November 17 2017

SAN FRANCISCO — When Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor who now campaigns against sexual harassment, took the stage at a TED event this month, she described 2017 as a tipping point in the fight against workplace misconduct.

But behind the scenes, TED owner Chris Anderson and other senior officials had been grappling with accusations for much of the year that their own conferences, famed for turning short speeches by leading figures into viral videos, had not been a safe place for women — and that the atmosphere of predatory male behavior was getting worse.

At least five people, including a past main stage speaker, told TED officials that they were harassed or groped during the organization’s flagship conference in Vancouver in April, according to interviews and email correspondence seen by The Washington Post.

The nonprofit’s general counsel Nishat Ruiter said in an April email to TED’s senior leadership that she, too, had been “touched inappropriately but let it go.” She added she was finding it difficult to believe the issue was being “addressed by TED effectively. We are clearly not doing enough.”

In a statement to The Post, TED acknowledged that several incidents had occurred at the Vancouver conference and said it had taken action.

“We did hear from a small number of women attendees at TED2017 about harassment. As a result, two men were immediately disinvited and won’t be returning,” TED said.

TED also said: “Creating a safe and welcoming environment is critical to the success of our conferences, and we have no tolerance for harassment of any kind. As soon as we heard there were issues at our conference in 2017 we took immediate action to address the specific allegations, then worked with leading experts to upgrade our code of conduct. Today we make the code of conduct extremely clear to all TED conference attendees, and encourage our community to report violations.”

In the decades since TED’s original owners got the idea of turning 18-minute talks by world leaders, chief executives, academics, artists and others into a business under the slogan “ideas worth spreading,” the conferences and spinoff events have become known as a meeting place for the global elite, particularly leaders in the technology industry. The Sapling Foundation, Anderson’s private foundation, acquired TED in 2001.

The gatherings are regarded as a place where the likes of former Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates, scientist Richard Dawkins and former vice president Al Gore could be encountered in the hallways, and the organization’s talks have been watched online more than 1 billion times worldwide.

Most people pay $10,000 to attend and must apply for tickets.