What a tech show like CES could learn from a women’s conference

I have been wracking my brain on how to write the recap of my week away in Palm Springs. I was down in the desert attending Alt Summit, a design-centered conference with a majority of woman in attendance. It was unlike the tech shows I’m used to, though not for the reasons you might think.

Picture of the outdoor area at the Saguaro Hotel in Palm Springs
Alt Summit took over four hotels in Palm Springs.

As far as conferences go, Alt Summit was just as messy and full of kinks to work out like any other mass gathering of folks. The shuttles that were designated to take us from hotel to hotel were often late or on a schedule of their own, and there were a few sessions cut short because of a sheer lack of technical help on standby. And while some of the sessions were helpful even for an established online person like myself, there were too many that turned out to be less sophisticated than the brochure description had led on.

Alt Summit wasn’t without problematic behavior, either. I witnessed blatant microaggressions and both classist and ableist language thrown around in an attempt at humor. The ticket to attend the event is also quite pricey, which means it’s only really accessible to the folks with the privilege to pay the fee and take an entire week off to stay in Palm Springs. And, if you look at the masthead of speakers, Alt Summit has a bit of #oscarssowhite going on, which is disappointing considering it purports to be a conference for all.

Being around other working women is incredible

Despite its shortcomings, the community I interacted with at Alt Summit was something else. Being around other working women is incredible. I’ve never experienced this sort of kinship at a tech show before; I’ve always left feeling drained and out of touch, despite knowing the material beforehand. Conversely, even though I wasn’t there for the same reason as so many other folks in attendance, I immediately felt like I belonged. It was also nice to partake in panels and workshops led by women because they felt relatable. Women understand the struggles of juggling a family and work; they know how the world sees them and how they have to conform to be successful; they fear the same harassment and backlash that I do. So although I might be getting the same information I can get anywhere else, the fact that the person delivering it understands the daily slog makes me more inclined to hear what they have to say.

Tech shows for me have gradually felt unsafe over the years. Men continue to misbehave, take the stage at most talks, and are on the advisory boards calling the shots for the rest of the attendees. I don’t feel like I belong in those spaces anymore, and I’ve grown tired of trying to carve myself a seat for the last ten years. Now that I have experienced how green the grass can be on the other side in terms of feeling seen and catered to at a conference, I desperately want this for the rest of us in the tech sphere. If Alt Summit taught me anything, besides the fact that there are plenty of people out there that are really nice, it’s that we can make this world a little more inclusive for the rest of us. But we have to be thoughtful about it.