Do women’s voices matter?

When we’re holding up examples of brilliance, does it matter which examples we choose? I think so. Apparently, the TED Radio Hour does not.

Like a Netflix junkie caught up on House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, I’ve been craving my next high. A friend turned me on to podcasts. Serial, to be precise. I devoured it. When the second season was released – I waited until all the episodes were available so I could sink into binge-y delight with it, too. But I needed more. On my daily walks recently, I began scanning my podcast library furiously for a fix. I found a few duds, a few surprises, and a lot of A-for-effort small batch productions out on the frontier of this fascinating medium.

And then I tuned in to the NPR TED Radio Hour. I recognized host Guy Raz’s voice immediately. I’ve heard a few great TED talks over the years. So I downloaded a bunch of episodes and rejoiced that my walks would again have some purpose.

The rejoicing was short lived. As I listened, I started feeling something … familiar. An annoyance. An itch. Something just beneath the surface you just can’t quite scratch.

This is a show self-described as “based on riveting TED-talks from the world’s most remarkable minds.” The emphasis there is all mine. The concept is that Guy and his team cull the TED world for the very best and most brilliant idea makers out there, and bring them to you in a tight, one hour symphony of interview and epic snippets.

The trouble was, I rarely heard women’s voices. Maybe it’s just this episode, this topic, I thought. Each time. And so I started listening to them all.

Obsessed, I sat down a few days ago to analyze the show. Of the 10 most recent TED Radio Hour episodes, women represented only 21% of speakers highlighted. One in five. In two episodes, there were no women speakers at all, and there were no instances of women-only episodes. In not one single episode was a woman the first speaker highlighted. Not one. She always appears later – like an afterthought, an antidote, an alternative.

This is funny, in that “this is not funny at all” kind of a way, because half the planet is female. Sure, we’re woefully underrepresented in the board room, the court room, elected office, and just about everywhere else that power resides. Apparently, we’re also invisible when guys like Guy go looking for the world’s most remarkable minds.

I’ve set up a fun little dashboard to track these stats. I now anxiously await each week’s episode in hopes Guy will pull the rug out from under me. He hasn’t yet. And maybe it’s not his fault. Maybe it’s just slim pickings from the TED archives. After all, he didn’t set the stage, he merely decided where to point the spotlight.

But what are we saying when we declare only 1 of 5 of the world’s most remarkable minds belong to women? What are we telling girls when we’re driving in our cars, and we choose to listen to the TED Radio Hour on NPR? “Hey girls, listen to these remarkable men on the radio! Shhhhhh. Aren’t they brilliant? When you grow up, you’re going to have so many amazing opportunities to listen to men’s remarkable and brilliant ideas! Oh yeah, I think there’s a lady whose going to talk, too, but we’re home now, so I guess we’ll just have to miss her. I’m sure whatever she had to say couldn’t have been that important.

I think it matters. To whom we hand the microphone. Where we shine the spotlight. What we edit, and how we produce. It matters, because in curating remarkableness, we’re shaping people’s ideas of what kind of person is remarkable – and what kind of person is not.

By the way, Guy’s next project is another NPR podcast called How I Built This, in which he promises to feature “innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built.” I have high hopes for gender equity in this next venture, because I’m an idealist. Or a damn fool.  Either way, I’ll be listening. At least in the beginning.