Want More Female Speakers at CES? Get Rid of Booth Babes

(Full disclosure: I don’t attend CES).

My Twitter feed is rife with discussion about this year’s slate of keynote speakers at CES: six captains of industry and not one of them a woman (and only one of them not white). Even mainstream news outlets are talking about this. I mean, there was an article in USA Today. Can you get any more mainstream than the paper of choice for mid-range hotel chains that like to leave things on their guests’ doorsteps?

The AV industry as a whole does not come across well when the only folks we can send out to talk in high-profile situations are a bunch of older, white men. We want the young women (and young people of color) in our industry to say: “Hey, that could be me someday!” It’s kind of hard to do that when everyone up on the stage looks nothing like you.

And here’s where we get into a chicken and egg problem. Our industry is notoriously lopsided when it comes to demographics. It’s hard to find female heavy hitters if you haven’t built up your bench. But we need to lift up new voices and new ideas. Not just for the young technician who is trying to decide if she should stick it out with us. But because technology is growing and changing faster than you can say “game-changing, disruptive unicorn,” and it’s going to take those new ways of thinking to make our industry succeed. We need to grow our bench.

So, here’s a novel idea: Let’s pick off the low hanging fruit. Get rid of booth babes. Write a damn code of conduct. Stop using the Victoria’s Secret fashion show to demonstrate your fancy new display.

Opening up our industry is going to take a lot of hard work. But there’s no need to hamstring ourselves out of the gate. There are a lot of people doing some amazing work (e.g., the various women’s councils). We need to listen to them. We need to support them. We need to not make their jobs any harder than they already are.

One of my primary goals with my podcast (The Floating Point) is to speak with people who you wouldn’t normally hear from. I’ve done my damndest to find women to interview. One of the things I’ve discovered, though, is that many of the super-smart, amazing women out there have a wee touch of imposter’s syndrome. They don’t think that their voices are important. They don’t think anyone wants to hear what they have to say.

It’s pretty easy to get yourself a “manel.” It’s a lot of work to find those different voices. I applaud everyone who reaches outside their immediate circle and invites diverse voices up to the microphone.

So, no, getting rid of booth babes won’t magically solve all our problems. But it will encourage more women to stick around. And then we can all work together. The AV industry will be stronger for it.

Image via Thomas Hawk