What you need to know

  • Lioness had been invited, approved, and already set up their booth before being asked to remove its smart vibrator from it's display.
  • The event promoting women in tech was co-hosted by Samsung and SF Women in tech.
  • Samsung issued an apology statement after the event to The Verge, but not to directly to Lioness CEO Liz Klinger.

An event on August 22, 2019, that was designed to promote women in tech and co-hosted by SF Women in Tech and Samsung, did not go off without a hitch. A senior director for Samsung asked the Lioness CEO, an invited and approved attendee, to remove the company's smart vibrator from its display. The part that may cause even more confusion is that this event was intended to focus on women's health.

Liz Klinger is the Lioness CEO mentioned above and also the co-founder of the company. She had been asked to remove the smart Lioness Vibrator from their already set up booth. Lioness' product has been on sale for two years and has built-in sensors to track the user's body and movements to then visualize in an app.

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Commenting on the incident, Klinger said:

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 decided to protest the request rather than to oblige, part of which included tweeting what was happening, but by the time she got a response from the requesting Samsung director, the event was nearing its end. Although the product technically remained on display, Klinger was busy protesting the removal and was unable to be at the booth to discuss it.

It took nearly a week for an official statement from Samsung, and once one was sent it, it was shared to The Verge rather than directly to Liz.

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.

After reading through the statement for herself, Klinger responded with:

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.

She goes on to say:

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.

Unfortunately, the occurrence of shunning a sex toy at a tech-focused event isn't the first. This past January, Lora DiCarlo had been approved for CES and was even selected for an Innovation Award for their robotic massager to only have it taken away. After much criticism, the award was later reinstated and announced that there would be updates to allow similar products to be at future shows.

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."