The annual tech mecca known as CES (Consumer Electronics Show) returns to Las Vegas Jan. 7 to Jan. 10, and while this year, diversity and inclusion seem to have finally made it onto the radar of the conference’s events in a more defined manner, there are still massive voids.
This is indicative of an industry which struggles to create true parity, from founder support right up to corporate board member inclusion.
CES is produced by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) boasting member companies including some of the top technology corporations.
As CES 2020 kicks off, watch for the diversity-in-tech conversation to heat up as major players are held accountable to move past the standard mantra of “this is a priority for us.” That mantra results in a few gestures that inch down the finish line to real, plentiful and meaningful metrics.
CES could so easily have taken the lead and set the tone for innovation in approaches to diversity in tech but missed several opportunities this time around.
Here’s how the most powerful U.S. association in tech could create real change.
1) Keynote hide-and-seek: While the 2020 featured speaker list is quite diverse, there is not one keynote speaker this year (nor in 2018) who is Black. Not one. There is a Black moderator and panelists within a talk, but not a full-on, take-over-the-stage keynote speaker.
Anyone who has been to CES knows that the keynote spots are the big splashy “gets” with big audiences and even bigger media coverage in state-of-the-art facilities that only Vegas venues can offer. Marks are made here and personal brands as well as corporate messaging are driven. While the organization is pressured to secure names that draw audiences, that has somehow contributed to consistent voids. This doesn’t have to be the case.
While the lack of CEOs of color persists, no matter which industry, CES could take a more creative approach and think outside the box to work with more celebrity notables in parallel industries who have a tech passion and who are younger, edgier and create a bigger, more inclusive buzz. Advertising conferences of late are great at this, bringing in younger, cooler voices. No need to be so buttoned-up. Borrow a page or two from this industry and re-invent for a new decade.
2. Missing Metrics: When approached about the number of companies, startups or otherwise, run by founders of color who are exhibiting, CES seems to pause. In 2020, there seems to be no mechanism in place for actual analytics in an industry and conference that lives and dies for data.
How to combat? Provide incentives for founders to provide ethnic background information on any and all forms and explain why such data is so important. If we can’t track it, how can we know whether numbers are up or down or if there are successful repeat exhibitors or not? And if we don’t know this, how can we do better?
Continue to leave this area wide open and the missing metrics encourage fringe potential to take over and create new must-attend events. Potential competing revenue streams will allude to the conference and shift interest elsewhere. We’re beginning to see this happen more and more at big-ticket conferences such as Cannes Lions Festival.
A more robust strategy for outreach and inclusion seems ideal for now, particularly when compared to the support we will see from other countries demonstrating an impressive number of startups present that are given perks and support. And they will all be counted and tracked. We simply need to see greater numbers here on the U.S. side which are documented. An exciting campaign and historical data readily available and tracked over time can be so very helpful. The current work with such companies as Harlem Capital is a solid, albeit quite late, beginning on the venture side. However, a turbo-boost by partnering with the right third parties for consulting, media relations and more is a must if the organization is serious about expanding actual presence with boots on the ground.
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3. Including the inclusion: The diversity and inclusion track CES finally added this year in a robust manner is intriguing, though, this is where nearly all the speakers of color are tucked in during the conference. Too busy to hit these particular panels? Then one’s blind spots and more may continue to be missed, as well as seeing most faces of color on stage. It’s great when we can see people of color speak about just general expertise rather than primarily being relegated to speaking about color. Other ethnic backgrounds seem to have that freedom for which we are still struggling.
For example, there seems to be no inclusion within what is called the Super Sessions, which feature hot topics like 5G. Black people do not only know about diversity and inclusion. We know an awful lot about all sides of tech, especially behavior and forecast.
All data demonstrates this as we continue to out-index as early adopters, most frequent social media users and so much more over the years, continuing to drive the revenue of many companies while not yet fully sharing in the legacy wealth we are creating.
Efforts to be the inclusiveness one wants to see are always welcome action. Partnering with outside consulting firms of color after the conference to do a post-mortem would be an ideal action to evaluate and ensure maximum impact endures.
To be sure, on U.S. soil, CES continues to be a standout when it comes to a mass gathering of the technorati. But demographics continue to shift and attitudes to change in our country. In order to remain in a power position, CES strategy, approach and direction will need to become more contemporary and organic if the organization wants to stay relevant with new audiences and count on their investment of time and money in years to come. Here’s hoping for 2021.