CES 2012 Las Vegas is a (white and Asian) male-dominated consumer electronics industry environment. So much so that an organization like “Women In CE” – which serves as a networking and mentorship platform for women in the business, was needed some time ago. As a member of the San Francisco Chapter of Women In Sports And Events (WISE), I jumped at the chance to attend The 3rd Annual Women In CE Legacy Awards Reception, and didn’t mind at all paying to do so, even though, well, read on…
What happened to me after I arrived made me wish I’d not have attended. But, even as the founder of Women In CE acted as if she was upset I even took the time to ask for an interview, getting the word out about the organization was paramount in my mind. So, even though I’m going to blog some negative views based on how I was treated, that’s not to say that Women In CE is not a worthy non-profit to get involved with. It is, but its founder needs to take lessons in “how to win friends an influence people” from my dear friend Beth Schnitzer, the President of WISE SF.
Beth is an expert at making everyone, regardless of sex or color, feel welcome at Women In Sports And Events functions, and doesn’t get close to the level of recognition she deserves. Women In CE Founder Carol Campbell needs to meet Beth and let Ms. Schnitzer be her mentor. But I’ll get back to Beth later; Women In CE gave awards to some very deserving women in the consumer electronics industry: Kristen Cook, executive vice president and managing director of BDSmktg; Denise Gibson, former U.S. president of BrightStar; Jeanette Howe, executive director of Specialty Electronics Nationwide; Maureen C. Jenson, Editor in Chief, CustomRetailer, TELL, and CEDIA Electronic Lifestyles; Tricia Nystrom, senior merchant for Best Buy. And the Women In CE members gave Carol Campbell the “Inspiration Award.”
And, according to the blog site, and remarks at the event, these award winners have great stories to tell. For example Maureen Jenson is said to be a “trail blazer for women in a male-dominated industry.” Kristen Cook, who’s in the photo above, has bushed BDS Marketing to the place of being a consistent award-winning retail marketing services agency. She’s noted for the “Sam’s Club Scores a Touchdown at their National Electronics Training with bds mktg” which played a key role in Sam’s Club’s Black Friday success in 2009, and I must say has a cool vibe. Jeannette Howe is a single mom who worked to become, at one point, the only woman working in sales and marketing in Tweeter Etc., before moving cross-country to join Specialty Electronics Nationwide as its executive director.
I could go on and on. But this is what happened that took the wind out of my sails.
I walked in to the event about 17 minutes late, and due to a late-running CES Bus from the Las Vegas Convention Center (should have just cabbed it) – but the networking part of the reception started at 7, so I wasn’t too off the time mark.
When I arrived at Paris Hotel and Casino, and navigated to the Champangne Room, the scene was more along the lines of a loose party than a formal reception. I had already emailed Carol expressing my desire to attend and blog about the event, but not receiving a response, and with the website saying I could pay at the door, I figured, why not?
The great woman holding a glass of red wine said “Just go in,” when I asked who I should give money to. I insisted on paying, but she said “Just go in” – so I did. There was a good mix of men and women – so much so that Women In CE kinds of looked like it could use some more women! After looking around at who I should approach for video interviews, a nice woman directed me to another nice woman who did give a video interview to me which explains what the Women In CE event was all about. She did a great job.
I then asked if I could interview the founder, Ms. Campbell. At first I tried to find the “Blonde woman who has the nice necklass” as she was described to me, on my own. But failing to do so, I was eventually introduced to Carol, and asked if I could just have two minutes of her time. She said that I could, but only after she found CES Executive Director Gary Shapiro, who was an invited guest. “I’m at your service,” I said.
But after Carol talked to person after person, and left me standing there with Ms. Campbell occasionally looking at me as if to say “My god I have to deal with him,” I asked the woman who gave me the video interview – and who asked if she could help me – to just say to her that I just needed a minute of her time. (Yes, I downgraded my ‘ask’ to a minute because she seemed frazzled for whatever reason that one person attributed to “fires.”
Now I’m no stranger to such situations and if Carol had said ‘Can we do this after the event because I’m really frazzled and con’t find the right words,” I’d have been very understanding. But she didn’t say that. Instead, she hauled off and yelled at the young woman with me watching, and then walked off.
When she did that, I was done.
The young woman contorted her face and put her hands to cup it as if to say “I can’t tell him what she really said,” and instead explained that “Carol’s really dealing with a lot of fires right now.” I said that all I wanted was 60 seconds, but I’ll forget it.
But what was weird later, as the event progressed, was to look to my right and see Carol standing back stage looking at me, and instead of waving me to come back there to give me some of her time, looking and then walking back to the kitchen area. I wasn’t hard to miss: black, bald, and wearing a black suit and black mock athletic shirt, with black shoes and my CES badge. Plus, I was one of only five black men in attendance, which is better than none, frankly. But still you’d like to see more color in the room.
But things to me were even weirder. The first woman who was nice to me at first, Carol said something to her while looking in my direction. At that point I lost all respect for Carol. I mean all I wanted was to help her get out the word about her organization. Was Ms. Campbell so threatened by the presence of a black bald guy in black she lost composure? That was really awful. Really bad.
Beth would never do that, has never done that.
White Women In Business Should Embrace Guys Who Care Regardless of Color
The real issue is that some white female members in Women In CE aren’t used to black men who are supportive of the general effort of advancing women in business period, and the handful of black female Women In CE members bring their black male friends, so the white women don’t have to deal with them. Just telling the truth. Part of this may be due to some weird idea that since the industry is white male dominated that some – not all – can’t see a black guy being involved.
Carol certainly seems to have this problem in her way, and its too bad. It really is. All I wanted to do was tell a good story about Women In CE, and I ended up being made to feel like a stranger in a strange land. I didn’t deserve that at all. Not one bit.
And on that note, it seemed that Carol was more focused on pleasing her sponsor Monster, who’s CEO Noel Lee said that he hoped there would be a time when there would be a “Men In CE” if we could get more women to be in consumer electronics. Mr. Lee’s statement didn’t come off the right way, but everyone knew what he meant.
It seems Women In CE places too much effort in trying to please the White / Asian guys in the room, rather than swelling its ranks of women of all colors. If Carol and others have some fear in building a more powerful female-driven organization in consumer electronics – one that can really make a difference – it was evident at the event.
I hope that changes in the future.