Women left out of CES keynotes again

The world’s largest tech conference is severely lacking in women speakers for the second year in a row.

Women left out of CES keynotes again
Magdalena Petrova

CES is the world’s largest tech conference, put on by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). The three-day show, which kicks off today, touts itself as being “the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies.” However, the original lineup of keynote speakers highlights the lie in that statement.

Who’s missing? Women, of course, and women of color. Back in late November 2017, Gender Avenger released an “action alert” calling out CES for the lack of gender diversity in its top six keynote address slots — all of which were filled by men, almost all white men.

Karen Chupka, senior vice president of CES and corporate business strategy for CTA, responded by saying, CES “go[es] beyond the keynote stage & bring[s] a diversity of speakers to all our conference programming,” and she encouraged people to “check out our past CES lineups” because “diversity is too important to ignore.”

Oh, is it? It’s so important that you couldn’t fill any of the top six slots with women or non-binary people? It’s so important that you didn’t consider it until after you’d set the lineup and were called out for your exclusionary behavior? (The fact that executives from Twitter, which itself is a reeking cesspool of hateful, discriminatory and abusive behavior, are calling you out speaks volumes.)

To be fair, the lineup now includes a few women — Chupka herself, Sue Marek from SDxCentral, Kristin Dolan of 605, Nancy Dubuc from A+E Networks and Wenda Harris Millard of MediaLink — but these women are not delivering individual keynotes, according to more recent Reuters reporting. And all of these women are white.

Apparently, according to Chupka, “To keynote at CES, the speaker must head (president/CEO level) a large entity who has name recognition in the industry. … As upsetting as it is, there is a limited pool when it comes to women in these positions. We feel your pain. It bothers us, too. The tech industry and every industry must do better.”

Oh. You feel the pain. It bothers you, too. Everyone must do better.

Hey, CES, you can change the rules

So, let’s start. If the pool is limited by these rules, then change the f*!@-ing rules. Widen the damn pool. Maybe the tech industry could “do better” by opening itself up to new voices from up-and-coming companies who are actually doing better instead of trotting out the same few female executives time after time — executives who aren’t necessarily working for the greater good of women and minorities, such Ginny Rometty, who couldn’t wait to work with the Trump administration, Marissa Mayer, who infamously installed a nursery next to her office so she could keep her newborn close by while rescinding Yahoo’s work-from-home policy, and Carly Fiorina. (Hey, I went back and looked at “past CES lineups”!) Do I need to explain my dislike of Carly Fiorina? OK, good.

CES is also lacking in a code of conduct, which many other large tech conferences developed and put in place over the last few years to guide attendee behavior and deter misconduct.

Y-Vonne Hutchinson, founder of diversity consulting firm ReadySet and a founding member of Project Include, says in the Reuters article that CES’s lack of a code of conduct sends a message to the tech industry that CES isn’t taking diversity, harassment and abuse issues seriously.

“They have a lot of influence. If they’re choosing not to leverage that to promote diversity and inclusion at large, that communicates to the rest of the industry that maybe it isn’t as necessary as we keep saying it is,” she says in the article.

CES says attendees should behave in accordance with their individual workplace codes of conduct and will kick out anyone who behaves poorly. According to the Reuters article, there’s an app that lets CES attendees report issues ranging from crimes to broken elevators, and attendees can use that if they are sexually harassed. But “there will be no effort to promote the app specifically as a way to report sexual harassment …”.

Oh, OK. Not only do women and minority attendees have to first experience victimization, but then they figure out how to report it after the fact (which means reliving the experience) through a process that, by CES’s own admission, will not be promoted. I’m skeptical, to say the least.

What’s it going to take for CES to finally realize this is an issue — and that they could use their influence to help address it? At least one executive — Liliana Aide Monge, CEO of coding school Sabio — is skipping CES because of the lack of diversity and inclusion, according to the Reuters article. Perhaps she has the right idea.

As HP’s global CMO, Antonio Lucio, said on Twitter: “All men should boycott CES if women are not invited to speak!”

Until larger numbers of male executives begin to take Lucio’s advice, I fear change will be slow in coming — if it happens at all.

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