Gender bias in tech is not a new concept.
It's something people have been dealing with for years.
A 2018 report from Hired shows that men are offered a higher salary than women for the same position 63% of the time, and there was between a 4% and 45% difference in starting pay.
These gender-based discrepancies don't end with pay, though; women-run tech companies are few and far between. Pleasure tech (a.k.a. high-tech sex toy) company Lora DiCarlo is one of those few.
Lora DiCarlo's new product, Osé, was developed by a team of engineers made up almost entirely of women. It is designed to help people with a vagina achieve a “blended orgasm," and it does so with the help of newly developed micro-robotic technology.
Considering the micro-robots used in the Osé, it seems a perfect fit for the Robotics and Drone category of CES (formerly an acronym for the Consumer Electronics Show, but now the conference's official name). Indeed, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), who organizes the event, made Lora DiCarlo a CES 2019 Innovation Award Honoree.
Then they changed their minds.
Citing CES Official Rules, CTA informed Lora DiCarlo that the award was being revoked because it violated rules against “immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA's image."
“Entries deemed by CTA in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA's image will be disqualified. CTA reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any entry at any time which, in CTA's opinion, endangers the safety or well being of any person, or fails to comply with these Official Rules."
The people at Lora DiCarlo were, understandably, surprised and upset at the revocation of their hard earned award. Lora DiCarlo CEO, Lora Haddock, addressed the obvious bias in an open letter posted to the company's website.
"We don't hide what we do, and we firmly believe that women, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and LGBTQI folks should be vocally claiming our space in pleasure and tech - both of which are still heavily dominated by male-CEOs and executives."
It was working toward that goal of increasing diversity in tech that motivated Lora DiCarlo to submit Osé for consideration in the first place.
"That's why we submitted our first ever product, Osé, for the CES Innovation Awards - one of the most coveted awards in tech and the perfect example of a space that needs to be shaken up and diversified."
"You see, we're doing something that has never been done before - we're making the world's first hands-free device for the holy grail of orgasms — the blended orgasm."
"Our almost entirely female team of engineers is developing new micro-robotic technology that mimics all of the sensations of a human mouth, tongue, and fingers, for an experience that feels just like a real partner."
"The product even adjusts to each body's unique physiology for a personal fit that hits all the right spots, leaving the hands free for better uses. We're talking about truly innovative robotics."
The award wasn't just given arbitrarily by a random group of people, either. The decision to give the award was thoroughly deliberated and intentional. The robotics technology used to make Osé has applications beyond sexual health, and is unlike anything else on the market.
"It was vetted by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA, which owns and produces CES) and then a panel of independent expert judges in robotics scored it highly across all judging criteria; they saw the same marvel of cutting-edge technology that we did. A product that pushes the limits of engineering and design and opens the door to even bigger leaps in innovation, beyond even the sex tech uses."
If the product didn't match the category, or was "immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA's image," then how did it get past all of the people that reviewed the application and the product prior to the award being give?
And it's not that CTA is opposed to products related to sex and sexual health. Sex toy maker OhMiBod, known for their Bluetooth controlled vibrators, exhibited at CES 2019, as they have in the past. Yet CTA told Fortune: "
"The product referenced does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program. CES does not have a category for sex toys."
Haddock was not afraid to call out this blatant double standard.
"By excluding female-focused Sex Tech, CES and CTA are essentially saying that women's sexuality and sexual health is not worthy of innovation. Dismissing an innovation in micro-robotics and biomimicry because the technology is in a pleasure product makes a strong statement."
"It seems the CTA is just fine with "female-oriented" products like breast pumps, Kegel exercisers, and even robotic vacuums - things that also benefit someone else - but something that squarely focuses on women's sexuality is off the table."
"So the question in the end is: Why is CES threatened by empowered women and the products that empower them? My team and I will be asking these questions at CES and continue asking them, we're fighting for our seats at the table, and we're fighting for yours too."
Brown also took to Twitter, asking people to share their thoughts with the hashtag #CESGenderBias.
We're revolutionizing robotics and sex tech, and @CES is proving yet again that they want to keep the white male st… https://t.co/ksUgo4t8Bx— Sarah Brown (@Sarah Brown)1546981711.0
And got results.
This is some serious bullshit and I'm ready to amplify the hell out of it. #CESGenderBias “You cannot pretend to b… https://t.co/NrAXEj2kkw— A Twist On Life (@A Twist On Life)1547063391.0
So I worked on this really amazing product and we won a CES Innovation Award in the robotics category, but then the… https://t.co/S3JYl40wAK— Dr. Ada-Rhodes Short 🤖🧠 (@Dr. Ada-Rhodes Short 🤖🧠)1546975071.0
I tell you what’s immoral, techbros ....your collective inability to treat women centred design as equal to the nee… https://t.co/F8mbdmkNZu— Dr Mel Thomson (@Dr Mel Thomson)1546981407.0
Weird that @CES has allowed sex toys aimed at men at the show (see Harmony the sex doll and a VR porn experience ta… https://t.co/hXqWxtoSE2— Daravel (@Daravel)1547055913.0
CES: you’re a sex tech company? Hi-five! How big are the tits on your robot? Lora DiCarlo: oh. No, we want to show… https://t.co/Nuxqv5Zzra— AnotherCol (@AnotherCol)1547027994.0
CES nor their parent, CTA issued responses beyond their initial one.