, as a speak­er and also because of your pos­it­ive col­legi­al­ity through­out the whole pro­cess. I have learned so much from you and I am so glad that I met you.

    I agree with everything that you have so gen­er­ously writ­ten in your post. Thank you.

  2. Thanks so much Adele! It was a priv­ilege shar­ing the stage with you. Your calmness and sweet­ness helped Mik and I tell our stor­ies more clearly, and the stor­ies you shared moved us both to tears – stor­ies that were neither male nor female, but entirely human. Thank you so much!

    And thank you too for bring­ing up that the organ­isers approached you (good work organ­isers, you got a good speak­er here!) – yet another way for those who feel strongly about this to get involved – nom­in­ate a woman you want to hear from, and the organ­isers will approach her. Awe­some!

  3. Thanks Ruth and Adele! I was com­pletely over­whelmed by the num­ber of incred­ible stor­ies kindly shared with me by audi­ence mem­bers after our talk – enough to fill another 10 TEDx­Can­ber­ras! We cer­tainly live in an incred­ible com­munity, in an incred­ible time. 

    Like we said on stage, every­one has a story, and everyone’s story mat­ters. Every­one. Some­times, like Tim, people also have the hon­our to share the stor­ies of oth­ers such as our beau­ti­ful wild­life. This is our time – yours and mine. Lets spend our time pro­vok­ing thought into action by tak­ing advant­age of the won­der­ful gift the TEDx­Can­ber­ra team has brought to our com­munity – an oppor­tun­ity to listen, and an oppor­tun­ity to have your opin­ion and story heard. It is an oppor­tun­ity many people shar­ing our plan­et sadly are still not afforded. If this is where the ‘more chicks’ com­ment stems from, I’m sorry, but noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth for this event.

  4. Garry Faumui

    I’m not going to ruin this thread by say­ing too much oth­er than, it was an abso­lute bless­ing and priv­ilege to hear the stor­ies you all shared. We were moved by the hon­esty, integ­rity and the vul­ner­ab­il­ity of how you gave of yourselves to share your stor­ies, stor­ies you shared from your hearts. It’s a beau­ti­ful gift you shared with us that day, from our hearts to yours, thank you:)

  5. Hi, Inter­est­ing post. I must come clean and state that I was the stir­rer all those months ago post­ing on the Face­book page.
    You com­ment that people should nom­in­ate them­selves or someone they know – I was hop­ing for this type of respon­se from the organ­isers, instead I got the blog post that you refer to in this post. I now many inspir­ing women in Can­ber­ra and I think if you look back I sug­ges­ted that too – though the organ­isers chose to defend them­selves in a very pub­lic way instead of pur­su­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with me about it.

    I take issue with the com­ment that ‘women choos­ing to let men speak’ in 2013 TedX, isn’t that what we have done for mil­len­nia? Shouldn’t we be chal­len­ging that notion of act­ive defer­ence? In a cor­por­ate con­text women exec­ut­ives will often pass over bet­ter qual­i­fied women for men – why? I think you are going down a dan­ger­ous road with state­ments like that.

    Whil­st I agree that the focus is the story, the guests say more about the organ­ising team than what and who is ‘out’ there.

    I will be inter­ested to see your line up for the women’s TedX.

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