Complaints of groping at TED events

SAN FRANCISCO • When Ms Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor who now campaigns against sexual harassment, took the stage at a TED event this month, she described 2017 as a tipping point in the fight against workplace misconduct.

But behind the scenes, TED owner Chris Anderson and other senior officials had been grappling with accusations for much of the year that their own conferences, famed for turning short speeches by leading figures into viral videos, had not been a safe place for women – and that the atmosphere of predatory male behaviour was getting worse.

At least five people, including a past main stage speaker, told TED officials that they were harassed or groped during the organisation’s flagship conference in Vancouver in April, according to interviews and e-mail correspondence seen by The Washington Post.

The non-profit’s general counsel, Ms Nishat Ruiter, said in an April e-mail to TED’s senior leadership that she, too, had been “touched inappropriately but let it go”.

She quoted complaints she had heard from other women at the conference. “I was literally jumped on, grabbed, and held,” she wrote. “Guys are taking major liberties.”

She added that she was finding it difficult to believe the issue was being “addressed by TED effectively. We are clearly not doing enough”.

In a statement to the Post, TED acknowledged that several incidents had occurred at the Vancouver conference and said it had taken action. “Two men were immediately disinvited and won’t be returning,” TED said.

It also said: “Creating a safe and welcoming environment is critical to the success of our conferences, and we have no tolerance for harassment of any kind.”

Big corporate conferences, including TED’s, present a particular challenge in setting standards of appropriate behaviour because of the blend of work and socialising, and because attendees are not direct employees.

Ms Nilofer Merchant, an author and former Apple executive whose 2013 TED talk received nearly three million views, said in an interview that sexual harassment is not a new problem for the TED conferences, which most people pay US$ 10,000 (S$ 13,560) to attend and must apply for tickets. “The same thing was happening five years ago. It’s still happening,” she said. “What’s different now is we’re sharing our stories.”


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