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Inspiring Women
13 Inspiring Ted Talks by Women
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AnnaMarie Houlis image
AnnaMarie Houlis, Journalist & travel blogger
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Top female leaders from a gamut of backgrounds have given TED Talks over the years, sharing their stories, wisdom and ideas. They're inspiring and motivating their audiences (and online listeners around the world), calling for action, demanding more, speaking up, validating women's experiences, lifting each other up and changing the world with their words

Here's a look at 13 of the most inspiring TED Talks from remarkable women.

13 Women Who've Given Inspiring Ted Talks

1. Tracee Ellis, "A Woman's Fury Holds Lifetimes of Wisdom"

Tracee Ellis is an actress, model, comedian, director and television host who is best known for her lead roles as Joan Clayton in the comedy series Girlfriends and Dr. Rainbow Johnson in the comedy series Black-ish. Her TED Talk "A Woman's Fury Holds Lifetimes of Wisdom" discusses how "the global collection of women's experiences can no longer be ignored." 

"When someone helps themselves to a woman, it not only triggers discomfort and distress, but the unspoken experiences of our mothers' lives, sisters' lives and generations of women before us," she says.

2. Billie Jean King: "This Tennis Icon Paved the Way for Women in Sports"

Remember when tennis legend Billie Jean King famously took on Bobby Riggs in "The Battle of the Sexes" match in 1973? After 55-year-old Bobby Riggs, a former World No. 1, declared that he could beat any female tennis player, Billie Jean King took him on and ultimately won the winner-takes-all-match, earning $100K in a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

"Two things came out of that match: For women, self-confidence, empowerment," King says in her TED Talk. "They actually had enough nerve to ask for a raise... I think we all have an obligation to continue to keep moving the needle forward."

3. Sheryl Sandberg: "Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders"

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's "Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders" expounds upon the various reasons behind the gender gap in leadership roles across all professions around the world.

"If you ask men why they did a good job, they'll say, 'I'm awesome. Obviously. Why are you even asking?' If you ask women why they did a good job, what they'll say is someone helped them, they got lucky, they worked really hard," Sandberg says in her talk, arguing that women systematically underestimate their own abilities.

4. Dame Stephanie Shirley: "Why Do Ambitious Women Have Flat Heads?"

Dame Stephanie Shirley's "Why Do Ambitious Women Have Flat Heads?" TED Talk has to do with getting around the glass ceiling in the 1960s. She did so by founding an all-women software company in the U.K. and even changed her name from "Stephanie" to "Steve" in her business development letters to land more meetings. Her company was valued at $3 billion, and 70 her employees ultimately became millionaires.

"You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of our heads: They’re flat on top for being patted patronizingly," she says in her talk.

5. Courtney Martin: "This Isn't Her Mother's Feminism"

Editor at Feministing and author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists and The New Better Off, Courtney E. Martin examines the word "feminism" in her personal TED Talk. She says, having been by 1970s radicals turned middle-class parents, she grew up feeling the weight of their “unfinished legacy.”

6. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: "We Should All Be Feminists"

Award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave her TED Talk "We Should All Be Feminists" in 2012, later adapting the speech into a book of the same name. In her talk she shares the story of the first time she heard the word "feminist" and what it means for her.

“Some people ask, ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’" she says. "Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that."

7. Kimberlé Crenshaw: "The Urgency of Intersectionality"

Civil rights advocate and Columbia Law School professor Kimberlé Crenshaw explains what "intersectionality" really means. After all, she first coined the word in 1989.

"Many years ago, I began to use the term 'intersectionality' to deal with the fact that many of our social justice problems like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice," Crenshaw says, going on to explain how to identify race and gender bias.

8. Roxane Gay: "Confessions of a Bad Feminist"

Roxane Gay, author several books including Bad Feminist, talks about the many difficulties and nuances of being a self-proclaimed feminist in her TED Talk, "Confessions of a Bad Feminist."

"When we talk about the needs of women, we have to consider the other identities we inhabit," she says in her talk. "We are not just women. We are people with different bodies, gender expressions, faiths, sexualities, class backgrounds, abilities and so much more."

She also adds that if we all start focusing more on inclusivity, our efforts can "trickle upward to the people in power — editors, movie and music producers, CEOs, lawmakers — the people who can make bigger, braver choices to create lasting, meaningful change."

9. Aimee Mullins, "The Opportunity of Adversity"

Athlete and model Aimee Mullins' "The Opportunity of Adversity" dives into the word "disabled" and it's synonyms like "useless" and "mutilated." Mullins who was born without shinbones defies the associations and shows how adversity can open doors, as it has for her.

"Adversity is just change that we haven’t adapted ourselves to yet," she says.

10. Mellody Hobson "Color Blind or Color Brave?"

Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, says that race is a "conversational third rail" in her TED Talk, "Color Blind or Color Brave?" And that's exactly why we need to start talking more about it — and more openly, she says. As a businesswoman, she especially talks about diversity in hiring in her empowering talk.

11. Leymah Gbowee, Unlock the Intelligence, Passion, Greatness of Girls

Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee's powerful speech takes what she learned from leading a women’s movement that helped to end the Second Liberian Civil War. She talks about the importance of strength, passion and intelligence in young girls, and she discusses ways that communities can work together shed more light on those attributes.

12. Shonda Rhimes, My Year of Saying Yes to Everything

Creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, Shonda Rimes shares what she learned from taking one year to say yes to everything. Doing so expanded her horizons both personally and professionally, she says in her talk.

13. Angela Lee Duckworth, Grit: Power of Passion and Perseverance

In her talk, Angela Duckworth coins the term “grit” to mean a dedication to hard work and a commitment to achieving success with passion and perseverance. She says she believes grit to be more important than IQ when determining future success. And she, as an academic, psychologist and popular science author, would know.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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