9 Lessons for Elevating Women's Voices at CES and Beyond

Last month, CES was rightfully called out for not having any women giving keynotes for the second year running, and their reaction was disappointing.


Right after the #CESsoMale buzz started, StoryUp XR CEO Sarah Hill called attention in the Women in VR/AR Facebook Group to the numerous all-male VR/AR panels at CES. After seeing Sarah’s post, I reached out to many organizers/panelists/moderators about the all-male VR/AR panels, and as a result of everyone's efforts, the original 6 all-male VR/AR panels were halved with amazing women added to 3 of them. Thanks to all the voices who contributed to making this change!

Why do I see this as important?

We can’t be what we can’t see. Inclusion brings better market, financial, and product outcomes. Amplifying women's voices and enabling women coming up in their careers to see other women as powerful leaders in this new and growing VR/AR field is important to attract more women into the field and have our voices incorporated into building the bright new future together.

9 lessons I Learned Along the Way About Elevating Women's Voices:

  1. Assume best intent. All of the men I reached out to support gender equity, and nearly ALL of them asked what they could do or for suggestions to help improve the imbalance. None of them proactively wanted to appear on an all-male panel, but this topic may not be as top-of-mind as it is for women.

  2. Take a proactive approach. The quickest way to get a result is to contact the organizer, moderator, or someone you know on the panel or their Marketing/PR team with a friendly message that both acknowledges the existing panelists’ accomplishments and notes that the panel lacks gender diversity. See if they would add women speakers to the event.

  3. Send panelists or organizers lists of great women to join the panels. I sent the CES VR/AR panel organizers the amazing 700+ list from the Women in VR/AR group, the VU Dream list of 101+ women, and an additional list of 20 women I recommended. Why? Based on the topic and other speakers, I can guess what the organizer wants to achieve and who would make the most sense (ie. are they looking for creatives, engineers, VR, AR, big brands, startups, media, tech, big titles, up-and-comers, etc.). A shorter list will be more effective when people are busy and attention spans are limited.

  4. If you are a woman invited to a panel but can't make it, have your own list of 5-20 women you'd recommend in your place. As Black Girls Code Founder and CEO Kimberly Bryant said, “Take your seat at the table and pull up a chair and invite another sister.”

  5. Treat and talk to men you know as allies. Request they state their preference for gender inclusion when invited onto panels.

  6. Often it is the PR teams booking the events. If the organizers are reticent to add qualified women to panels, talk to the other panelists directly. Few panelists and their companies want to be involved in negative conversations or press around gender bias.

  7. Proactively organize events. Field of Views CEO Suzanne Lagerweij organized a great CES Women in VR panel broadcast with 6 women including Laura MingailSarah HillRutha AronsonAlina Mikhaleva and me. It is important to underscore that while these events are great and inspiring, "Women in X" events are NOT a substitution for the main event.

  8. Organizers, book more than one woman on the panel from the beginning. I hear about too many organizers scrambling because the “one woman” they had scheduled had to cancel due to other commitments.

  9. Support efforts like the The WXR Fund, who had their first pitch showcase for female founders in XR in January!

And if all else fails and someone ends up on an all-male panel, here are some suggested actions they can take.

What to Start Doing and What to Stop Doing

I was asked “How do we empower more women in tech?” during the CES' "ROI of Digital Reality" panel hosted by Deloitte I participated in. Here is my answer:

What to Start:

  • Hiring more women: Recommend posting jobs in places like Women in Tech, Women in VR/AR groups, reaching out to affinity groups.

  • Paying us equally

  • Sponsoring women: The #1 reason women leave tech jobs is because we don’t see opportunities for growth. This doesn’t just mean mentoring, but also means being our champion by identifying us for bigger future jobs, giving feedback, and helping us get the skills we need to succeed along the way.

  • Elevating women: Oprah at the Golden Globes said it best, but we can’t be what we can’t see. An invitation to speak on stage essentially means that the organizer thinks that executive’s opinion matters. Show that women’s voices matter. Highlight women’s voices on stage and inspire women coming up.

  • Financing female founders: The WXR Fund is a great example.

What to Stop:

  • Discrimination

  • Harassment

  • Assault and Violence

  • Giving attention to stories that don’t positively move this conversation forward. I won’t even write more about this because that would give it attention. ;)

Tech is about disruption and innovation, not doing things the same way year after year. Let's apply this mindset here.

(This is a condensed version of an original post on LinkedIn.)

Joanna Popper

Joanna Popper is a media and marketing executive at the intersection of Silicon Valley & Hollywood. VR/AR. Passion for telling creative stories in innovative ways. Advisor, Speaker, Producer.