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.
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.