“This is a man’s world” – James Brown
Lately I’ve been hearing James Brown’s sultry voice singing this song in my head. After the 2014 InfoComm show many people wrote blogs regarding women in the audio visual industry. Some of the pieces were controversial regarding the use of female models at booths, which brought out others that talked about the difficulties and challenges of being females in a predominately male industry. Here is my honest outlook on the models in booths: I’m not that offended or even really bothered by the use of beautiful half clothed women in booths to attract attention.
It can be a little annoying and maybe uncomfortable at times, but luckily the InfoComm show is very professional for the most part. The “sex sells” campaigns are not completely rampant. I really don’t think the few booths using these methods here and there are that big of a deal. In fact, I almost feel that the people making a big stink of it are a.) Giving even more unwanted attention to those using the “attention grabbing” tactics and b.) Giving the impression that women in our industry seem like we need some sort of protection, or that our intelligence can’t compete with some cute girl in a short skirt! I know those folks out there blogging about this subject didn’t have those intentions, and I do appreciate the concern, but something that is more troubling to me is the gender gap in our industry.
In the beginning…
When I first got exposed to A/V back in 2001, I was working in sales and marketing for a manufacture, Boeckeler Instruments (Pointmaker). My female boss, Deanna Wheeler, warned me, “This is a male dominated industry.” Being young I didn’t really give thought to the weight of that short, resounding statement and the message carried with it. Then I traveled to my very first tradeshow with the company – NAB in Las Vegas. I wasn’t even old enough to drink yet, but I started to understand. There were some females, but all the girls I met were not in very technical roles. The biggest void of women was really in the attendees. I can’t remember scanning the badge of any influential female sales lead working for an integrator or end user technology department.
Jump to the present and the story has not drastically changed. I am proud to say that I met some of the influential women back then: Andrea Mayer at WolfVision, Debbie Franklin at AMX, Linda Pennington with AMG, Darcy Harrell with TOTAL Marketing. All of whom are still in the industry today! I feel like there are definitely more women taking on bigger and more technical roles these days, but a lot of them have been in the industry for a long time and I’ve heard some of them say they have had to fight tooth and nail to get there. The ratio of women to men is still nowhere near 50/50, and I don’t think we’ll ever get exactly there, but I do see the gap decreasing. In the overall work force there are still more men, but because our population is 50/50, women, therefore, make up half of the overall talent pool. The ratio in our industry has definitely improved, but not at the same rate as the rest of the work force. What saddens me is the imbalance in ratio has been even greater on the integrator side.
Mars and Venus…
Why is it important to have women in a technical industry? This is a tough question to answer without some stereotypes, so I’ll try to avoid them. A Gallup poll done just this year shows, “Gender-diverse business units in hospitality companies show 19% higher average quarterly net profit than less-diverse business units.” (See bottom links for source) Other studies have shown that companies with diverse management have a higher overall organizational health. They say one big reason is because of decision making at the top. Men tend to be better at individual decisions, where women tend to be better at collaborating and looking at the collective when making a decision that affects an entire company. Both types are very much needed in business!
Growing up I always viewed men in my family as very intelligent, driven, and focused. Women were wise, caring, and multi-faceted. I feel women bring a softer side to our very analytical, scientific, and specialized industry. Yet our industry is unique in that there is a very artistic side to what we do. Images and sounds, those are interpreted by our senses and subject to our sensitivities. Women tend to be more in touch with their feelings and senses. It is important to have women in the audio visual industry, and I often wonder what it would take to get them more interested.
Blinded by the light…
Why do I think things are the way they are? There could be many different factors. One I see is general interest. It seems that men are more interested in technology. Is it because they were exposed more to technology when they were young? Is it innate human nature dating back to cave days where men would go out hunting where they used their skills and curiosity to solve problems, while the women would stay at home and take care of babies? I don’t really believe that to be the case. Personally I wasn’t automatically drawn to the technical side of things, but I distinctly remember my turning point.
The President of Boeckeler, Pat Brey, asked me to take over technical support calls. I felt like I was thrown to the wolves! I sat at my desk with over 20 different manuals, and “ring, ring” the phone started going. The wolves came, but yet Mr. Brey took the time to explain to me important technical details from time to time. I still remember the day we sat down in the conference room and he taught me how an annotation “light pen” worked with a CRT monitor, capturing electrons coming off the tube. I WAS HOOKED! It ishard wired in female DNA to be curious and explore too.
Women can have technical roles and enjoy it! I know I do! I’m not sure what the perfect formula is for closing the gender gap,because there are so many things that can be done. I am hopeful for the future.
The Flux Capacitor…
What can be done for the future? I’ve read blogs outside of our industry emphasizing stereotypes such as, “Strong women have to be bitchy to get ahead!” What a load of crap! Look at Cory Schaffer of Listen Technologies, Kelly Perkins of AVI Systems, Jan Sandri of FSR, and the list goes on. Those women are genuine, sweet, strong and very successful. I personally feel valued in our industry. I have never seen myself as the weaker gender. No one has ever made me feel that way, but I know if you are female in this industry you definitely stick out a little bit. I’ve read other blogs of women’s challenges in our industry, but I can honestly say that I’ve almost always felt respected and viewed as a peer to my male counterparts.
Was I oblivious to the struggle? Have I missed something? Maybe I just made sure to soak in all the technical information around me so I could have intelligent conversations. Maybe I just surrounded myself by positive mentors, and avoided the strife. Maybe it’s that things are changing? I can’t say for sure.
This is a man’s world…
I haven’t quite figured out exactly why my experiences have been different from others. This isn’t to say I haven’t also dealt with the very rare creeper that likes to make inappropriate and uncomfortable comments from time to time. But when that happens, the majority of the time, I just shrug them off and I’ve been able to avoid most of that. I’m blessed to say that I don’t feel like I ever really struggled to get where I am. In fact, sometimes being female has been an advantage. When I would travel around North America to visit integrators and consultants I was almost always able to get appointments. Maybe they just really wanted to hear about the niche unique Pointmaker video annotation products,or maybe dudes were sick of talking to dudes and welcomed a female perspective on things. Either way, I feel I’ve had great success in this industry that I am honored to be a part of, and I am so grateful to my peers who have made me feel included.
I really am hopeful for a decline in the future gender gap. I have a younger sister just starting high school and I remember when she was 10 years old taking apart her calculators to build up a stock pile of solar panels to try to power something else. She did that all on her own! I believe with technology being a bigger part of our everyday lives, young girls will have more exposure, more chances to generate the interest, so they too can have their own turning point like I did. I see positive things in the world like Google’s “made with code” initiative, Million Women Mentors campaign, even government involvement and funding. The future is bright, and I hope to one day be that person on the other side of the conversation telling a young girl, “This is a balanced industry.”
You were right James Brown, this is man’s world, but really, it would be nothing without a woman or a girl…
“This is a man’s world” – James Brown