The annual CES show in Las Vegas that sees some of the biggest new tech innovations unveiled and celebrated, hasn’t always been known for its gender balance and inclusion.
In 2017 and 2018, for example, they failed to feature any female keynote speakers — something that caused significant backlash and the organisers have sought to rectify this year by ensuring four of its nine such speaking spots are filled by women.
But the efforts may now be overshadowed, after the organisers took back an Innovation Award from a women-led company with a rare female-dominated engineering team.
Needless to say, the women behind this startup are not happy. Especially given the varying reasons they claim CES and the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) have given for taking the prize back.
The award was given to the Oregon-based startup Lora DiCarlo, a sex toy company, for its micro-robotic sex toy called Osé (pictured above). It’s a hands free pleasure device aimed at women that was selected for the innovation award back in October 2018.
But the award was taken back just a few weeks later. And Lora DiCarlo is not able to show its product on the CES floor this week.
Now the startup’s founder Lora Haddock has hit back in an open letter published earlier this week detailing the different explanations from the organisation that have been given for revoking the award.
She writes how Lora DiCarlo was selected for the Innovation Awards honoree in the Robotics and Drone product category, with a panel of independent expert judges in robotics giving it a high score across all judging criteria. The prize, she said, made the years of research and engineering even more worthwhile. The team celebrated.
But a month later they were informed by the administrators at CES and the CTA that the award had been rescinded, and that they would not be allowed to showcase the product, or even exhibit it at CES 2019.
Haddock claims they have been cagey on the reasons why, claiming they have cited “immorality” and “obscenity” and that “anything not in keeping with CTA’s image will be disqualified.” Other reasons included that the product was never eligible for the robotics and drone category (it was developed in the Oregon State University’s engineering laboratory, ranked the 4th best robotics lab in the United States). A CTA representative told BuzzFeed News that the product “does not qualify because it does not fit in to any of our existing CES 2019 categories.”
Why then, did it go to the judging panel in the first place?
Meanwhile, other forms of sex toys have been a part of CES for some time.
In 2018, a sex robot was exhibited on the floor of CES, with the creepy looking device (if that’s the correct term) showcased on stage. Indeed, plenty of other sex toys and VR demos have often been showcased at CES, including an oral sex simulating device.
Haddock writes that CES and the CTA has a long history of gender bias, misogyny, sexism and double-standards, much like the wider tech sector. “From the exclusion of female founders and executives to the lack of female-focused products allowed to exhibit on the floor – there are demonstrable issues with diversity,” she writes. “We’ve seen token concessions, like the attempted 50/50 split of female and male keynote speakers in 2019 after an all male lineup in 2017 and 2018 – but sadly it’s just cosmetic. It is not trickling down to who’s allowed a seat at the table.”
Haddock writes that sex positivity and inclusion is at the heard of her startup, that they don’t hide what they do and they believe all women should be able to vocally claim a space in the pleasure tech sector, which is still heavily dominated by male executives and CEOs.
She also notes that the organisers may well believe they had covered off “women’s interests” through the other prizes awarded in the 2019 robotics and drones category, including two robotic vacuum cleaners, four children’s toys and a shopping companion robot.
CES is making efforts to address gender bias in its show — as it’s move to actually have female keynote speakers this year demonstrates, and it’s also unveiled a $10 million startup fund for women and diverse founders. So why did it rescind this award and risk further accusations of gender bias? Do the organisers really perceive women-focused sex toys to be more ‘immoral’ than men’s?
It certainly seems like a case of double standards.
Pictured above: a promotional image on the Lora DiCarlo device for women.