Consumer Electronics Show 2020 (CES) is underway in Las Vegas. The invitation extended to one keynote speaker ignited criticism. Women in the technology sector are upset that Ivanka Trump was invited to participate as a speaker. The other women turned on her because she isn’t known to be a technological whiz.
Frankly, I think it is the standard backlash because of her last name. If she was Chelsea Clinton, for example, I don’t think we’d hear any complaints at all. The problem with this story, though, is that mixed reporting is out about the reception she received by the CES show attendees and the criticism her appearance created.
There is no question that the technology industry is a male-dominated sector. Women in the field have been pushing for more female inclusion as speakers at this annual event. It’s the nation’s largest consumer electronics show and the exposure cannot be overstated. Ivanka Trump is not a tech CEO, though, so the decision to invite her to be in the spotlight was seen as a slight to women who may have a legitimate claim to the publicity. She doesn’t have personal experience in developing software or creating ground-breaking technology but she was able to to speak to work the Trump administration has done and continues to do – thanks in part to her leadership – with tech companies to retrain workers with new skills. Her critics included a video game developer who is running for Congress as a Democrat. Oh. A Democrat criticizing Ivanka because she is a part of her father’s administration. She’s not good enough, you know. Ivanka Trump doesn’t count as increasing a female presence.
The annual CES tech gathering in Las Vegas has long taken criticism over diversity issues. In recent years, CES organizers have invited more women to speak and sought to curb some of the show’s more sexist aspects, such as scantily clad “booth babes” hired to draw attention of the mostly male attendees.
But for critics and activists who have long pushed for broader recognition of the less-heralded women who found startups and take on difficult technical challenges, the inclusion of President Donald Trump’s daughter, who is also a White House adviser, sent the wrong message.
“Ivanka is not a woman in tech,” tweeted Brianna Wu, a video game developer who is running for Congress in Massachusetts as a Democrat. “She’s not a CEO. She has no background. It’s a lazy attempt to emulate diversity, but like all emulation it’s not quite the real thing.”
There was even a hashtag created to protest Ivanka’s invitation to speak – #boycottCES. Keep in mind that Ivanka is a successful businesswoman with her own companies and is now an adviser to the President of the United States (yes, her dad) so she is hardly unaccomplished. She’s been very active in working on initiatives that support working people and their families.
Perhaps the women who spoke out against Ivanka felt entitled to speaking themselves. Whatever happened to the mantra that women must support other women?
Ivanka Trump is “taking this slot at this conference where women have been saying for so long, ‘Hey, we are being overlooked,’” said Rachel Sklar, a tech commentator and founder of a professional network for women. “The whole category of women being overlooked are still being overlooked.”
“Clearly they are not putting much effort into finding women in tech who can speak,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies, who is at CES.
Last year, CES caused an uproar when it revoked an innovation award presented to a female-led sex device company. CES reversed its decision and has allowed sex tech into the show for a one-year trial. Conference organizers also brought in an official “equality partner,” The Female Quotient, to help ensure gender diversity.
“Was there nobody else available? Seriously?” asked Ti Chang, co-founder of the wearable vibrator company Crave. Chang said Trump’s experience running a clothing brand is a bad fit for CES and its focus on innovation and technology.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “I would love to know what their rationale was.”
Those vibrators aren’t going to sell themselves. Who had sex tech on their scorecard? What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Gary Shapiro, president of CES organizer Consumer Technology Association, had a 40-minute conversational-style of an interview with Ivanka. It was a relaxed and informative presentation by Ivanka Trump as far as I could tell from watching the YouTube video. Shapiro mentioned he met Ivanka in Washington as he participated in an event. As a matter of fact, he added a chapter to his book, in the just-released paperback version, due to Ivanka’s questions to him about blue-collar workers who feel left behind in a world of technological advancements.
She said that just as President Trump focused on forgotten men and women during his campaign, she does the same in trying to find solutions to employment needs in today’s jobs market. Innovation is a net job producer. The challenge is focusing on how technological changes (advancements) cause disruptions in the workforce and preparing in advance for those changes. Ivanka stated that government jobs training programs don’t work, generally speaking, but the private sector can team up with community colleges or technical programs to provide successful training. For example, apprenticeships can be offered to allow workers to re-train or learn other skills in the workplace.
She created and chairs the National Council for the American Worker comprised of fourteen federal agencies. It is a vehicle to combine efforts to create a national workforce strategy – a blueprint for job training. One focus is on apprenticeships for industries outside the traditional scope of the trades industry. Companies are committing to creating apprenticeships to train in technological fields, like cybersecurity, or in health care. Shapiro noted that recently Jamie Dimon said of today’s workforce, “It’s not about degrees anymore, it’s about skills.”
Despite the criticism before she even spoke, the audience who actually listened to her responded positively to her. That’s the disconnect with this story. People wanted to hear from her because the room was full. Decisionmakers and consumers alike were there. While the publicity before the convention focused on the discontented women, the real story is the successes coming from Ivanka’s efforts to help the working class. She was able to tout the booming economy and the low unemployment rate in all categories, thanks to the Trump administration’s policies. She wasn’t the only Trump administration member invited – Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Secretary of Energy Dan Bouillette are speakers. Government officials are invited every year.
The advance criticism was petty and unnecessary. It’s impossible to read about it and not acknowledge that it has more to do with Ivanka’s participation in the Trump administration than anything else.