The Consumer Technology Association, which claims to shape the technology industry at large, got the wrong kind of attention when it announced the keynote lineup for its Consumer Electronics Show next month: Six keynote slots, six men, five of them white.
I founded GenderAvenger for just such a moment so that people who cared would know this was happening. We sent an ActionAlert and the reaction from business and tech VIPs was gratifying. Kristin Lemkau, chief marketing officer of JPMorgan Chase, came up with her own list of women keynote speakers “in less time than it took to drink coffee” and tweeted it out. A hashtag quickly emerged: #CESSoMale.
Karen Chupka, senior vice president of the technology association and the “mastermind” behind CES, told Ad Age there was a “limited pool of women” who met their criteria for keynote speakers. My response in the same article: “They need to rethink their criteria.”
Why the big deal? After all, it’s just a trade show in Las Vegas. Men are committing crimes against women every day; stories of workplace harassment and power abused abound in such numbers we wonder which public figure will be next to fall. Twitter will soon serve up another.
Here’s the thing: it really matters who is on stage at CES, the largest consumer technology show in the world representing an industry worth 5.2% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Conferen—ces like CES are part of a giant industry worth about $30 billion. If conferences were a country, they’d be larger than many world economies.
But what does a consumer tech show have to do with the current toxic revelations of harassment, assault, bullying and abuse coming out of almost every influential American institution and industry? Just about everything, because at the center of all of this is power, perceived and real. The power to hire, to fire, to promote, to celebrate, and most important, to be heard.
Who speaks on national platforms, who stands before decision makers, and who appears in the media on lists of who is important signal value. It’s about measuring worth. Zero women speaking in the most coveted slots is a big flashing signal that we’re not worth it.
Someone worth listening to is someone powerful. When only men appear, we perpetuate a power dynamic that creates opportunities for abuse. When women are expected to be on stage because they are powerful, they will become powerful and a powerful deterrent to a sense of male entitlement.
POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media
In the case of CES, the cost of all-male voices is also about the bottom line. Women actually spent more on technology last year than men, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Women accounted for $55 billion of the $96 billion spent on electronics gear. Women are involved in 89% of all consumer electronics purchase decisions.
And yet there are no women on the main stage to match the power of women consumers and to talk about how to reach and inspire the industry’s primary profit creators.
The consumer electronics show starts Jan. 9. What will happen there is up to its sponsors. In the meantime, GenderAvenger will continue to press its message to CES and event organizers everywhere: let women know you value their voices. Do it for the money, do it to show you know that women are the majority of the world’s population, do it because it is embarrassing not to, or simply do it because it’s right — because women’s voices count.
Gina Glantz, the founder of GenderAvenger, is a longtime Democratic strategist who managed her first campaign in 1974 (a winning House race) and her last in 2000 (Bill Bradley’s unsuccessful presidential bid). Follow her on Twitter: @glantzings