Is lack of women at CES a block for real innovation?
A view from Sue Unerman

Is lack of women at CES a block for real innovation?

CES critics claim it was abundant with products for rich 20-something men looking for gadgets to replace their mothers but low on solving real problems.

What struck your imagination at CES, the much anticipated trade show for leading edge developments this year? 

MediaCom’s head of digital Sarah Treliving felt that overall while there’s lots of products on show that do cool stuff, only a very few of them feel like they’ve been designed for a current or urgent consumer problem. 

Aside from many, many more ways to use Amazon's Alexa there seemed many fine gadgets on display to play with. Otherwise tech developments for healthcare or security needs received attention. 

Products that caught my eye in the reports included: A clothes folding robot (might be nice); a TV that disappears (not an immediate requirement); a strap that turns your finger into a phone (hmm); the development of 3D printers for body parts (will be immensely important) and robot doctors and connected hearing aids (will be revolutionary where needed).

There were also jeans that connect to your smartphone and vibrate to give you directions. It might seem trivial, but could actually really be useful for vulnerable people who don’t want to publicise that they don’t know where they’re going (eg young women on their way to a club late at night). Of course there’s still lots of news about smart fridges. 

One commentator said this about CES overall: "Silicon Valley innovation seems to be focussed on one problem, which is 'what my mother is no longer doing for me' ... There’s a culture of rich 20-something young men imaging a world that the rest of us might not want to live in."

Dr Jack Stilgoe, from UCL, went on to critique developers for putting too much of a focus on how to get the laundry sorted or food delivered and not enough on real problems.

The truth is that predicting the future is not a precise business and that most of our lives are shaped by old tech still. There needs to be a balance. A balance between hanging on to the old and putting off change.

Dr Jack Stilgoe, from UCL, went on to critique developers for putting too much of a focus on how to get the laundry sorted or food delivered and not enough on real problems.

Some people said while CES was exciting they had to sit in an old fashioned queue to try the VR tech and the vending machines were so old school they didn’t work. Not that impressive for a conference that holds the promise of solving real problems in the world. 

If more women were involved with the business of CES then would this help address the balance? After all the lion’s share of overall consumer purchasing decisions is made by women.  

As my book The Glass Wall points out there’s plenty of statistical proof that businesses do better with more women at senior levels. 

"There were precious few women at the conference, I’d say less than 5% of attendees and I was stared at non-stop", said one of the few women attendees at CES 2017.

Sounds like old school Glass Walls are abundant in this conference that is meant to be future facing.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom.
@sueu