CES is a huge tech trade show held in Las Vegas every January. And like most of the tech industry, this year’s conference is being criticized by many in the tech and marketing industries for its lack of female keynote speakers.
All six CES keynoters are men, and five of those men are white.
This is the second year the conference has lacked gender diversity in its keynote lineup.
“For a show marketed as ‘the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies,’ it sure seems like ‘for all’ really means ‘for all men,’” said a post on the website of GenderAvenger, a group dedicated to ensuring that women are represented in the public dialogue.
But GenderAvenger isn’t the only critic of CES’s all-male keynote lineup.
Quantcast Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Steven Wolfe Periera posted that it was insulting not to include any women, black, or Latino/a speakers included in the keynotes.
“And then, to see these keynotes at CES just felt so tone-deaf,” Periera told Ad Age. “They say CES stands for innovators and the promise and power of technology—you mean to tell me we have no women or black or Latino innovators that can speak about that?…It boggles my mind that we’re still making these stupid mistakes. If we don’t rise up and call it out, it’s not going to change unless we be the change.”
Brad Jakeman, former president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group, said he hopes CES will improve the speaker lineup for keynotes to be at least a 50/50 split. “To publish a speaker list which is all-male in an industry that has been very well-criticized for an overly male perspective being brought to it, it just demonstrates a profound sense of tone-deafness.”
Karen Chupka, the SVP for CES & Corporate Business Strategy at the Computer Technology Association, defended the organizers’ choices. “We go beyond the keynote stage & bring a diversity of speakers to all our conference programming and we encourage you to check out our past CES lineups. Diversity is too important to ignore.” she tweeted. The tweet included photos of six women who had given keynote addresses at CES in the past, including GM CEO Mary Barra, Ursula Burns of Veon, Meg Whitman of HP, and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo.
A post on the CTA blog defended the organizers’ choices. To keynote at CES, the speaker must be president or CEO of a large entity that has name recognition in the tech 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 post read. “The tech industry and every industry must do better.”
In its defense, CTA also noted that there are women in powerful positions at CES. Its statement also said that 10 women declined keynote speaker invitations and to expect “more exciting announcements” about its lineup.
JPMorgan Chase Chief Marketing Officer Kristen Lemkau wasn’t having it.
She tweeted a photo containing the names of 22 powerful women in tech. “Amazing women innovators in tech and media who would slay any keynote anywhere,” she tweeted. “Came up with these in less time than it took to drink coffee.
Jakeman also said “If now what we’re hearing is that they’re not interested in our help and that they’re perfectly comfortable with an all-male keynote lineup, that…is shocking given what’s going on in our society right now, where we see the consequences of what happens in extreme gender unbalanced environments.”
What do you think? Is the lack of gender diversity among CES keynote speakers a symptom of a larger problem in the tech world, or is it of little consequence given the CES organizers’ history of including female and racially diverse speakers in the past? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Photo by James Mattil / Shutterstock.com