No Excuses: what brands can learn from the CES backlash
A view from Fura Johannesdottir

No Excuses: what brands can learn from the CES backlash

The backlash to the lack of women at CES reflects the fact that equality is a business imperative.

When CES announced the line-up of its 2018 showcase, currently taking place in Las Vegas, the noise surrounding the show quickly changed from anticipation of the new technologies we’ll see unveiled there, to one of swift and decisive condemnation.

This, of course, was due to the absence of any women in the line-up of six keynote speakers. In response to this backlash, the organisers defended themselves, pointing to the lack of women in tech as the reason behind their inability to find a qualified woman available for a keynote talk.

The reality is that for CES this is a missed opportunity. Although there are women we all suspect CES could or should have approached, it’s also true to say that there is a serious lack of women at the top in tech. But this raises the question: why wouldn’t CES be the place that re-writes the rules? A place where new voices get heard? Crucially, a place that sets the standards for the future? After all, CES is where the tech elite go to tell us what the future will look like. Can it really be that the future is, still, male?

I’m not just being idealistic to suggest that women should be much bigger part of the tech industry as we move forward. The Consumer Electronics Association itself tells us that women spend more money on technology products than men do – and companies need to represent the consumer base within their C-suite. In the case of most consumer electronics firms, that would mean more than 50% women on the board. And it goes far beyond gender – diversity at the top should be reflective of the consumer base in terms of ethnicity, social background and age, to give just a few examples.

Poor representation is poor business strategy 

Consumers will vote with their feet for the companies that represent them and their interests in the best way – it is poor business strategy to ask the same types of people the same questions and expect buyers to blindly follow, when their needs and interests may be little accounted for. As tech start-ups spring up left, right and centre, those that place diversity at the centre of their ethics will reap the rewards as their products speak to the reality of the market.

At the moment, we talk in circles, crying again and again that we don’t have enough women in tech. Although many business heavyweights express regret for this situation, they sometimes talk hot air to protect their reputations; taking little action to make changes. But if they are not showcasing some of the amazing women in tech, then how are they going to inspire young women to see a future in the tech industry?

CES is exciting: it’s innovative and it gives us a view of the very technologies that will disrupt our sectors and others over the coming months and years. It shows us how exhilarating it is to be a part of defining the future. Because that’s really what technology is about – it’s setting the stage for the future, and CES presents the perfect opportunity to show young girls and women that they can be a part of that future.

In 2018, the tech industry needs to view the people it elevates as the people it selects to represent its future. Conferences need to change the criteria for keynote speakers if current requirements seem to produce only white males. Tech companies need to work to change their corporate culture to be one that women feel comfortable in, and instigate policies that prevent currently powerful execs from hiring in their own image. CES can play a major role in not only celebrating the future of tech – but celebrating the future of humanity. Next year, it must ensure that it takes that responsibility seriously.

Fura Johannesdottir is executive creative director, VP at SapientRazorfish