Here it is a month later and I'm STILL thinking about CES. I'm so disappointed and disillusioned with the show. Let's start with something that sparked the conversation: all six CES keynotes were male; five of those males were white. If that's not a slap in the face of diversity, I don't know what is.
I wanted to start this blog with facts and the number of women in tech. But it was SO hard to find any current information, which was scary to me. I'd love to think it's because there's a 50/50 split and it's not an issue...but we all know that's not the case. The closest thing I could find was from a 2016 Girls Who Code report: 26 percent of computing jobs are held by women. For the sake of this conversation, let's assume 26 is also the "magic" number for women in tech.
So if the tech population is 26 percent female, why couldn't CES find ONE female speaker? Just ONE—that would be proportional to the percentage of women in tech. When asked about it, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), who runs CES, had a lackluster and disappointing response: ""This is a global issue—not just within the technology sector—all industries and our society at large can and must do better."
If you ask me, this is a sorry excuse for a huge miss. The way we do better is by actively recruiting and inviting qualified minorities to speak. Believe me, it is not impossible to find a C-Level female executive willing to speak at the largest consumer technology show on the planet. In fact, it's not even hard. Kristin Lemkau, chief marketing officer of JPMorgan Chase, who has spoken at CES herself, drew up her own list of 21 women headliners "in less time than it took to drink coffee."
We can say to ourselves, it's all about recruiting females and minorities to STEM as much as we want. This is only a small part of the solution; most of the time, it's just the default CYA excuse when we're not actively working to recruit diverse populations. To serve the community, we need to work harder to seek out minority groups, whether they're females, people of color, transsexual, disabled, etc.
My friend Alexis LaBrois has a great quote that I steal often "If you can see me, you can be me." When we feature diversity in positions of note, it attracts minorities.
CES has been "apologizing" and making excuses for years with no real movement to becoming a more inclusive environment, especially when it comes to gender.
Want to actually do better? Ban the booth babes. Once again, the CTA has a weak answer to this. The association said each exhibitor "should choose how they want to represent themselves." I'd love to just skip the booths who choose to have scantily-clad females, but it can't be avoided. CES is a professional trade event, not a car show, so why are we putting up with this? It's clear that exhibitors will not stop using booth babes until a professional dress code policy is put in place. Should those exhibitors be held accountable? Yes. But should CES just take the step to stop it? Also yes.
InfoComm, for example, put a professional dress code policy in place, a measure that was actually voted in by its Exhibitor Committee. Why does this matter? Why do I care so much about this? Because when hired females are wearing minimal clothing on the show floor, it sets a precedent that women in booths are just hired talent there to look good. Don't believe me? Ask pretty much any female exhibitor and she'll likely share a story about how she was summarily dismissed because she was attractive and visitors believed her to be just eye-candy.
I feel like I need to sum this up with saying I don't want females and other underrepresented populations in speaking slots just to be .the token minority. I see this a lot on social media—a woman shouldn't be a keynote speaker just to have a female keynote speaker. No, they shouldn't. But we need to represent all minorities, even if that means we have to change our policies and spend an extra few minutes finding someone to fit the bill.
Megan A. Dutta