This past week, I attended TEDWomen, the premier conference for women leaders in the world. TEDWomen brings together over a thousand of these incredible women in industries ranging from art and design to tech and business to politics to share their work on some of the most cutting-edge and potentially revolutionary issues and to share their own personal stories of success and achievement.
Attending TED is always a powerful experience and this week truly extended far beyond the California desert. This year, TED took its motto — “ideas worth spreading” — to the next level, broadcasting the entire program in real time to more than 200 simultaneous TEDxWomen events held in more than 68 countries in 177 cities around the world — including to many places where women do not have a strong voice or an equal seat at the table.
TEDWomen believes that the first step toward equality is empowerment. By sharing stories of women’s success, TEDWomen can show girls and young women around the world what they’re capable of and inspire an entire movement of ambitious, entrepreneurial women who want to change the world for the better — and improve the state of women, while doing it. Here are the top 5 ideas “worth spreading” from this year’s TEDWomen Conference
1. Change Starts at the Ballot Box
Civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, who has spent six decades advocating for the rights of workers and women, stole the show on day one. She boldly urged women to reject the apathy many feel in cultures where they are taught that they do not have the power to become activists or demand change. If women organize and mobilize around the ballot box, they can effect the change they wish to create in the world. As Huerta said, “We have power. Every citizen has power, but in order to achieve the peace that we all yearn for, then we’ve all got to get involved.
2. Women and Girls Will Save the Planet – Literally.
Several speakers focused on the role that women will play in combating climate change, noting that women, as the primary caregivers in most families, will disproportionately feel the effects of global warming. World-renowned author and environmentalist Katharine Wilkinson argued that more education and economic empowerment of women will lead to progress for the planet, giving women control of the size and health of their families, the success of their farms (which also lowers deforestation rates), and the economic activity of their communities. “In the face of a seemingly impossible challenge, women and girls are a fierce source of possibility,” she urged.
3. Education Means Empowerment
A major focus of the conference was on intersectionality: the idea that the challenges that women face are complicated by other parts of our identity, such as race, socio-economic status, and religion. Social justice scholar Monique W. Morris explained that black girls are seven times more likely than others to get suspended and three times more likely to be sent to juvenile court in America. Fixing our schools to be less disciplinarian, with fewer police officers and more counselors, will help girls of color avoid the school-to-prison pipeline, and be empowered to pursue better futures, explained Morris. “And that’s a win for all of us.”
4. AI is the Future.
TEDWomen also featured several leading scientists, including the pioneering Nivruti Rai, who serves as data head and India country lead for Intel. Raii talked about the potential of AI as our “guardian angels”: an extra brain that knows us better than we know ourselves. She and her research team are starting with a simple issue that causes major problems in India: driving. She’s crunched mountains of traffic data, building an open-source database that includes corner cases to help train safer, more robust autonomous driving algorithms. This is only the beginning: iIf AI systems can safely navigate India’s traffic patterns, what can’t they solve?
5. Women Must Take Your Seat at the Head of the Table
Finally, we heard from the extraordinary Cecile Richards, who has fought for women’s rights her entire life. She quoted her mother, the first woman to be elected Governor of Texas in her own right: if women are not at the table, then they are on the menu. She urged women to get more involved in politics, and explained that the year of the woman is happening all around us, beginning with the 2017 Women’s March and continuing through the record-shattering election of women in the 2018 midterms. Now, it’s time to build on that movement and take it worldwide, she urged. “One of us can be ignored, two of us can be dismissed — but together, we’re a movement,” she says. “And we’re unstoppable.”
The full program of the 2018 TEDWomen conference can be found here: https://tedwomen2018.ted.com/program.