June 19, 2021   9:49am

Text Size


TED+Women Only (sort of). Observations.

Even though this first ever TEDWomen conference had nothing whatsoever to do with “me,” my lengthy past history of attending the extraordinary TED somehow dictated ownership.   If this didn’t succeed, it felt a personal failure, so I found myself concentrating on the attendees as much as the presentations.  Were they impressed, wow-ed, interested, loving it … or not.  Who were they (I knew younger and 80% never attended before)?  How did they react?

Some aha(!) and some duh(?) observations about women at a women’s conference, and a TED one at that, plus a few favorite speakers:

In a predominantly male-free environment, women are more relaxed, open and sharing. Maybe it’s because women feel free-er to talk about their kids and their lives as well as their careers.  But the general attitude in the room wasn’t just “What do you do?” (although that was important), but also “Who are you?” (in the best sense of those words).

Women do dress for other women. At the regular TED in Long Beach, the men wear jeans and any woman who is “overdressed” or suited-up seems out of place.  Does your dress dictate your professionalism in a predominantly female environment?  Suffice it to say, my jeans stayed in the suitcase.

Cheerleading may be a route to success. At an evening meal, seven of the ten women around the table had been high school cheerleaders.  Note to June Cohen*:  A new metric to factor in … or generational?

Weight might be another metric. Salmon seemed to be the winning meal, and I can’t recall seeing one person you could characterize as “obese”; nor did I hear one woman talk about her diet except within the context of health.

Different experience; different perspective. Well, duh.  What would you expect?  There seemed to be mixed reviews around the speakers who talked about women in the workplace versus about those focused on “new ideas.”  The older crowd was looking for more of the latter.

There was no man bashing (among the women). There may have been jokes, and a few put downs, but the man bashing was done by the men speakers; the women seemed to make mostly hilarious (not angry) asides.

How cool are you? One very accomplished (and attractive) woman said to  me:  “I used to think I was really hot, but after this, I’m feeling like a real failure.”  That was after hearing a number of speakers talk about how they’re changing the world.  NOTE to TED:  I always walk away from the regular TED conferences with a range of feelings —  from  “Gosh, I’m not doing anything with my life; think I’ll hide under the covers” … to …  “I’m so inspired; learned so much I never even knew existed before; know I can be better; so lucky to be here…”

Back to my anxiety — am thinking inspiration with a big “I” was the larger outcome.


There were something like 70 presentations over two days.  Some of those presentations, TED already has online.  But without looking back at my notes, here are the ones I remember as standouts:

Halla Tomasdottir, who runs a Finnish financial firm based on “values” and is running way ahead of everyone else?  She made me want to move whatever money I’ve got into her group (if I could just get past the Finnish thing)!

Deborah Rhodes, breast tissue researcher, on how 95% of us don’t know the density of our breasts; why that makes a huge difference in the accuracy of your mammogram; and how a new molecular technology can remedy the situation.

Tony Porter, on a call to men to get out of the “Man Box.”  Okay, so he questioned manhood.  My question is “How did he get from there to here?”  Women could use more of him.

Of course, we were in Washington, DC and (actually, heartwarming) presentations were given by Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Nancy Pelosi. And who but Arianna Huffington would sum it up best after dinner with her fast and easy “Sleep More” message.

Meanwhile, I met another terrific woman at the “cheerleader” table I mentioned earlier, and she sent me her much larger overview of  TEDWomen now posted on her blog about thoughtful living, chinesegrandma.com. (She is actually a mother of four and decidely NOT a grandma!)  Anyway, why should I do so much work when she has already summed TEDWomen up so beautifully for you?!

Cheers and enjoy,



*June Cohen is Executive Producer of TED Media and was a TEDWomen host (and driving force behind), along with Pat Mitchell, President and CEO of The Paley Center for Media and Chris Anderson, TED Curator

Snoety symbol