Five people at TED Talks 'harassed or groped'

The creators behind the influential TEDtalk empire are grappling with accusations of sexual harassment at their events.

The creators behind the influential TEDtalk empire are grappling with accusations of sexual harassment at their events, where an atmosphere of 'predatory male behavior' has pervaded their conferences, it was revealed on Friday. 

TED owner Chris Anderson and other senior officials were made aware of numerous allegations this year concerning complaints that female employees, guests and speakers were not being properly protected at events. 

Internal emails seen by The Washington Post show that at least five women, including a past main stage speaker, have complained of being harassed or groped during the non-profit's flagship conference held in Vancouver this year.

TED owner Chris Anderson (pictured 2008) and other senior officials were made aware of numerous allegations this year concerning sexual harassment complaints

TEDtalks have turned short speeches given by some of the world's most influential figures into a viral phenomenon under an 'ideas worth spreading' philosophy - finding tremendous success over the internet.

But the organization has struggled internally with how to deal with the sexual harassment allegations that culminated into a crisis this April.

Even the organization's general counsel, Nishat Ruiter (pictured), claimed that she was 'touched inappropriately' at the conference this year

Even the organization's general counsel, Nishat Ruiter (pictured), claimed that she was 'touched inappropriately' at the conference this year

Even the organization's general counsel, Nishat Ruiter, claimed that she was 'touched inappropriately' at the conference this year, but has since 'let it go.'

She also said that she doubted the issue was being 'addressed by TED effectively' adding 'We are clearly not doing enough.'

'I heard from so many women unprompted about the type of advances that were everywhere, and that felt 'different' from years past,' Ruiter wrote.

'This included a TED Prize winner and two TEDsters who spoke to me about this and more than one staff member.' 

In response, TEDtalk acknowledged that it 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 wrote in a statement to the Post.

'Creating a safe and welcoming environment is critical to the success of our conferences,' the statement continued, 'and we have no tolerance for harassment of any kind.'

Tom Rielly (pictured 2013), the organization's director of partnerships, admitted that instances of sexual harrassment have occurred at TEDtalk conferences for years 

'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.'

The emails the Post was able to review showed communication exchanges between senior leadership in the organization, including Anderson, who was first made aware of the allegations after a longtime female attendee complained of sexual harassment while being offered 'every drug known to man.' 

'I don't want to overstate what's here (until we can find more) but I do think we'll need to think seriously about what more we can do,' Anderson wrote to his senior leadership shortly after receiving the complaint. 

Tom Rielly, the organization's director of partnerships, admitted that similar instances at TEDtalk conferences have occurred for some time.

'I'm afraid as difficult as it is to talk about, experiences like this have been going on for years, to varying degrees,' Rielly wrote. 'I agree this is absolutely heartbreaking and stomach turning.'

Some of the world's most influential figures in politics, science, academics and business have given speeches at TEDtalks (Pictured Al Gore November 2017)  

Some of the world's most influential figures in politics, science, academics and business have given speeches at TEDtalks (Pictured Al Gore November 2017)  

Renowned scientist Richard Dawkins (left) and the world's richest man Bill Gates have also given speeches  

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk (R) discusses a vision of cars being lowered into tunnels to travel efficiently and eliminate traffic congestion with curator Chris Anderson (L) at a TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada, April 28, 2017

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk (R) discusses a vision of cars being lowered into tunnels to travel efficiently and eliminate traffic congestion with curator Chris Anderson (L) at a TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada, April 28, 2017

Past TEDtalk presenters told the Post that sexual harassment and abusive behavior towards women was not a new phenomenon. 

'The same thing was happening five years ago. It's still happening,' former Apple executive Nilofer Merchant told the Post during an interview.

 'What's different now is we're sharing our stories.'

Former Apple executive Nilofer Merchant (pictured) said that sexual harassment at the conferences have occurred for years

Former Apple executive Nilofer Merchant (pictured) said that sexual harassment at the conferences have occurred for years

Merchant, whose own 2013 TEDtalk has racked up over 3 million views, recalls that during this year's April conference, a male attendee pressed his erection against her at a bar. 

'In this awkward moment, you're trying not to make it an issue,' she said in an interview. 'I'm trying to spend my time at TED, which I paid $10,000 to attend, talking to people about ideas and not worry about the guy with his boner pressed against me.'  

The non-profit said that it November 2016, it inserted language in its code of conduct policy that took a zero tolerance approach to 'sexual harassment of any kind, including unwelcome sexual attention and inappropriate physical contact.' 

Still, setting standards of appropriate behavior has proven to be a challenge, mainly because the conference blends work and socializing and because attendees are not direct employees, according to The Post. 

Some of the world's most influential people have given speeches for the organization, including Microsoft owner Bill Gates, scientist Richard Dawkins, inventor Elon Musk and former Vice President Al Gore.