Opinion

Why I’m Excited to See Women Leaders at CES (… and It Is Not for Fashion or Cookies)

When I first entered the workforce more than twenty years ago, men called me “sweetie” and “honey.” But industries from tech to finance to health care have come a long way since then. Women are not only increasingly welcomed, but most often respected, at the table. Not only do 44 percent of companies have three or more women in their C-suite, according to a McKinsey study, but companies with women executives actually make more money.

This is not only because of #MeToo, the Equal Rights movement, or even gender activism at all (although these movements were important and much-needed). It’s because people who get results are respected, and women are getting results.

Corporate America was once a place where women were rarely seen or heard. In the 1950s, women took lunch orders and typed letters. By the 1980s, some women had offices of their own. By the 1990s, women had started taking leadership roles in the workplace, largely in companies that targeted female consumers (think Jill Barad, who became CEO of Mattel in 1997). Women entrepreneurs, like Martha Stewart, Donna Karan and Oprah Winfrey, began developing female-centric empires of their own.

Today, however, there’s been a shift in business and tech leadership. Women aren’t confined to roles in fashion, beauty or children’s products anymore. They’re assuming executive roles right alongside their male counterparts, regardless of the industry.

In 1995, there were no female CEOs at all on the Fortune 500 list. Today, there are 33. And most of them are running companies that have just as much to do with men’s interests as women’s. Mary Barra is running General Motors. Marillyn Hewson heads Lockheed-Martin. Corie Barry is CEO of Best Buy. Lynn Good is running Duke Energy.

It used to be that women could only make products for women. Now, women are leading industries that make products — period. And that’s what gave me chills at CES this year. As a mother raising five daughters, I don’t see any limits for them.

At CES, I’m reminded why women are finding such great success in tech leadership. Innovation is, at its core, about finding a better way to do something. And that’s something that women are often uniquely positioned to do. The dishwasher was invented by a woman who realized that water pressure would be a better way to clean dishes than scrubbers. A woman first thought of using natural gas, rather than wood, to heat homes (the beginning of central heating). Women invented the disposable diaper, the windshield wiper and Caller ID, as well as more unexpected items like the circular saw and the airplane muffler.

Today, women are using AI to develop drugs for Parkinson’s disease, launching self-driving bus services and creating new energy solutions like the Soccket, a soccer ball that can charge a battery with the kinetic energy from being kicked. Last year at CES, Chandra Devam of Aris MD debuted a system that uses virtual reality to overlay patients’ diagnostic images onto them during surgery, a kind of guided map for surgeons. And at CES 2020, Quibi CEO Meg Whitman, former CEO at eBay and Hewlett-Packard and all-around powerhouse, unveiled an exciting new digital storytelling form with her company’s innovative ‘Turnstyle’ technology.

There is still progress to be made. I still frequently attend meetings where I’m the only woman in the room. But at CES, that definitely hasn’t been the case. I’m one of tens of thousands of women passionate about the potential of tech, and I can’t wait to take my own daughters back there in the coming years.

Heather Combs is chief revenue officer of 3Pillar Global. 

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