By Gary Shapiro
In my 2011 book, The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream, and in numerous speeches and published commentaries, I declare that America’s special sauce is its diversity, its many voices and backgrounds that allow innovation to flourish when different life experiences are at the table.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of diversity and inclusion. This is an issue I not only care deeply about and proselytize, but it’s also a fundamental value of CES® and its owner and producer, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the trade group I head. Diversity is a core part of who we are. We celebrate — we need — our differences. A wide range of views and experiences makes us stronger and leads to greater creativity and innovation.
Our CES panels seek to reflect demographic diversity. At CES 2017, more than 275 women speakers used our platform to share great ideas. And women leaders from global companies have taken the CES keynote stage 15 times in the last seven years.
The progress we have made over the years to diversify the show is due in large part to the efforts of our CES executive team, which is 100 percent female, headed by our Senior Vice President Karen Chupka. In fact, about two-thirds of CTA’s staff is female, with more than half of our senior staff positions held by women. We’re proud of what we’ve built. And we’re always trying to do things better.
As head of CTA, I have not only written and spoken often about the vital role of diversity in innovation, I have advocated for changes in laws on gay marriage, supported immigration reform and pushed back against gender identity laws to ensure companies can hire the best and brightest regardless of gender identity, nation of origin, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Thus, I was stung by the online backlash expressing outrage that no women were among the CES keynote speakers announced to date. The exclusive focus on keynotes in my view insults the hundreds of women who are speakers at CES in January.
Diversity abounds at CES. The number of women on the keynote stage will fluctuate each year in part based on the business needs of individual companies. I prefer to focus on spotlighting the remarkable women throughout the show who are impacting innovation. We’re proud to have women founders, CEOs, CMOs, chief counsels, government leaders and others speak at CES 2018. You’ll hear their voices, perspectives and industry insights.
Diversity is a key ingredient for innovation. And for CES and CTA, it means teaching, sharing, mentoring and nurturing. It means creating opportunities, platforms and ways of enhancing and exposing diverse thoughts and ideas. It means seeking out those who should be given a hand or a stage. It means recruiting, helping and providing role models. It means providing an efficient way of reaching the buyers, investors, media and influencers who make or break a business. It means sharing best practices and making introductions to industry people and staff who genuinely want you to succeed. It means providing tools which increase your chances of success.
That is what we try to do at CTA and CES. That is why hundreds of men and women volunteer to guide us on our boards, councils and committees. They share our belief that innovation will solve many basic problems and will raise us all up. Scores of volunteer mentors offer startups advice. And small businesses and startups get special attention and benefits.
For us as staff, nothing is more gratifying than helping our diverse group of members and customers succeed. At CES 2017, we met Robbie Cabral, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, with an innovative security solution. After the show, he got involved with the work we do at CTA. And this fall, we watched proudly as he won funding on Shark Tank. Three years ago, Dr. Bettina Experton, president and CEO of mobile medical app company Humetrix, exhibited as a startup at our CES Unveiled event in Paris. Her life-saving technology impressed us all. And in 2018, she will become a member of our Board of Industry Leaders. As an organization, our goal is to promote a brighter, tech-focused future.
And our desire to change the world and promote diversity is far-reaching. This year, we led the battle to ensure Americans with hearing impairments can buy less expensive hearing assistance devices from drug stores, the same way we can buy eyeglasses from drug stores. Our CTA Foundation is focused on helping people with disabilities and older adults use technologies to improve their lives.
Diversity will make us better. We need greater diversity in tech and we know that. We need more girls learning how to code, more minorities and women choosing to study STEM fields and more diversity-driven hiring initiatives, as Intel announced on the CES stage.
I am proud of our record. I know we can do better. Innovation is too important to not seek and tap — it’s what helps the U.S. economy grow and thrive.
Big announcements are still to come for CES 2018. And I hope to see you January 9 through 12 in Las Vegas.