‘Sex Sells’: Women at CES Discuss Sexism at Tech Shows

A view of the North Hall in the Las Vegas Convention Center. (Trevor Ballantyne/BU News Service)

By Amy Pollard
BU News Service

LAS VEGAS – Cars, robots and gadgets aren’t the only attractions on the CES show floor. Women in heels, skin-tight dresses and heavy makeup also fill the aisles of the world’s biggest tech show. It’s a marketing move for companies. But for some women at CES, it points to a larger problem — sexism in the tech industry.

The tech industry has a reputation for being a boy’s club – from “brogrammer” culture to pay discrimination, to sexual misconduct allegations. Only 17 percent of startups had at least one female founder last year. And just 8 percent of the partners at the top 100 venture capital firms are women, according to Crunchbase data.

That problem extends to tech shows like CES, too. This year, the Consumer Technology Association, which runs CES, faced backlash over the lack of women in its speaker lineup — only two of the 15 keynote speakers are women. And women make up just 27 percent of the show’s roughly 900 speakers.

That dearth prompted the hashtag #CESSoMale and a letter from the CTA promising to redouble “efforts to expand women’s voices throughout the conference.”

BU News Service reporter Amy Pollard caught up with some of the women working the show. Here’s what they had to say:

The companies and tech shows change for Olivia Woolbright, this year representing Alibaba — but sexism remains a constant on the show floor.

Julia Jahanpour hates wearing heels. But “sex sells” on the show floor, according to the brand ambassador, who represented Samsung this year.

Some women were encouraged by the diversity they saw at CES. Allishia Knotts, also a brand ambassador for Samsung, wasn’t expecting that.

So what’s the takeaway? It’s tough to work in the tech industry as a woman, whether it’s a temporary gig or a lifelong career. Lori Hartman, who works in automotive IT, has this advice for women in the tech space:

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