Pat Mitchell answers questions about TEDWomen

Pat Mitchell shares the power of TEDWomen

With the third TEDWomen conference approaching in May (fourth including its incarnation as TEDxWomen), founder and curator Pat Mitchell had plenty to share with TEDActive attendees yesterday in a live Q&A.

The opening question for Mitchell was one she says she gets asked at nearly every TED event: Why did you start TEDWomen? To answer, she dialed back the clock several decades to the early days of her journalism career.

“When I started in TV,” she said, “it was the dark ages. There was only one woman in every station, and we were trying so hard to prove we could do the same thing as the men. We wasted so much time before we realized we could actually bring a different voice.”

Inspired by her media beginnings, she continued to press for that different voice for many years. Mitchell was a frequent TED attendee, and in 2009, when Chris Anderson mentioned to her how much energy he had seen emerging in a short time on the subject of women’s achievements, they decided the time was right to harness that energy into a TED conference. Though Mitchell had been a part of many successful women’s conferences, it felt important that TEDWomen be an opportunity for the whole TED community, rather than a conference for women alone.

Thus was born a new part of the TED family, one with a loyal global following that quickly formed around it, with TEDxWomen events created around the world. It is that global impact, Mitchell emphasized, that makes TEDWomen what it is — she cited a favorite example of a girls’ boarding school in Saudi Arabia where teachers gave girls clandestine access to the TEDWomen stream behind carefully locked doors.

Mitchell shared some of the most exciting developments for the upcoming TEDWomen 2015 in Monterey, themed “Momentum.” (Look for updates soon on TED.com.) She then opened the floor to her TEDActive audience — mostly TEDxers, many either organizing or thinking of organzing TEDxWomen events. Below, read just a few of the questions these passionate audience members had for Mitchell.

Even successful TEDxWomen events can have trouble getting male attendees. How can we encourage men to attend these events?

Lead with the speakers and the topics. If you’ve put together a great program, then people will be interested. Then if necessary, make some targeted efforts. I visited a university class on masculinities and encouraged those students to get involved. My husband has always supported me, and he reaches out too.

How do I find a greater gender balance of speakers?

People often say, well, we just couldn’t find any women to speak about this, but that isn’t true. A while back, we created SheSource, a website that helps journalists, producers and bookers find women in different fields. I have never once found a subject where there were no credible women experts. Don’t buy it when someone says, well, these four white men just happened to be the best. That diversity doesn’t just happen — you have to push for it, even now.

How can we get sponsors excited about supporting a women’s event?

Women are important customers for nearly every product and every company. I’ve been lucky that the TED team takes care of that aspect and I get to focus on the editorial, but it’s the same story it’s always been: Any smart company is interested in women.

One of the last questions of the session wasn’t posed as a question at all, and was all the more powerful for it: It’s hard even to keep the women organizing the TEDx events. I myself have no children, but I have seen so many women get pregnant and have no more time for their events. It happens all the time.

When you find the answer to that one, you call me up. You text me. I have never really found that balance. I care about my work and I care about my family and it’s always a struggle, every day. That’s not just a question for women. It’s a question for all of us.

By Morton Bast

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