CES and women: It's about contribution

The conference was a very different place in one important way: I wasn't outnumbered on the showroom floor like I have been in the past, says a managing partner at Collins.

Other than connected homes, robots and cars, the hottest topic at CES this year was women. More specifically the absence of them.

As a senior woman (in age and, I’d like to think, experience) I’ve attended CES many times. This year was in many ways much the same as years prior. But in light of the current conversations swirling around #MeToo and all that signifies, CES was a very different place in one important way: I wasn't outnumbered on the showroom floor like I have been in the past. 

The women’s bathroom had lines. The curated talks and tours smelled as much of perfume as they did of cologne. There were noticeably more women this year attending CES. And I was proud to see women like the brilliant Kristin Dolan, chief executive of 605, speaking on panels about their visions for the future. 

Better? Absolutely. Perfect? No. 

Yes, there were still scantily-clad booth babes. Yes, the bars and parties had their share of wing-women helping their "single" male colleagues out. Yes, there was a disturbing absence of female thought leaders as keynote speakers.

Too much coverage of CES’s relationship with women has focused on the negatives. But I want to acknowledge the positives, too. I do not want to be a part of growing the divide between our sexes even wider. Don’t get me wrong. There remains huge room for improvement. But the conversation can’t just be about women and men. It needs to be broader and more inclusive, too. This year about 35 percent of attendees were international—pretty good, but we can do better. Not sure about the average attendee age, but CES could do much better at attracting younger folks, too. 

Hiring shouldn’t be for "cultural fit, " but for cultural contribution. 

That means hiring someone based on what they can bring to our team that no one else can, rather than hiring based on how well they conform to a specific personality we might like best. Sometimes it creates friction. But it always creates and incubates amazingly diverse conversations and richer, more inspiring outcomes. Change comes from working through our differences, and it’s those cultural collisions that create better ideas and better work. 

It’s those cultural collisions that I began to see sparking more often this year at CES while walking the convention center halls with my ladies. And men. 

Claire Morris is Managing Partner at COLLINS, a brand experience design company with offices in New York City and San Francisco.

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