Chupka: Lack of high-level choices
While the 1970s slogan “The Future is Female” has made a resurgence in the last couple of years, the message apparently has not reached CES organizers.
CES, the tech conference that opens the year with a look into the future, found itself mired in a problem that plagues the auto industry: a noticeable lack of female voices among lead speakers.
After women in virtually every industry, including automotive, stepped forward to publicly discuss harassment and discrimination in the workplace in 2017, an all-male keynote speaker lineup for one of the most-attended events of the year seemed tone-deaf to some attendees.
The Consumer Technology Association, the trade association that hosts the conference, has since added a keynote panel and other discussion events that include women, but some say the initial oversight is a symptom of a greater lack of diversity in leadership that could affect the development of new technologies.
On Nov. 9, the association announced the latest addition to the 2018 conference’s keynote lineup, a panel about TV featuring Hulu CEO Randy Freer and Turner CEO John Martin. The executives were joining Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, association President Gary Shapiro, Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Hackett, Huawei CEO Richard Yu and Lyft President John Zimmer.
The homogeneous lineup sparked pushback from CES attendees, with Twitter announcing its own event within the conference — titled #HereWeAre — featuring only female keynote speakers.
“We will continue to push for women on the CES keynote stage where they belong,” Leslie Berland, Twitter’s chief marketing officer, wrote in a December tweet. “In the meantime, we’ve got a stage of our own.”
Patrick: Member of new panel
The association’s response to criticism over the lack of women in its initial lineup points to an issue that continues to plague the auto industry: There aren’t enough female executives.
Following the Twitter announcement and others’ public comments, the association posted a blog Dec. 4, saying there were few diverse candidates among those qualified to speak in a keynote address.
“To keynote at CES, the speaker must head (president/CEO level) a large entity who has name recognition in the industry,” wrote Karen Chupka, a senior vice president at the association. “As upsetting as it is, there is a limited pool when it comes to women in these positions.”
Chupka added that female executives, including General Motors CEO Mary Barra and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, have spoken at past conferences.
An Automotive News survey of women working in automotive, published Oct. 23, found 59 percent of respondents said they did not have the same opportunities for career growth as male colleagues, while 43 percent said they were passed up for promotions because of their gender.
On Dec. 13, the association added a “C Space” keynote panel featuring Kristin Patrick, senior vice president of global brand development at Pepsi, Nancy Dubuc, CEO of A&E Networks, and Wenda Harris Millard, vice chairman of MediaLink, and a “Disrupting Diversity” panel featuring executives from companies such as Cox Communications and Accenture. Chupka also was added as a keynote speaker alongside Shapiro.
Rebecca Lindland, an executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said the strict parameters for keynote speakers are limiting the content of CES and easily could be reworked to include female and other diverse voices in the upper echelons of major auto and tech companies. She added that including female speakers on such a visible stage could help the lack of diversity in automotive C-suites by sparking larger-scale conversations.
“In many ways, this sends the wrong message,” Lindland said. “Let’s at least address the issue, have a discussion about why this happened.”
Women in mobility
The auto industry has played an increasingly larger role at CES, which traditionally has been centered on home appliances and consumer electronics, as autonomous and electric vehicles have gained steam within the tech industry. At the 2017 conference, the entire North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center — which makes up about half of the facility’s floor space — was populated by automotive or mobility-related companies.
A report by consultancy EY said automakers will need to recruit employees with a variety of backgrounds to survive in the future. Twitter’s event will feature at least one female mobility executive, Padmasree Warrior, CEO of EV startup NIO. Lindland suggested Robin Chase, former CEO of Zipcar, as a potential speaker.