There has been no bigger business story in 2017 than the treatment of women in male-dominated industries. So it’s no surprise that the issue has come to the biggest technology show in the world, CES. A kerfuffle took off over the weekend in response to an “action alert” by the women’s organization GenderAvenger, which pointed out that no women will be delivering keynotes at CES 2018 in early January.
Karen Chupka, senior vice president for corporate business strategy at the Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES, was quick to respond with a tweet on Sunday noting that women have given keynotes in the past, including in 2016, and that women speak at many other smaller events at the show and on panels. (About 275 women participated last year.) Chupka elaborated today in a blog post for the CTA, and expressed her own frustration.
“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,” she wrote. “We feel your pain. It bothers us, too. The tech industry and every industry must do better.”
Current and past lineups indicate the kinds of entities that CES is looking for in a keynote-speaker CEO: Intel, NVidia, Ford, Huawei, Hulu, Under Armour. The CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, Gary Shapiro, has a standard slot every year as well.
“The Criteria Is a Measure Of What They Value”
“The fact is that until women are seen and heard in public spaces and at public events, we cannot achieve equality, we cannot demonstrate to young women that they belong on stage,” GenderAvenger founder Gina Glantz tells Fast Company. She’s unmoved by the Consumer Technology Association’s reasoning: “The criteria is a measure of what they value, which apparently . . . leaves out innovative women, women who I’m sure would have things to say of great value to the audience.”
There are more women bosses to be found in the startup scene, says Chupka, and 42 female founders will be present (not necessarily giving speeches) in the startup area of the show, called Eureka Park. In the past, CES has featured keynotes from the female heads of General Motors, Xerox, IBM, and Yahoo, says Chupka, for a total of 21 spots in the past 11 years—roughly a third of all speakers.
“So what’s the problem this year?” asks Glantz. “That’s a lack of trying. That’s an insensitivity to what it means to bolster audience.”
Don’t expect protests or a boycott of CES, though. “What we really want to do is get the attention of the leadership of CES and [CTA],” Glantz says. That they have done, as well as getting attention from high-profile execs inside and outside the tech industry.
Glantz credits tweets from former PepsiCo Global president Brad Jakeman for boosting attention to the issue. JP Morgan Chase CMO Kristin Lemkau tweeted her own list of women candidates for speaker slots. (GenderAvenger put out a similar alert about 2017’s all-male CES lineup that got little attention.) The Consumer Technology Association has not yet reached out to GenderAvenger, says Glantz, other than a mention in a tweet.
Her organization has put out a message to supporters asking them to keep up the pressure on social media and email, with the goal of getting women in January’s CES lineup. Glantz says there may be ways to ratchet up the pressure if nothing happens, though she didn’t go into detail. “We’re going to watch,” she says. “I’ve got a couple of ideas. I want to watch, give them another week.”
This article has been updated.