Solutions Driven

Innovation and Discrimination: We Need to Talk About CES

Is sexism and gender bias standing in the way of progress? The controversy surrounding the recent CES tech fair suggests so. 

It’s 2019 and there aren’t all that many taboos left in the world. We can speak openly about our finances, unconventional families, weight, racial issues, death, and myriad other topics that would once have had people reaching for the smelling salts. Unfortunately, it seems like female sexuality and female-centred innovation haven’t yet become socially acceptable. What effect is this having on the technology industry?

CES shows its true colours

The world’s biggest consumer tech fair claims to be “the proving ground for innovators and breakthrough technologies… where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace.” With a description like that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the event organisers and owners, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), would be champions of liberal ideals, radical thinking and unconventional approaches to society’s problems. After all, isn’t that what innovation is all about?

tech broApparently not. As the Evening Standard, the BBC, TechCrunch, The Guardian and Forbes have reported, CES is currently embroiled in a sexism scandal arising from its decision to strip an innovation award from and ban the attendance of a product which currently has no fewer than eight patents pending.

This product was scored highly by a panel of independent judges across all robotics criteria. It was designed in partnership with one of the top 4 robotics universities in the USA. Its unique design pushes the current limits of biomimicry, robotics and engineering. It was designed by a team of engineers which included a Doctor of Mechanical Engineering with expertise in Robotics and AI and a Mechanical Design Engineer who specialises in Material Science with a background in Chemistry.

‘What’s the issue?’ we hear you ask. Well, the product in question is a sex toy for females. 

Double Standards for Intimate Innovations

If the CES trade fair was a family-friendly event at which any product considered too risque or adult for all audiences was unwelcome, it would be fair to say that a sexual aide company was an inappropriate attendee. However, the CES event has long had a reputation for being explicit.

VR experienceAn over-proportioned female-shaped sex robot debuted at last year’s conference. Pole-dancing robots were a key attraction at the same event. ‘Booth Babes’ – scantily clad models whose job is to entice attendees to their company’s stall – have been a part of CES since 1967. It dedicated a whole room to a virtual reality pornography experience demonstration. 2018’s event saw an unofficial shuttle bus taking people from the conference site to a legal brothel for a sex-video experience controlled by an Amazon Echo. A remote-controlled vibrator and a pelvic floor strengthener have also been exhibited in the previous two years.

The reasoning the event organiser, CTA, gave to the Lora DiCarlo company for its decision to disqualify their product was this;

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.

Considering the aforementioned list of previously explicit exhibitors, this statement failed to quell the media uproar surrounding their disqualification. CTA President and CEO Gary Shapiro then released a statement indicating that the product was actually ineligible for the Robotics and Drone Category and should never have been accepted, despite the CTA’s own panel of judges awarding it one of the event’s highest accolades; the CES Innovation Awards. Judges agreed that the product “pushes the limits of engineering and design and opens the door to even bigger leaps in innovation, beyond even the sex tech uses”.

Lora DiCarlo founder Lora Haddock said;

“While there are sex and sexual health products at CES, it seems that CES/CTA administration applies the rules differently for companies and products based on the gender of their customers… Female sexuality, on the other hand, is heavily muted if not outright banned.”

The Fall Out

Putting aside the moral debate on whether or not female sexual aides are “immoral, obscene, indecent or profane”, the knock-on impact of the CTA’s actions are far-reaching.

– Female employees and candidates

The Lora DiCarlo team subverts the tech norm and is almost exclusively female. Their product is made by females, for females. If you worked for an industry which had publicly disowned a female-made, female-centred product for seemingly no good reason, would you feel valued? Maybe you’d start looking for a new career path instead.

tech innovationBy excluding this audience, the tech industry has effectively told their female workers that their needs or desires aren’t of interest; they’re a secondary audience for the sector and this shows no signs of changing. In a time where the tech talent gap is getting worse and workers are becoming more and more scarce, alienating an entire demographic of potential candidates could not be a worse idea.

– Innovation suffers

Companies in the tech space are used to maintaining a culture of innovation; incubators, accelerators, radical working environments, flexible working and campus-style facilities have all been adopted in an effort to boost the passion workers have for churning out ideas.

But what happens when these workers see cutting-edge innovation being trampled on due to prejudice and discrimination? It’s likely to dampen enthusiasm and will make it increasingly difficult for any minority group to cut through the noise of the tech bros.

An Inclusive Approach

There’s no room for direct or indirect sexism in any industry, but particularly not in one which is in the business of people. The forward-thinking, inclusive technology industry we all deserve is only possible if the right people are powering it, and that’s where we believe we’re making a difference.

Inclusion isn’t just a boardroom buzzword. It’s something we live by in how we interact with our colleagues and in our office environment, but it’s never more apparent than when we’re searching for and shortlisting candidates. By seeking talent in places that other recruiters may overlook, we ensure that everyone has an equal chance of employment in their chosen field. Shortlists are made on merit alone, not on which faces fit.

If you’re looking for a candidate who’ll add to your culture rather than simply fit in, get in touch.

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