After years of women pounding on the doors of the tech culture bro-hood, the biggest electronics trade show in North America is featuring keynote speaker Ivanka Trump — who has no tech credentials and whose claim to fame was handed to her by her father.
Women erupted on Twitter when Trump was named a keynote speaker of the Consumer Electronics Show 2020, which kicks off Tuesday in Las Vegas.
The backlash was so severe that Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which produces CES, defended the move in an interview Sunday with the BBC. He said Trump’s talk, “The Path to the Future of Work,” will explore “how industry is working with government” on employment. He refused to say if the White House pushed him to choose Ivanka Trump for the event, which is expected to draw about 170,000 people.
After Shapiro’s explanation, women were still furious that a female tech executive was not chosen.
“If they can have a female 007, they can have equally badass female keynote speakers in the tech sector,” wrote Cindy Chin, CEO of consulting firm CLC Advisors and founder of Women on the Block, which promotes the empowerment and inclusion of women in technology. “It would be better if the background of the keynote speaker actually fit the industry it is serving, and inspirational rather than talking heads and political.”
After last month’s announcement about Trump, Rachel Sklar, a media commentator and co-founder of the women’s professional network TheLi.st, called it “a terrible choice.”
Sklar is still fuming, even after Shapiro’s attempt to mend fences. She’s particularly upset that CES appears to be presenting Trump’s high-profile appearance as the end of the expo’s extreme gender imbalance.
“They seem to have taken the complaints about a wildly disproportionate gender representation in CES keynotes and saying, “Look! She’s a woman!” and assuming that’s that,” Sklar told HuffPost on Monday. “It’s not about ‘Look! We have a lady in our lineup now. We’re done!’ — it’s about fair representation that reflects the larger tech and innovation community. The organization very clearly operates with a default assumption that their attendees and participants are and should be men.”
Carolina Milanesi, principal analyst at the consulting company Creative Strategies, dismissed Shapiro’s explanation. Would Trump “have been appointed based on her background and experience? Nepotism was not a part of the decision? I doubt it,” Milanesi told HuffPost.
Milanesi wrote in a Forbes column last month that she recognized that CES needs to foster its relationship with Washington. “And given the pressure of having more women on stage, why not pick a woman and kill two birds with one stone?” she asked cynically.
But the “token woman” CES chose is unqualified, Milanesi complained. “There are many more women who are in tech and are entrepreneurs who could run circles around Trump on how technology will impact the future of work,” she wrote.
Shapiro said Trump is qualified to speak because she is co-chair of two governmental advisory boards on workforce issues. But she was appointed to those role by her father, President Donald Trump, and had no political experience before that.
CES has long responded to complaints that more women haven’t been represented on stage at the expo because they haven’t held the elevated tech jobs required. There is a “limited pool when it comes to women in these positions,” CTA Senior Vice President Karen Chupka said last year. “We feel your pain. It bothers us, too.”
That went right out the window with Ivanka Trump.
“The invitation of Ivanka Trump exposes how that rationale” against women “was always based on an utterly false premise. CES could invite whomever they wanted and justify it. And they chose not to,” Elisa Camahort Page, CEO of Cygnus, told HuffPost.
There was some chatter on Twitter about organizing a boycott of CES over the Trump selection. As for any protest during Trump’s talk, Milanesi thinks that’s unlikely. “The audience will be mostly male,” she said.