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After outcry, CES sponsor says more women will be heard at confab

The Consumer Technology Association says it wants to "expand women's voices" at the major trade show. The group had been chastised on social media.

Workers inside the Las Vegas Convention Center get set for CES 2018.

Workers inside the Las Vegas Convention Center get set for CES 2018. The confab's sponsor has taken some heat over a lack of women keynote presenters.

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The organizer of CES, one of tech's biggest trade shows, says it's ramping up its attempts to give women a voice at the conference, after being criticized for the lack of female keynote speakers at this year's show.

In a letter Friday to the founder of a nonprofit focused on gender diversity, the Consumer Technology Association said it was committed to changing the status quo and would "redouble ...efforts to expand women's voices throughout the conference and as featured speakers" at next year's CES. It also said two women will be among the panelists for one of the featured discussions at this year's event.

"Diversity matters," the letter says, "because to shape the future we need to engage people of different backgrounds filled with creative influences. Diversity is key to innovation."

The letter comes after critics, including Gina Glantz, founder of the nonprofit Gender Avenger, began attacking the CTA late last year over the all-male keynote lineup announced for CES 2018, which kicks off next week in Las Vegas.

In November, Gender Avenger posted an "action alert" about the sexually skewed lineup. That was followed by tweets from various executives, including Brad Jakeman, former president of the Global Beverage Group at PepsiCo; Leslie Berland, chief marketing officer at Twitter; Kristin Lemkau, CMO at JPMorgan Chase; and Antonio Lucio, Global CMO at HP. The hashtag #CESSoMale also began focusing attention on the situation.

"You have prompted a meaningful dialogue about the issue of gender visibility at CES 2018," the CTA says in its letter to Glantz.

The response also follows a year that saw an unprecedented focus on diversity and sexism. In society at large, the #MeToo movement caught fire, raising questions about gender and power. And in Silicon Valley, where companies are largely dominated by men, the so-called brogramming culture was highlighted by harassment scandals at Uber and in the venture capital community.

In August, an outcry arose after the spread of a memo by a Google employee that said low numbers of women in tech aren't the result of rampant sexism but biology. Google fired the author of the memo, and in October there were noticeably more women on stage at one of the company's big product launches.

In a December blog post, the CTA said the keynote situation at CES 2018 resulted from the reality of the tech industry.

"To keynote at CES," the blog said, "the speaker must head (president/CEO level) a large entity who has name recognition in the industry. 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."

Glantz said at the time, however, that it was up to the CTA to adjust its requirements to give women and others more visibility.

"They set the criteria," Glantz told AdAge, "and if its result is all white men, then they need to rethink their criteria to ensure they have innovative, smart, different ... perspectives on their stage, of women and of people of color."

As of this writing, the keynote speakers for CES 2018 are Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, Huawei Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu and Ford Motor Company CEO Jim Hackett. In addition, there are three featured panel discussions.

One, which considers the future of TV, is made up of two male panelists and a male moderator. Another, which looks at cutting-edge mobile tech, features three male panelists and a female moderator. The third, about video, features six male panelists, a female moderator, and two female panelists, A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc, whom the CTA mentions in the Friday letter, and 605 CEO Kristan Dolan, who's mentioned in the letter as a potential participant and who on Saturday afternoon showed up on the page for the event.

In an emailed statement, the CTA pointed to its past record regarding featured presenters.

"We're proud of our record in welcoming a diversity of speakers to the CES keynote stage, including General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, JP Morgan Chase CMO Kristen Lemkau and Johnson and Johnson Global CMO Alison Lewis, just to name a few," said Karen Chupka, the CTA's senior vice president, CES and corporate business strategy.

Glantz said in a tweet that the CTA's Friday letter was encouraging but that in regard to next year's show, action would speak louder than words.

It's "a start," Glantz wrote. "Looking forward to 'meaningful dialog' translating into action in 2019."

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