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Feminist sex toy maker gets its CES innovation award back after tech show critiqued for gender bias

Following accusations of sexism and gender bias, CES, the world's biggest consumer electronics convention, has apologized to women-run startup Lora DiCarlo.

Owner of CES electronics trade show says it 'did not handle this award properly'

The Ose sex toy, created by startup Lora DiCarlo, received a robotics award last week from the Consumer Technology Association. The award was originally given last year, but had been rescinded in December. CEO Lora Haddock also received an apology. (Lora DiCarlo)
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After the maker of a women's sex toy had its robotic award reinstated — months after it was rescinded thanks to an obscenity clause — the company's owner is hopeful for a shift in the way the tech industry addresses sexism and diversity.

Last week, the Consumer Technology Association, or CTA, announced they were reinstating the CES 2019 Innovation Award to Lora DiCarlo, a women-run startup, for their Osé robotic massager.

"I'm thankful to have that award back, because if anything, my engineers really deserve to have that back," Lora Haddock, the company's founder and CEO, told Spark host Nora Young. "They deserved the recognition."

The saga began last October when the CTA told the company they had won an Innovation Award in the Robotics and Drones category for their invention, the Osé.

Developed at Oregon State University's robotics lab, it's marketed as a "hands-free personal massager" that uses "advanced micro-robotics" to mimic the sensation of human touch. 

But a month after the announcement, the CTA told Haddock they were rescinding the award, citing a rule that stated: "Entries deemed by CTA in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not keeping up with CTA's image will be disqualified."

The move prompted criticisms of gender-bias and sexism. 

In a written statement announcing the reversal last week, the CTA said it "did not handle this award properly. This prompted some important conversations internally and with external advisors and we look forward to taking these learnings to continue to improve the show."

Haddock says she told the CTA they were willing to accept the apology under the condition that it would then go on to work with smaller companies like hers to improve inclusivity and diversity. 

Lora Haddock is the founder and CEO of Lora DiCarlo, the company behind the Ose sex toy. (Submitted by Lora Haddock)

"What we turned around and said was we accept your apology and we accept the award back only if we can sit down at the table with you and we can talk about your policies — if we can talk about the language you use," Haddock said.

The CTA owns and produces the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, North America's largest electronics convention. 

Over the years, the event has been plagued with criticisms of sexism, misogyny and gender bias.

Scantily-clad promotional models called "booth babes" have been a mainstay at previous shows, and male-targeted VR porn and talking sex robots have been featured on the floor.

CES was also called out for their all-male lineup of keynote speakers in 2017 and 2018, which they tried to address this year with a 50/50 lineup of men and women speakers.

"That show itself is very much geared towards the white, cis male, hetero gaze, and that excludes a lot of ethnicities," Haddock said. "That excludes a lot of genders."

CES has been criticized for its use of so-called 'booth babes' — scantily-clad promotional models. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

Haddock said she's hopeful that the reinstatement of her team's award signals a shift in how the CTA will address issues of inclusion and diversity in the future. 

"The fact that they are willing and able to sit down at the table with us and listen and really take heed of what we have to say, as well as other small companies, I think that signifies a big change," Haddock said.

She also hopes that the CTA can eventually set an example for the wider male-dominated tech industry.

"I think that they are a front runner for the technology industry, and I think that them making true change with the guidance of communities like Lora DiCarlo and other small companies, that's that's just a first step in actually making change within the tech industry."

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