I started attending CES in the 90s when I worked for Prodigy, the “online” service that was once bigger than AOL. At the time, the emerging field of new media was exciting and filled with unlimited possibilities. CES was a Mecca for technophiles and not quite ready for an influx of media and advertising executives who were curious about the brave new world of digital content.
Back then, we used to joke that “booth babes” outnumbered the women executives attending the conference – but the ladies room wasn’t crowded. Let’s not forget, there was also “AdultCon” happening at the same time which made for an unusual mix of tech executives and adult entertainment notables co-mingling.
CES has had to overcome controversy many times - #CESSoMale is not the last time we will hear backlash about an industry event. And in a year of controversy and outrage, my hope is that maybe this is a challenge we can actually do something about. Let’s stop talking and take strong steps to make a change.
Please don’t misunderstand. As a woman who has worked in male-dominant industries for my entire career, I am thrilled to see and hear this level of discussion. In fact, I have never felt more comfortable sharing my personal opinions and stories. There’s now safety in numbers.
But I have to ask… Beyond CES, what can we do to take advantage of this moment?
While Karen Chupka, the SVP of CES states that the organization “shares our pain” and that “there is a limited pool when it comes to women” in senior roles and who are qualified to speak, we have a chance to think about making long-term changes.
In other words, while there are some incredible women such as Linda Yaccarino, Kristin Lemkau and Ann Lewnes succeeding in media, technology, finance and beyond, we need more. We need to fill the talent pipeline with the best and brightest across all industries. It’s not about optics it’s just good business. We cannot afford to limit talent, we need to find, encourage and support the best and brightest thinkers.
My company is taking steps to do this through a pilot program with Udacity where we will fund digital marketing nanodegrees to train a diverse group of young talent and hopefully attract a new wave of creative problem solvers to work in the industry.
Can you imagine if a large group of leading companies took a small step like this? What would our industry look like in five years? Let’s start bringing in the future leaders, so in the long term there will be no lack of a diverse group of senior executives to serve as keynote speakers.
Jamie Gutfreund is the global chief marketing officer for Wunderman