Samsung says it was wrong to have asked the CEO of Lioness, a smart sex toy company, to hide her product at a women’s tech event it was co-hosting. But Lioness’ CEO says the apology doesn’t go far enough, and it doesn’t signal to her that Samsung will actually make changes to be more inclusive.
At the event last Thursday, a senior director at Samsung requested that Lioness CEO and co-founder Liz Klinger remove her product, the Lioness Vibrator, from display. Klinger had been invited to the event, approved to attend, and already set up her booth on the show floor.
The show was supposed to have a focus on women’s health. “Samsung’s okay with women’s health when it’s about fertility and when it’s about making babies, but they don’t seem to be okay with the other aspects of women’s health,” Klinger said. The Next Web first highlighted Samsung’s actions at the event.
Rather than take down her product, Klinger protested the decision and tweeted about what was happening. By the time she finally got a response from the Samsung director who’d requested her product’s removal, the event was nearly over. That meant the vibrator remained on display, but Klinger wasn’t present at her booth to discuss it.
Now, nearly a week later, Samsung issued a statement to The Verge saying that it regrets what happened and will learn from the encounter.
Samsung is proud to support both women in technology and the future of wearable innovation. This was an event organized by women for women, and men allies who are interested in developing wearable solutions for women. We regret an interaction that occurred with a presenting startup and apologize to those involved. We have addressed this internally and will learn from this as we continue to sponsor female innovators.
Klinger says that Samsung did not reach out to her directly to apologize and that she only saw the statement when it was sent to her by The Verge.
The apology also, she says, doesn’t amount to much. “If you translate the statement, especially given the lack of any concrete steps or outreach at all, it basically says they don’t intend to change anything and this is just intended to dismiss what occurred, which is disappointing,” Klinger said.
Samsung and other large tech companies that operate industry events and consumer platforms have “enormous power” to choose who is and isn’t included in cultural conversations, Klinger says, and that has often ended up hurting women-focused sexual health companies.
Based on this statement, it seems like they would still exclude these voices. We’re a small, women-led team. Despite their secondhand apology, if you take into account that they haven’t reached out to us, does it seem likely we or any other company in female sexual wellness will ever be included in their events again? Or (not to be too cynical about it), did they simply learn to exclude/filter these companies ahead of time?
What we’d hope for isn’t anything huge, just a basic commitment of greater inclusion and concrete steps to achieve it.
Klinger’s experience follows a similar one from fellow women’s sex toy company Lora DiCarlo. In January, Lora DiCarlo was approved to attend the Consumer Electronics Show and was selected for an Innovation Award for its robotic massager, before later having both revoked. The ensuing criticism led the show’s operator to reinstate the award months later and announce changes that would allow similar sex toys to appear at next year’s show.
Sex toy companies face a host of issues that other sexual health companies do not, and it’s had an outsized impact on women-focused products. Services like Hims and Roman are able to widely advertise their erectile disfunction drug services with cheeky ads, while women’s sex toy companies like Dame often find that their ads are rejected from websites and major billboard partners. Facebook, for instance, has a hard rule against advertising sex toys, making it difficult for these companies to get their name out.
Lioness’ product, which has been on sale for two years now, has a built-in gyroscope, accelerometer, force sensor, and temperature sensor to track a user’s body and movements over time. That data is then visualized in an app for users to assess.
Klinger has had experiences being rejected because of her company’s focus in the past — she said Lioness had trouble just opening a bank account — but it was new to be turned down by an event she was already present at.
The event, which was co-hosted by Samsung and SF Women in Tech, included a number of other women’s health companies, including Glow, which makes a fertility app. Bloomlife, which makes a contraction tracker, and Mira, another fertility app company, were also invited to attend.
Klinger says she wants “Samsung and similar organizations to start being more inclusive about the idea of women’s health and women in technology.” Too often, she says, large companies’ commitment to diversity and inclusion feels like lip service.
“I want to be able to have a discussion,” Klinger said. “Because if we don’t, this same thing’s gonna be happening year after year.”
Source: Samsung apologizes to women’s sex toy company it asked to hide at tech event
By Jacob Kastrenakes
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