During last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, more than 180,000 techies come together to see what the oldest and best-known trade show has to offer. What’s interesting, however, this year there were two problems – there weren’t any women represented, nor was there a lot of diversity in terms of the speakers. If you looked at the faces on the keynote speaker page, there were six white men and one Asian man. There weren’t any women, nor representation from the Black, or Latino communities. Nor were there any people who identify as LGBTQ. Is this a big deal? In my opinion, yes. I think that all industries should be representative of the community at large.
That doesn’t mean that the people speaking at CES aren’t champions of diversity themselves. In fact, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich committed to full representation of women and underrepresented minorities in Intel’s U.S. workforce by the year 2020. He backed this goal with a $300 million investment. During CES, 2017, Krzanich reported that Intel had actually hired 43% of their new recruits from these target groups. Which is a big move. But that doesn’t account for the fact that diversity was lacking. This was glaring and kind of difficult to explain.
In general, over the last couple of years, we have seen a cultural shift. In some instances, this is seen by companies (like Intel, or even Apple) dedicating resources to ensure that they are hiring from the most diverse pool possible. But it’s also other social movements that are bringing certain cultural or racial issues to light. While I don’t want to get into those specifically during this post, I think that this makes us more aware of the challenges certain groups face. Which then makes society understand why diversity is important. Diversity often leads to inclusion, but they have to be addressed separately. Both concepts are something that I support but in different ways.
What’s interesting to me, however, is that the organizers of CES should have been aware of these cultural issues as well. I mean, they weren’t living under a rock were they? And yet, they still decided to go with the all-male panel. It’s honestly kind of bizarre. After many people were upset about this, CTA senior vice president Karen Chupka had this to say in a blog post: “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.”
Seriously? So, the problem is the fact that there are not enough women in these roles? Perhaps CES needs to revamp their policy around who can provide a keynote? This, my friends, is what we call a systemic barrier. Instead of changing a system, we blame the people that don’t fit into it. A clearer example of this might be: if a person has a visual impairment, the issue isn’t that the book is printed on paper, but the fact that the person can’t see. Does that make sense? If it does, I would certainly like to hear from you.
I’m not necessarily angry at CES, as they are probably right. There probably aren’t enough women in these roles, but it’s 2018. We need to figure this out. Like I said, change the system. Allow more people to keynote at CES. Why does the role have to be filled by the CEO, and why does the entity have to be large? There are thousands and thousands of products being displayed at CES, surely someone there has a good idea and can run a business. I apologize if that sounds trite, but this whole idea that “they” are blaming the industry for not having enough women in these roles is absurd. Look at yourself before you start pointing fingers, CES.