The TED speaker series launched in 1984, devoted to providing a platform to showcase “ideas worth spreading”.
Since going online in 2006, the nearly 1400 official Ted Talks have become a popular source of new ideas and interesting conversations – and the best part is that they’re all under 20 minutes.
So if you can find the time, listen in to some of our favorite TED Talks for women. They’re inspiring, game-changing and may even provide the nudge you need to give that great idea a go.
Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders
This conversation about why we have so few women leaders was a talk that wasn’t even supposed to be. In a subsequent Ted Talk the Facebook COO revealed that she initially did not set out to talk about why there are so few women leaders. In fact, she was resistant to talking about the difficulties facing women in the workplace at all, fearing it would work against her. But Sandberg quickly realised the only way to get more women into leadership roles was to actually talk about how hard it was.
Her talk on the differences between men and women in the workplace examines why there are so few women leaders and also suggests three actionable leadership lessons for women. Since being posted online in 2012, it has sparked a global movement that encourages more women to ‘lean in’ to their careers. Check out the talk that started it all.
“I think a world that was run where half of our countries and half of our companies were run by women, would be a better world.”
Nilofer Merchant: Got a Meeting? Take a Walk
It’s a pretty simple idea but it might actually have a massive impact on your working life. We sit at our desks, on average, for 9.3 hours a day — a habit that Merchant claims has become the equivalent of smoking for our generation. So instead of having the typical work meeting in a meeting room, take your meetings outside. You might be surprised by what a little fresh air could do for your creative thinking.
Cameron Russell: Looks Aren’t Everything. Believe Me. I’m A Model
Cameron Russell admits she won a “genetic lottery” but after a decade as a Victoria’s Secret model, Russell candidly assesses the link between body image and confidence and takes a cynical look at an industry that had her looking seductive in front of the camera at 16. While image can be powerful, it isn’t everything.
“If you ever are wondering, you know, ‘if I have thinner thighs or shinier hair, will I be happier?’ You just need to meet a group of models, because they have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes and they’re the most physically insecure women probably on the planet.”
Jackson Katz: Violence against women is a men’s issue
Domestic violence and sexual abuse are often referred to as “women’s issues”. But in his powerful 2012 talk, anti-sexism activist Jackson Katz points out that these are actually fundamentally men’s issues. He explains how these violent behaviours are tied to definitions of manhood and how the way the public talks about these terms also encourages victim blaming. Katz’s talk is an important one — for both women and men — for calling out unacceptable behavior and be leaders of change.
“Calling gender violence a women’s issue is part of the problem for a number of reasons. It gives men an excuse not to pay attention.”
Leymah Gbowee: Unlock the intelligence, passion and power of girls and women.
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee is an inspiring and passionate activist who once used a sex strike to help force peace talks in Liberia, a demonstration that was pivotal in ending the second Liberian civil war. She is a powerful example of a great female leader who is focused on promoting positive global change for women. In her Ted Talk she uses storytelling to convey an important lesson about how a few simple acts of support and commitment can encourage other women to become great leaders and provoke change for another woman. Her message is simple: we can transform the world by unlocking the greatness of girls through education.
Anne-Marie Slaughter: Can we “have it all?”
Former Clinton advisor and public policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter is another pivotal player in the women-in-the-workplace conversation, having revived the ‘Can women have it all’ debate in her widely read (and dissected) article that appeared in The Atlantic in 2012. But, as Slaughter poses in her Ted Talk, is the ‘can we have it all’ question one to only ask of women? Slaughter expands on the concepts written about in her article, and explains why shifts in work culture, public policy and social norms can lead to incredible pay offs in work and life— for women AND men.
“Changing our workplaces and building infrastructures of care would make a big difference, but we’re not going to get equally valued choices unless we change our culture, and the kind of cultural change required means re-socialising men”
Kakenya Ntaiya: A girl who demanded school
Set to follow the traditional path of other girls in her small village in Kenya, Kakenya Ntaiya was engaged at five and arranged to undergo genital circumcision and be married as a young teenager. Instead, Ntaiya made a deal with her father: She would undergo the circumcision if he would let her continue her education. Her father obliged and later, when Ntaiya received a place at a college in Virginia, she successfully negotiated with her village elders to become the first woman in her village to leave and further her study. Ntaika refused to accept the oppression of girls in her village; she went on to build a school that’s helped to shift gender expectations in her village. In this Ted Talk she tells her fearless story of fighting for her education, and of working with her village elders to build a school for girls in her community.
“As a new dawn is happening in my school, a new beginning is happening. As we speak right now, 125 girls will never be mutilated. One hundred and twenty-five girls will not be married when they’re 12 years old. One hundred and twenty-five girls are creating and achieving their dreams. This is the thing that we are doing, giving them opportunities where they can rise. As we speak right now, women are not being beaten because of the revolutions we’ve started in our community.”
Larry Smith: Why you will fail to have a great career
In this blunt talk, Economics professor Larry Smith says he is sick of people failing to reach their potential and thinks there’s something definitively wrong with the fact that people are wasting their talents in uninspiring jobs because they are afraid to follow their passions. He pulls no punches when he calls out the absurd excuses people invent when they fail to pursue their passion.
“Some of you will find your passion, but you will still fail, you’ll fail because you will not do it. You have invented a new excuse, any excuse to fail to take action, and this excuse I’ve heard so many times: Yes, I would pursue a great career, but I value human relationships more than accomplishments … But do you really want to look at your spouse and kids and see them as your jailers?
Have you watched a Ted Talk that’s inspired you? Share with us in the comments below.