CES says all-male keynote speaker lineup is result of ‘limited pool’ of female CEOs

Marketers speaking on a panel at CES 2017

Over the past few days, CES has been heavily criticized by marketers for announcing a keynote speaker lineup that’s almost exclusively white and male.

Cindy Gallop, former president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group Brad Jakeman, HP chief marketing officer Antonio Lucio and JPMorgan Chase chief marketing officer Kristin Lemkau have all called out the annual tech conference on Twitter in recent days for failing to include any women in the keynote lineup.

The Consumer Technology Association, the organization that puts on CES each year in Las Vegas, initially responded to criticism via a tweet from the association’s senior vice president of CES Karen Chupka. In the tweet, Chupa said that CES has “a long tradition of diverse keynoters highlighting the latest in technology.” The tweet included an image of past female CES keynote speakers, including General Motors chief executive Mary Barra and IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty.

In response to mounting criticism, the organization has put out a formal statement from Chupka to address concerns. In the statement, Chupka blames the lack of keynote diversity on the fact that a small number of women hold chief executive roles at well-known companies.

“To keynote at CES, the speaker must head (president/CEO level) a large entity who has name recognition in the industry,” she said. “As upsetting as it is, there is a limited pool when it comes to women in these positions. We feel your pain. It bothers us, too. The tech industry and every industry must do better.”

The statement did not directly state whether or not women or more people of color will be added to the keynote lineup, but Chupka did say that the Consumer Technology Association is “still securing speakers at all levels for CES 2018.”

Chupka also used the opportunity to plug the fact that CES has had 21 female keynote speakers in the past 11 years. According to Chupka, CES is expecting to host roughly 275 female speakers at the conference in January in addition to 42 female founders in its ‘startup area.’

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