Yesterday, Jessica Valenti did the world a public service. She posted about her experience at the TED Women conference, her observation on the absence of talks about abortion, and the results of her follow up inquiry.
Petitions popped up calling on TED to change its policy of prohibiting talks about abortion. Users Tweeted TED to let them know they disagree with the policy. I was one of those users.
TED told me this is a rumor and my immediate thought was “oh, bad choice of words. That’s inflammatory”. Shortly after, it changed its language to “a misrepresentation of our policy”. They asked that we watch for their response.
While waiting for their soon-to-be-released blog post, I decided to see for myself. I searched for ‘abortion’ on TED.com, did a brief content analysis of the results, and it’s clear: TED has not held a TED Talk on the topic of abortion.
Prior to yesterday, did TED have a policy prohibiting talks about abortion? We can’t know. What we do know is, we have a yardstick for measuring responses when the public asks for statements.
We live in a world where:
* Avon won’t pull its advertising from Facebook during an anti-violence against women campaign.
* Public schools refuse to admit their mistakes in the mistreatment of students.
* Business owners lash out against customers for writing reviews they don’t like.
* Strangers display ugly, angry language attacking victims of sexual assault.
* A journalist outs a transwoman and takes a “I was duped” stance.
* Walmart and McDonalds ignore public requests for better working conditions- unless if you’re Ashton Kutscher.
In other words, we live in a world where individuals, organizations, and companies often dig in their heels, play the victim, lash out, or ignore the topic at stake when called upon for change. I watched as TED responded. TED did none of this. TED engaged with the public, having respectful conversations with pro-choice leaders while being inundated with Tweets .
TED, in the midst of a PR crisis, pulled together a statement that accurately reflects their past, their policy, and their future while remaining responsive, respectful, and earnest. Like all organizations, they have to protect their brand, which is no easy craft, especially when, unlike many organizations, they are admitting their past mistake.
This morning Jessica Valenti wrote a follow-up response. She is disappointed and angry that TED is maligning her reputation and work. She’s taken issue with some of TED’s wording, yet not always using the most constructive language herself. At this moment, Twitter users are saying TED backpedaled, TED is weaseling out. In one Tweet, Jessica Valenti implied that TED called her a liar.
Could TED have done better in its response? Absolutely. There’s always room for improvement. And just as we want TED to speak (write) correctly, we must ask the same from ourselves. We can say they are weaseling out, or we can say they are expanding. We can say they are backpedaling, or we can say they are evolving. We can give credit where credit is due, or we can continue to criticize.
We often have to boycott, go on strike, hold public protests in the hopes of getting an organization to budge. TED told us “no need, we hear you, we thank you for bringing this up, and we will do something about it”. TED gave one of the most appropriate organizational responses we’ve seen. They’ve set a higher standard on the yardstick for other organizations to now improve upon.
We can pick apart statements and half-statements, fill in the blanks to suit our views (Jessica Valenti’s statements, TED’s statements, it’s likely that this statement- all leave room for doing so); or we can look at the big picture. The goal was to create awareness that TED has never held a Talk about abortion, and to pressure them to make a change. TED concedes its mistake and says it will do something about it.
They will, there’s no doubt. To that, I say, good work everybody!