I watched this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) from the comfort of my home office this year, which -- in my opinion -- is the best way to take in the flurry of press conferences, launches and news. I was anxious to hear about all the innovation, of course, but I was also curious what the show -- the way the tech industry kicks off the new year -- would look like for women in tech.
In years' past, it was a sea of male attendees, a lot of misogynistic marketing and the omnipresent "booth babes" at every stand. This year, it seemed that Vegas stayed true to its usual colors with nary a women’s restroom line (do booth babes ever have to pee?), but also some notable steps in the right direction. Here's some of the good, the bad and the ugly reports from CES from around the web. (See A Photo Tour of CES 2017.)
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It's not so much the amount of men that are always Vegas-bound in January, but rather the perception of this as normal and logical that keeps our industry stuck in its male-dominated ways. A tweet from an overhead conversation on the plane, first reported by Mashable, captures it well:
At my flight from YVR to Vegas. Attendant: Why r so many men & so few women on this flight? A man explains: It's for #CES, the TECH show.😠
The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which puts on CES, has yet to release its attendance numbers, and it has not broken down the gender split of attendees in the past. Our guess is that's because it's still so heavily skewed towards men.
In what is a positive move by the CTA, for the first time it made two Mamava lactation pods available to working moms to pump in private at the conference. Each "Mother's Suite" included a deadbolt for privacy, power outlet, fold-down table and two benches. It's not exactly the height of comfort, but certainly better than holing up in a bathroom stall. CTA says it will donate the pods to the Las Vegas Convention Center and Sands/Venetian after CES to remain on-premise for future shows.
And, at these future shows, the process of pumping -- my least favorite way to spend a lunch break -- may be improved so much you don't even have to pop in a pod. CES always tends to have a lot of innovations centered on parents and babies, and one that caught my attention this year was a new breast pump from startup Willow that fits directly into a bra and is controlled wirelessly, hands-free and discretely. It is also apparently quiet enough to use on a conference call. Ask any working, pumping mom why this could be a game changer. Check out the following hands-on video from Engadget at the show:
So back to the issue of booth babes: It's a tradition as outdated as it is unnecessary. I've overhead many sexist comments about the women employed to wear scantily clad apparel and attract onlookers, many of whom won't say hello but will creepily take a picture from a distance, to booths selling products completely unrelated to the women's attire, or lack thereof. And, it's a mainstay in Vegas, and particularly at CES, that doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon -- at least not entirely.
PCMag reports that D-list celebrities like Tae-Bo creator Billy Blanks seem to have taken the place of the babes in a lot of instances, but a quick search of "CES booth babes" reveals plenty of slideshows promising to chronicle the hottest of the bunch from 2017. Getting more women in the industry and, thus, attending CES, may take more time, but can we as an industry at least agree to stop employing booth babes?
I think the Daily Beast Senior Editor Erica Gloria Ryan explained CES well in her fiery takedown of Vegas and the entire show: "...most of the people present at CES, and thus cumulative character of the event and its periphery, never seem to have thought about women, in the same way a person might accidentally serve red meat at a dinner party without checking in to see if anybody is a vegetarian."
These are just a few of the observations of someone from the sidelines, though I've been to five of the last ten years of CES. Did you attend this year's confab in Sin City? What were some of your impressions? CES doesn't have to set the tone for a full year of women in tech, and we're confident it's going to be a great one as we continue to chip away at the boy's club that our industry has long had in place.
Re: Wireless breast pump? $400 really isn't expensive for a breast pump. That is what most cost, however, insurance now covers them in a lot of cases. I would pay a premium for this one if insurance weren't paying, but I hope they work out a deal with providers to get it covered.
Re: Wireless breast pump? @Mitch ha! I was just thinking the same thing. It's a cool idea in theory but can the average new mom afford (or simply want to pay for) a $400 breast pump and would insurance even cover that?
@Sarah Agreed on the suggestion that booth babes need to go. Subbing them out for D-list celebrities could be a step in the right direction...
CES innovation Mari's slideshow was a great look at a lot of the innovations from the show this year, including vom-inducing virtual reality. I'd love to hear what else caught your all's attention. What were the coolest, most innovative products or the weirdest, most random, etc?
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