Marketers shame CES for its lack of women keynote speakers

The top of CES’ webpage announcing its 2018 keynote speakers reads: “CES stands for innovators and the promise and power of technology.”

Considering that half of the world’s population is not represented in the list of speakers that follows, it’s impossible for that statement to be true. On Dec. 4, marketers began blasting the tech trade show for not having a single woman represented in its lineup of six keynote speakers. Marketers also noticed that of the six men, five are white.

Brands may be plastering Twitter with hashtags like #CESallwhitemales and #changetheratio, but will they replace talk with action and pull out of the conference? Only HP, which used CES last year to debut new products, has alluded to boycotting the event.

“All men should boycott CES if women are not invited to speak!” wrote Antonio Lucio, global CMO of HP, in a tweet. “Insulting in this day and age. We must do better!”

Other CMOs, like JPMorgan Chase’s Kristin Lemkau, Quantcast’s Steven Wolfe Pereira and Twitter’s Leslie Berland, and PepsiCo’s former CMO Brad Jakeman are among the marketers calling on Gary Shapiro, CEO of Consumer Technology Association, the tech trade association that produces CES, and Karen Chupka, svp of CTA, to add more women and people of color to its lineup in the five weeks before it opens.

Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel; Jim Hackett, president and CEO of Ford Motor Co.; and John Martin, chairman and CEO of Turner are three of the six CES keynote speakers.

The industry has been known to make bold statements but not back them up with action. For instance, when ads began appearing beside extremist content on YouTube in March, brands announced they would boycott YouTube out of concern for brand safety. MediaRadar found that General Motors, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson and Walmart never discontinued their advertising on the platform despite their lofty statements.

Hyatt isn’t attending CES this year, but global CMO Maryam Banikarim said if her team members were, she would consider pulling out. “There is a point at which people have to be willing to make a statement and stand up for what is right,” she said.

The topics of women’s rights and equality are everywhere right now. It was only about a month ago that The New York Times published a report detailing sexual harassment allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, which is still leading to revelations and firings of powerful men across industries. Advertising is not immune. Women in advertising, however, keep silent for multiple reasons.

“Given what’s going on today, how you can not have the consciousness to look at your lineup through that view?” Banikarim said. “It’s really just astounding.”

In a statement, CES pointed out that it is “proud” of its record in “welcoming diverse speakers to the CES keynote stage,” including General Motors CEO Mary Barra, former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.

CES said 10 women declined keynote speaker invitations and that it will release more lineup announcements soon. Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IHG, Campbell’s Soup, KFC, Toys R Us and MGM Resorts are other brands that have women participating in panel talks this year.

Wolfe Pereira doesn’t believe boycotting CES will lead to more inclusion at the event. To be heard, marketers have to be in the room.

“My personal philosophy is to take a page out of ‘Hamilton,’ to be in the room where it happens.” he said. “I believe in being visible. And having a seat at the table.”

Update: On Dec.4, CTA’s Chupka posted a response to the backlash on the CTA website, expressing their understanding of peoples’ frustration, but ultimately blaming its lack of women on the industry at large. The response states that in order to be a keynote speaker at CES, the speaker must head a large company with name recognition in the industry, and that there is “limited pool when it comes to women in these positions.” “We feel your pain. It bothers us, too,” reads the statement. “The tech industry and every industry must do better.”

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