CES 2018 Excluded Women

Was the lack of women keynote speakers at CES 2018 due to a lack of women in the industry, or does it make the problem worse?

Women are woefully underrepresented in the tech industry. That wasn’t always true. For decades, people saw computer programming and math as jobs for women. The first computer programmer was a woman, Ada Lovelace. Female programmers built the movement. However, as personal computing and software became more lucrative, men pushed women out of these roles. Society expected women to take lower paying jobs, or to raise children at home. The men in charge marketed computers to boys, pushing girls and women out of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). But it didn’t last. Interest in tech among women began to grow again. This is thanks to education programs and outreach programs, as well as hiring initiatives to create female leaders who set an example for young girls. Representation matters. Seeing women in these roles tells young girls they can get into tech too. CES 2018 didn’t send that message.

CES this year had 6 keynote speakers. All were men and five out of the six were white. This isn’t the message of inclusivity and diversity we should be sending, but what can we expect from an expo that still features “booth babes?”

What happened?

CES 2018 did have a few women speakers. However, the CES organizers did not offer keynote speaker positions to any women. Instead, they were on panels with other people in tech, mostly men. Between the male speakers, booth babes, and giving women in tech only small roles to play, the Consumer Electronics Show was as male-oriented as it has ever been, during a time that demands justice and equality for women.

CES organizers claim they wanted to give a keynote speaker role to a woman, but—due to their own rules—couldn’t find a suitable candidate. CES states that keynote speakers must be a CEO or president at their company. They only want leaders of the industry speaking on stage. While it’s unfortunately true that—in tech especially—women are often kept out of management, it’s not true that there were no female options. In fact, as more women get into tech and discover the toxic nature of many “bro-culture” workplaces, many are forming their own companies, like Ellen Pao. Pao left her former employer, Kleiner Perkins, over rampant sexism cofounded a non profit, Project Include, to help startups make their businesses more inclusive.

Could they have done better?

https://twitter.com/klemkau/status/937447025301483520

Many women have worked hard to find their way in business, and would have unique stories to tell about how they got to where they are, how they manage, and how they started a company in an industry that looks down on female founders. Instead, CES attendees were left to the same male-lead teams, most white, as they’ve been for years. Even when we consider all speakers, not just the keynote speakers, women only made up 23%. The organizers of this years Consumer Electronics Show had a plethora of female leaders they could have chosen, but passed them all over. They updated their webpage to feature more non-keynote speakers to give the event the appearance of inclusion. Their public apologies also strive to give the appearance they they tried, stating they would “redouble” their efforts next year. Two times zero is still zero, CES.

Everyone must do better.

It’s time for CES to evolve or die. Half the population is female, and therefore half the people who could buy tech is female. The workforce is increasingly becoming female. The march towards equality is moving more rapidly now than it has in some time, and those who don’t get on board will be left in the past. CES has an opportunity here: do better for next year’s show, or see dwindling numbers from people who would rather go to expos that don’t exclude half the population. Advertisers won’t stick around if they feel as though their money would be better spent reaching the entire population, rather than the small subset CES seems to be targeting.

The rest of us can do more too. Already in tech? Push for hiring practices that help women succeed, and education programs that teach employees about unconscious bias. Volunteer to talk to or teach young women, be a beacon of knowledge and guide the way for future generations. If you’re not working to solve the problem, you’re part of it. We can all do better.


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