EXCLUSIVE | Ava DuVernay among speakers to grace TEDWomen stage in Atlanta

This is the first time the conference, which kicks off in October, will be in Atlanta for the next three years
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay poses for a portrait at Array HQ on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay poses for a portrait at Array HQ on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

TEDWomen, the annual conference highlighting female leaders across industries, will bring director Ava DuVernay to Atlanta for the October event at the Woodruff Arts Center.

DuVernay’s appearance will come on the heels of the premiere of her latest film, Origin, at the Venice Biennale. The movie, which is based off the best-selling book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by journalist Isabel Wilkerson, will likely be part of her talk.

Other high-profile speakers include Melonie Parker, chief diversity officer at Google, and Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander.

TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design, is a global family of conferences and educational content. TEDWomen is one of its flagship conferences and started in 2010. It was created at a time when most of the speakers at the TED conferences were men in order to give a platform to women.

“We said, ‘Let’s do a TEDWomen, and it won’t be a women’s conference – meaning it’s not about gender or women’s issues as such – but it will be a conference that features women scientists, doctors, explorers, entrepreneurs, philanthropists,’” said Pat Mitchell, co-founder and editorial director of TEDWomen.

Unlike the main TED conference, which has been held in Vancouver, Canada, since 2014, TEDWomen rotates around the country.

To deepen its impact, TEDWomen has chosen Atlanta as its first multi-year host city and will hold the annual conference at Woodruff this year through 2025.

Going to TEDWomen takes more than just buying a ticket. Attendees need to first fill out an application and if approved, can then purchase a TED membership, which gives them access to the three-day conference as well as the video archives. The standard membership costs $2,800.

When deciding where to put down roots for a time, Mitchell said Atlanta mirrored TED’s values of diversity, inclusiveness, innovation and entrepreneurship. She was born in south Georgia and has lived off and on in Atlanta since the 1970s.

Atlanta was also attractive because of the concentration of industry leaders and its position as an international hub; people fly in from more than 60 countries to attend TEDWomen, according to Monique Ruff-Bell, TED’s head of events.

“You have some of the top organizations and companies that are there with some of the top leaders, women of color and diversity, period,” Ruff-Bell said.

This year, conference organizers are expecting around 1,500 attendees, up from their typical 500 to 700, for what is expected to be the biggest TEDWomen ever. The theme is “Two Steps Forward,” which will look at the progress, as well as pushback, in different arenas for women both in the U.S. and internationally.

The main stage talks will be held at the Woodruff campus. Some smaller, in-depth sessions will be at different sites around town, including the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Ruff-Bell said.

Speakers are chosen by a curatorial team, sifting through nearly 1,000 recommendations. This year’s TEDWomen conference features 40 speakers, including Atlanta’s Jay Bailey, CEO of the nonprofit Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs. Mayor Andre Dickens will welcome the conference. At least 20 students from Spelman and Morehouse Colleges will get to attend the conference on a scholarship and will participate in a leadership intensive.

For Mitchell, she is most excited about the myriad connections and discovery that TEDWomen will facilitate this year.

“It’s just something that happens in the alchemy of being together, in a theater, listening to important and interesting and stimulating and inspiring ideas from women and men from all over the world,” Mitchell said.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the location of the main TED conference.