Like so many others out there in Winnipegland, I had a fascinating experience with TEDx Manitoba today.

Also, I was wearing pretty smashing shoes. Photo by David Lipnowski.

I will certainly be doing a lot of blogging about the many ideas shared and swapped at the event. It was inspiring, to be sure.  Sadly, I don’t think my article in tomorrow’s paper is that great, but I think most of you will understand that it was hard to accurately capture the scope of the ideas presented, while explaining the event itself, and doing so in less than 40 minutes of writing time and under 500 words.

Anyway, more on that later. For now, a humble suggestion to make any future event better:

Make TEDx Manitoba more diverse. Please. 

Consider today’s speakers. There were 19 credited speakers slated to speak at the Park Theatre today. Of these, 17 appeared to be white. Only five were women. None appeared to have a visible disability; it was evident that all spoke English as a primary language and, if I may hazard a guess, most appeared to hail from middle-class backgrounds.  

To be clear: the talks at TEDx Manitoba were excellent, I enjoyed each one immensely, and I don’t expect speaker line-ups to perfectly reflect population demographics. But this speaker roster didn’t even come close, let alone reflect where Canadian demographics are trending — which is a worthwhile thought for a forward-thinking conferenceInstead, the roster was overwhelmingly male, white, and apparently able-bodied

I hope that there will be some introspection and discussion on why that was so - and about what can be done in the future to include a broader range of voices on a TEDx Manitoba stage.  

Because diversity is important, and all too often overlooked. A call for increased diversity is not about being arbitrarily “PC,” but about embracing what we can learn from other people’s lives and experiences — especially the further removed those experiences are from our own. Members of the dominant culture often muse on what they can teach others; only rarely does the mainstream ask what others can teach us, in their own voices.

When we don’t open up space for those voices, everyone loses out. The painting of human ideas is left unfinished: shapes, but no shadows. Colours but no shades.

Witness the standing ovation at TEDx Manitoba for the three aboriginal men, ex-gang members, who were interviewed onstage by Terry McLeod. The three men were not credited as speakers, but clearly made an impact.  ”When will we stop being ex-cons, and start being normal people?” pleaded one man, named Chris. “I’m doing my best, and going to school. I watch my kids. I teach ‘em how to be good kids.”

His was a good question, and one that was striking for how far removed it was from the experiences of so many in the Park Theatre today — myself included.  In a room filled with comparatively privileged people, Chris’s story was outlined and punctuated not just by what it was, but by what it wasn’t.

So there’s my hope for future TEDx Manitobas. When we’re talking about a conference of ideas, it is key to ensure that ideas are heard from all quarters. It is key to make a conscious effort to correct our society’s tendency for only certain types of voices to be heard in the mainstream.

Do this, and we will come that much closer to discovering who we really are, as a species, and what we are collectively capable of accomplishing.

In other — well, similar — news… I will be doing a TEDx Manitoba round-up post. But in the spirit of giving myself time to dream (thanks Columpa Bob) I am going to write it tomorrow evening. Because it will indeed take some time to digest. Feel free to swing by tomorrow after about 8 p.m. for the post!

EDIT: Here’s the new post!


4 Responses to “Towards A More Diverse TEDx Manitoba”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by TEDxSecondCity and Melissa Martin, TEDxME. TEDxME said: Towards A More Diverse TEDx Manitoba » nothing in winnipeg: To be clear: the talks at TEDx Manitoba were excelle… [...]

  2. Hi Melissa, as one of the members on the organizing committee, I’m glad to hear you thought the talks were excellent and you had a fascinating experience. All good!

    Your post raises some valid points and I can share some additional context.

    In our organizing committee perfect world, we would have had a demographically-representative and diverse speaker line up and we would have had a demographically-representative and diverse audience. Absolutely.

    We strove hard for a perfect world, but we live in an imperfect world.

    Locating speakers was done through word of mouth, contacts, and reaching out through social media. We had three keenly interested female speakers on our short list however two ultimately declined due to personal reasons and one made a decision to not present just three weeks before the event. Recognizing the gender imbalance, we ensured that all TED video content brought forward ideas from female speakers. Dr. Amara, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, and someone who was very passionate to speak at the event, had some personal circumstances come up on FEB13 which meant he would be unable to speak at the event. We also had a representative from the First Nations community who also committed to speak, but later had to step down due to personal commitments. We’ve now learned that these things happen and next year will have more back up plans.

    On the audience side, given that it was the first year of the event, we were limited in our ability to “get the word out” about the event and the application opportunity. We had challenges getting media awareness given that we weren’t a “known commodity event” and as a non-revenue generating event, were limited in our ability to spend money to advertise. Thus we turned to social media and word of mouth to help spread the word. Though our selection process was blind, and answering questions about race, nationality, or religion go against privacy policies, we anticipated that a large portion of our applications would come from younger, design “creative” types who have fully embraced social media. Ultimately individuals were selected, blindly, based on their answers and the passion that came through. Celebrity status, bank account and title played no bearing in any decision – as evidenced by some of the individuals who were not selected. Our live stream was viewed by over 500 people and tweets came in from four continents and five countries – so while we may not have had exact balance in our audience or speaker line up, we definitely had diversity in the lives tream and twittersphere.

    Could we have done better? Hindsight is always 20/20. Do we wish we were more balanced? Absolutely. Will this be an issue next year? With the attention that TEDxManitoba received this year, it should be much easier to get the word out about the event and to get speakers.

    And let’s start right now…if anyone knows of a woman speaker with an idea worth spreading, email [email protected]. It’s never too early to start planning for our next event.

  3. Hey Lisa, and thanks for the comment! I chatted to Norm about some of this too. I know that Dr. Amara unfortunately had to cancel — would loved to hear him speak — and for that reason I was careful to count the speakers as credited in the program, not as appeared. Some other stuff I mentioned in my newest blog.

    As far as the audience goes, I didn’t touch on that too deeply here because I think that’s a bit of a separate issue. Suffice to say I understand what you’ve said here about that and it’s basically what I assumed was the case. What I do wonder is if there could be room in TEDx Manitoba next year to develop some different outreach efforts to build a more diverse audience both internally and externally. I’m not sure I’d hold up social media or even traditional media as the most effective way to do that — at the end of the day, there are a lot of people out there who can’t or don’t access media for various reasons… cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic… or at least don’t access it in the same sphere as the majority of the TED buzz is.

    Some ideas for outreach in that way don’t even have to be very time- or resource-intensive.. obviously I don’t know what all was done, but I’d be curious about say, developing a workshop to deliver to a few targeted schools and non-profit organizations to give them a mini-TEDx experience in their own space, with their own voices, and to introduce them to the TEDx event itself and give them the chance to engage it. As you mention there are lots of volunteers — hell, I’d love to volunteer for something like that myself. Anyway, just an idea. I can envision now a workshop built around TEDx ideals that could go over very well at high schools, refugee assistance groups and women’s resource centres, for instance.

    I actually have a few ideas of some folks locally who have done some really remarkable work that I would LOVE to see at future TEDx Manitoba talks — I’ll forward them on to that email address! After I take a nap, this cold is kicking my butt.

  4. [...] digging in as well. Not too shabby.The Winnipeg Free Press’ Melissa Martin wrote up a pair of great recaps, as well as an article about “Fast Flying Ideas at Conference” relating the nature of [...]

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