CES 2019 Keynotes and Panels Featured More Women Than Ever

By: Christine Persaud

January 30, 2019

Last year, CES, the largest North American trade show for consumer tech, which takes place in Las Vegas every January, was criticized for not having any female keynote speakers. Karen Chupka, Executive Vice President of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which produces the show, addressed the issue of a lack of women, as well as diversity, in the headlining speaker line-up. She claimed there “is a limited pool when it comes to women in these positions.” Keynote speakers must be a head (i.e. president or CEO-level) of a large entity with a recognized name in the industry. And she reminded attendees that CES has featured 15 keynotes by women over the last seven years. It’s also worth noting that the entire CES executive team is run by women.

Nonetheless, this year, the CTA tackled the issue head on and in a big way, and found some stellar women to keynote the show. Several panel discussions also included a larger percentage of women, and even focused on the discussion of issues relating to women in tech specifically, or how women view major growth areas in tech.

(L-r) Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President, and CEO, IBM; Karen Chupka, Executive Vice President, Consumer Technology Association (CTA); and Dr. Lisa Su, President and CEO, AMD.

Chupka herself joined Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of CTA, on stage for the opening State of the Industry Address. They were followed by an opening keynote from Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President, and CEO of IBM, who discussed how technology can improve how businesses operate, and people both work and live. AMD’s keynote, meanwhile, was given by Dr. Lisa Su, President and CEO, who discussed different applications for new computing technologies that would impact everything from gaming to entertainment and visualization technologies.

In total, a reported 57% of the keynoters and featured speakers this year were women, and 40% of those were women of colour. GenderAvenger, one of the most outspoken groups about the lack of female presence at the show last year, gave CTA a big thumbs up for the roster in 2019.

“The complete speaker list numbers are not as strong with only 33% women,” noted the organization, “but they are still better than last year, and they’re certainly good enough to make sure there are no ‘manels’ in 2019.

In addition to the keynote speakers, several panel discussions also featured women heavily. Two of the five participants in a panel discussing The New Mobility Revolution were females: Alexandria Sage, Automotive Technology Correspondent for Reuters and Deborah A.P. Hersman, President and CEO of the National Safety Council. A discussion on New Frontiers in Mobile took place with seven panelists, three of whom were women (Jill Cress, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, National Geographic Partners; Alicia Hatch, Digital CMO, Deloitte; and Ann Lewnes, Executive Vice President and CMO, Adobe).

ELLE hosted a panel during the show that exclusively featured women. Led by Jenna Blaha, Fashion and Technology Editor at the magazine, it also included Karen Kahn, Chief Communications Officer at HP; Claudine Cazian, Head of Entertainment Partnerships at Instagram; and Wendy Nguyen of Wendy’s Lookbook. The women gathered to discuss technology’s impact on storytelling, looking at it from the female perspective.

In another Women in Tech panel hosted by Lenovo, several influential women in the industry got together to discuss gender and technology. Moderated by Yolanda Lee Conyers, Chief Diversity Officer of Lenovo and President of Lenovo Foundation, it featured Rachel Mushahwar, General Manager and Head, American Industries, Government, Enterprise, and Cloud at Intel; Roanne Sones, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft; Linda Rendleman, Senior Vice President, Endpoint Solutions, Americas at Tech Data; and Nicki Palmer, Chief Network Engineering Officer at Verizon Wireless.

Counting the SuperSessions that took place during CES 2019, which feature senior executives sharing their experiences and predictions about emerging trends, 14 people were involved in three sessions, and four of them were women, or about 28%.

All throughout the show, there were many women participating in various panels, delivering products demos and brand addresses, and showcasing innovations in booths, from both established companies and startups, alike.

Chupka urged the tech community in her blog response to the backlash last year to write about, support, promote, and build up the many smart and talented women in the tech sector in order to truly make a difference.

It’s worth noting that the issue isn’t just isolated to CES, though it is the largest trade show in consumer tech. Mobile World Congress, which takes place next month in Barcelona, Spain, (and is not affiliated with CES in any way) has 31 keynote speakers on its roster for this year. Eleven of them are women, or about 35%. It seems we’re on the right path, but still have a ways to go.


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