“I am feminine, I am masculine, I am anything I want; I can teach you, I can love you, If you got it goin’ on.” Emmy Meli’s lyrics from the 2021 song, “I am Woman,” became a viral trend on social media. And rightly so, because that’s how women are — fearless, carefree, courageous and loving. In our list of some of the most-loved TED talks by women about women, you will get to know more about some female leaders, who are champions of women’s issues including social injustice, race and gender bias.
Though 8 March is International Women’s Day, it is not a day just for women. It is a celebration of gender expressions and recognising one’s own abilities as well as joining hands for women’s empowerment. Today, women leaders dominate every field, be it business, politics, science, technology, innovation or literature. And, their motivating TED talks are a great way to boost self-confidence and understand that no glass ceiling is so high that it cannot be broken.
These inspiring talks are by women from different walks of life who have overcome unimaginable barriers and have set examples of perseverance, dedication, grit and undaunting courage. Whether it is the journey to become the COO of Facebook, standing against the Taliban who dared to shut down a girls’ school, or dominating the sports arena, these TED talks highlight something really important — no one else will be by your side if you are not there for yourself.
Powerful TED talks by women that are a Women’s Day must watch
Jump To / Table of Contents
- Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders
- Kimberlé Crenshaw: The urgency of intersectionality
- Leymah Gbowee: Unlock the intelligence, passion, greatness of girls
- Shonda Rhimes: My year of saying yes to everything
- Melinda Gates: Let’s put birth control back on the agenda
- Billie Jean King: This tennis icon paved the way for women in sport
- Srishti Bakshi: My long walk across India for women's freedom
- Roxane Gay: Confessions of a bad feminist
- Sakena Yacoobi: How I stopped the Taliban from shutting down my school
- Kiran Bedi: A police chief with a difference
- Isabel Allende: Tales of passion
- Amy Cuddy: Your body language may shape who you are
Former Facebook COO (now called Meta), Sheryl Sandberg is an example for all ambitious women who wish to climb the corporate ladder and make a name for themselves. In one of the most inspiring TED talks, Sandberg shares many insights and reflects on the reasons why there are such few women at top corporate tiers.
“If you ask men why they did a good job, they’ll say, ‘I’m awesome. Obviously. Why are you even asking?’” Sandberg says in this 2010 TED talk. But when the same question is asked to women, they generally say, “someone helped them, they got lucky, they worked really hard,” she added.
Sharing three key pieces of advice and instances, Sandberg shows that many a time, women lack self-confidence and hesitate in flaunting or talking about their capabilities, which is why there are very few of them in key positions of leadership.
Image: Courtesy Sheryl Sandberg/ Instagram
In one of the most moving TED talks by a woman, Kimberlé Crenshaw delves into the depths of racial discrimination that women of colour have to face. Civil rights advocate and Columbia Law School professor, Crenshaw uses the term ‘intersectionality’ to explain the crossroads or the overlapping junctures of social injustices.
She first coined the term in 1989, and in this 2016 TED talk, Crenshaw says, “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 sheds light on how one can identify race, detect gender bias and how both combine to give birth to other prejudices and stereotypes against women.
Image: Courtesy Kimberlé Crenshaw/ @kimbelecrenshaw/ Instagram
Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2011, Leymah Gbowee is a pioneer of women’s issues. She once led a women’s movement that helped to end the ongoing Second Liberian Civil War.
Sharing two tragic yet stirring episodes from her life, Gbowee narrates the story of her own transformation, and how giving the right pair of wings to girls for unlocking their potential and focusing on strengths, can make the world a far better place.
In this motivating TED talk (2012), Gbowee stresses on the importance of igniting passion, zeal, excitement and intelligence in young girls, and how different communities can come together and join hands to work in this direction.
Image: Courtesy Leymah Gbowee/ @leymahgbowee/ Unsplash
Acclaimed American screenwriter and the mind behind renowned television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, Shonda Rhimes has a term for the moment when she is completely immersed in work — the hum. Describing the hum, she says, “When I am hard at work, when I am deep in it, there is no other feeling.” It is like meditation for her, a divine intervention.
When Rhimes embarked on a year of only saying yes to everything, it broadened her horizons. Saying yes to all your fears ends up only eliminating them, at least that’s what happened with her.
In one of the most incredible TED talks by women, Rhimes introspects about the time when she lost her hum and how she dealt with the phase. In this 2016 speech, she also shares another deep personal experience when her toddler had a request for her. And, it was then that she realised the missing block in her goal towards success.
Image: Courtesy Shonda Rhimes/ @shondarhimes/ Twitter
One of the most powerful women in key leadership roles in the world, Melinda Gates is a businesswoman and philanthropist with unparalleled global impact. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the largest philanthropic organisations which strives to create medical awareness, eradicate disease and support economic development.
In this 2012 TED talk, Gates emphasises the urgency and importance of proper birth control. When women have the right education and knowledge about having kids and control the frequency of conceiving, a lot of social changes can take place.
When women have access to contraceptive measures and choose when to have kids, they can make progress in leaps and bounds, both in their personal and professional life and live healthily. Because some of the most inspirational mothers show that with determination, nothing is impossible.
Image: Courtesy Melinda French Gates/ @melindagates/ Twitter
Tennis icon and a complete dominator on the courts, Billie Jean King is an unparalleled name in the world of sports. Having bagged 39 Grand Slams, this powerhouse of a player has lifted the Wimbledon trophy 20 times. She is also known for her contributions towards women’s payments. In fact, King set an unprecedented example by becoming the first woman to win over USD 100,000 in one season (1971).
In this fun and thoughtful TED Talk, King shares her memories from the court, the famous battle of the sexes match against Bobby Riggs in 1973, her take on sports shaping social justice and giving women a platform to raise voices and show their skills. Commenting on the match in the TED Talk, she says, “Two things came out of that match: For women, self-confidence, empowerment.”
“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,” she adds.
King has also authored a number of books including an autobiography titled All In (2021), Pressure Is a Privilege: Lessons I’ve Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes (2008) and We Have Come a Long Way: The Story of Women’s Tennis (1988). She has also been conferred the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Image: Courtesy Billie Jean King/ @billiejeanking/ Instagram
A young activist from India, Srishti Bakshi is a perfect example for the new generation. After a heinous rape news shattered her, Bakshi embarked on a journey of nearly 3800 km on foot, from Kanyakumari to Srinagar in 2017.
She left a high-paying job in Hong Kong and came to the country, aiming to witness a cross-section of different demographics, and educating them of different strata about women’s empowerment and their rights.
A winner in the Changemaker category at the 2022 SDG Action Awards, Bakshi recorded her journey in a documentary titled WOMB: Women Of My Billion. In her TED talk, she says, “The more women see other women in public spaces, the more safe, independent and empowered each of us will be.”
She has chronicled her experiences of training women in driving and explained the need for after-sunset safety. She came across the MOWO (Moving Women) Foundation by Jai Bharathi, which gives vocational training to rural women and helps get them mobilised so that they can be independent, and became a part of it.
Bakshi continues to further the cause and visits schools and institutions as a flag bearer of feminism and equal rights.
Image: Courtesy Srishti Bakshi/ @srishtibakshi/ Instagram
Bold, unapologetic and a ‘bad feminist’, writer and author Roxane Gay touches upon a very uncharted avenue revolving around women’s issues. In this 2015 TED Talk, Gay speaks about the state of feminism in the world and while it may be a very important subject, there are several repercussions for being a self-proclaimed feminist.
In her 2014 book, Bad Feminist, the New York Times bestselling author gives a funny yet empathetic take on what it is like to not meet the conventional norms of a feminist. However, when she discusses the subject in this 2015 TED talk, she spotlights its various angles. Gay asks women and men to accept all kinds of feminism instead of stereotyping that as well.
Gay says, “When we talk about the needs of women, we have to consider the other identities we inhabit. We are not just women. We are people with different bodies, gender expressions, faiths, sexualities, class backgrounds, abilities and so much more.”
Gay believes that a small change in perspective and mindset can go a long way. If people focus on making a holistic and inclusive environment, it has the strength to “trickle upward” and reach those in power such as “editors, movie and music producers, CEOs, lawmakers.” These people can further create a lasting impact and usher in social reforms at a macro level.
Image: Courtesy Roxane Gay/ @roxanegay74/ Instagram
When the Taliban banned schools and put a stop to women’s education in the 1990s, Sakena Yacoobi started teaching Afghan girls and kids in secret. As the executive director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), an Afghan women-led NGO which she established in 1995, Yacoobi operated 80 secret schools under this organisation and helped educate 3000 girls amid all the adversities.
In this daunting TED talk (2015), Yacoobi recollects her experiences and also shares the two nerve-wracking incidents when the Taliban threatened to shut her schools as well.
As an educationist and teacher, Yacoobi continues to rebuild Afghanistan and strives to give its women and children a good education, healthcare and a brighter future which is devoid of war and atrocities. Today, AIL has impacted the lives of millions of Afghans, and its website quotes its founder, “Every single girl must be educated in Afghanistan – that is my dream. I don’t have a small dream. My vision is big, has been big and is going to remain big. I think that there is going to be a day that this country will rise up, and I am looking for that day.”
Image: Courtesy Sakena Fund
The first woman to join the prestigious Indian Police Services (IPS), Kiran Bedi is known for her radical prison reforms and strong personality. And before she held the post of Director General of the IPS, she was given the task to manage one of the country’s most notorious prisons — Tihar Jail in Delhi.
A lady with unwavering determination, Bedi worked tirelessly to make prisons a centre of correction and guide inmates towards a brighter future of dignity. Instead of focusing on harsh punishments, she went on to create a lasting impact by introducing education and livelihood for them.
Bedi narrates the tale of making braver choices and joining the police force, the struggle she had and what it means to be a senior-ranking woman officer in the force. In one of the most motivating TED talks by women, Bedi also shares her thoughts about women taking up senior leadership roles in the country.
Bedi might be a decorated retired officer, but she wears many hats — she is the former Lt. Governor of Puducherry, author of several books and runs two NGOs, named Navjyoti and India Vision Foundation as well.
Image: Courtesy Dr Kiran Bedi/ @kiranbediofficial/ Instagram
Chilean writer and author Isabel Allende brings alive passionate lives through her bold writings, which include books like The House of the Spirits (1982) and Eva Luna (1987). Allende has led an adventurous and passionate life herself. In the 1970s, she went to the US in exile, and calls it one of the most milestone phases of her life which shaped her as a writer.
During her inspiring talk in 2007, Allende talks about her role as one of the first women Olympic flag bearers at the 2006 games in Italy. Even before the word ‘feminism’ was in vogue, this intrepid woman championed the cause and wrote about taboo topics, and discussed women’s issues and their needs. She mostly based her characters on the loud and strong women she met.
Speaking about the “strong and passionate” women protagonists, the My Invented Country (2003) author says, “I don’t make them up. There’s no need for that. I look around and I see them everywhere. I have worked with women and for women all my life.” She believes that in order to bring about a meaningful change, there needs to be strong “feminine energy in the management of the world.”
Image: Courtesy Isabel Allende
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research and studies touch upon one of the most poignant subjects of today’s world. Her findings reveal that your body language and the way you present yourself may have a lot to do with your road to success.
While it is true that one’s body language can speak volumes about their mental state and feelings, she also argues that it can affect your own confidence as well. Striking power poses even when you are not feeling too sure, can help boost your positivity. In this thought-provoking TED Talk of 2012, Cuddy talks about these subjects and shares her views on how women can pose impressively to feel confident and create a strong impression.
Image: Courtesy Amy Cuddy, PhD/ @amycuddy/ Instagram
(Main image: Courtesy Billie Jean King/ @billiejeanking/ Instagram; User: A. Manikandan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Featured image: Courtesy User: A. Manikandan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)