Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Women in AV (and everywhere else)

"Daddy, do any girls work with you," -- Chloe, age 5 on the eve of Take Your Children to Work day (see  earlier blog post)

I work, as you know, in the wonderful world of commercial AV, spreading the joys of audio-visual technology throughout the land. I've worked for two different integrators, worked for scores of clients including Fortune 100 companies with their own internal AV support staff.

Of team with whom I currently work?
Installation technicians - all male.
Service technicians - all male
Project engineers - all male.
Design engineers and sales engineers - all male.
Programmers - all male.
Project specialists (testing and verification technicians) - all male.
CAD technician - female.

That's right. Of the twentysome people in various technical positions in our local office, there is exactly one female in a technical role.
Scenes from a day of AV Training

Lest you think this a local problem in the past six months alone I've taken part in vendor training from Biamp, ClearOne, Extron, Crestron, AVI-SPL's in-house AV Project Management training, Crestron again, and Meyer sound. Those training classes alone represent contact with somewhere between a hundred and a hundred fifty of my fellow AV professionals.

Of those, exactly one was a woman.

At Extron Training - this was the highest female/male ratio of
any training I attended this year
Why do I see this as a problem? The quote with which I lead is the first hint; inequalities like this create a self-perpetuating division between "women's jobs" and "men's jobs". Your psychologist, your kids' schoolteachers, and the receptionist in the last office you visited are probably women. Your car mechanic, your computer programmer and, yes, your AV technician are probably men. This drives young people to specific industries by an idea of where they'd "fit in" and what's "appropriate" for them rather than what their natural talents and interests would lead them; if you're a young man and all of the psychologists you encounter are women, then it's hard for "psychologist" to be an aspirational position for you. If you're a young women and all of the technical people you encounter are men, it becomes a role in which it's harder to see yourself. If you're a teacher and have a promising young female student, she likely doesn't look like a potential engineer to you, even if you never consciously recognize this bias.

The second problem is one for the industry; we rob ourselves of half the potential talent available by closing the door to half the population. This is a truism for all industries; greater diversity of candidates breeds greater diversity of viewpoints and, in the long term, better results.

So what do do about it? The good news is that the culture is changing, from greater acceptance to less of a "boys' club" atmosphere.  For example, most AV professionals today are reluctant to use sexually suggestive test media when commissioning a system. It is worth noting that at least two of AVI-SPL's local offices are being run by women. I'm very proud that the Women in AV group (an industry group of some very talented and successful people working towards mentoring and promotion of women in the industry) chose one of our account managers (Alexis LaBroi from the Atlanta office) for their inaugural mentoring award. Having women not only in leadership positions in the industry but using those positions to help others follow in their footsteps is one step towards a more inclusive industry. It's the slow, organic way to grow.

Are there wider, better solutions possible? That's very hard for  me to say. I suspect it would take an overall change in how we look at men and women for the AV industry - or any technology industry - to become truly gender blind. It's still an ideal worth fighting for and one towards which we're currently - albeit it slowly - working.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Blog Hop: the penultimate installment of Riley's Story

For those who just joined, this is my last contribution to a collaborative pass-the-story game with Carrie Sorenstein and Nicole Pyles. Carrie stared it off a month ago now, and we're now up to the fifth and final installment.

If you need a reminder, we started here:

Riley's Story, Part one at Chasing Revery (Carrie K Sorensen)
Part 2 - Fate Calls at World of My Imagination (Nicole Pyles)
Part 3 - The Hands of Fate. Right here, by me!
Part 4 - Unexpected Fate at Chasing Revery

"Abandoned Fate"

Saturday morning and I needed a break. From Fate and Kate and all this. It had started off as a lark, but what if it was real? Like I told Kate, I knew some of their stories. Not much of it, but enough to know one thing. You can't cheat fate. The storybooks - and maybe the history books - are littered with the broken fragments of people who thought they could. The problem is I didn't know what Fate wanted. Or what I wanted. For the fifteenth or twentieth or hundredth time I shuffled through the stack instructions torn off Fate's notebook. For the fifteenth or twentieth or hundredth time they made no damn sense to me. What does Fate even need an assistant for? I was jolted from my study by the sudden and unexpected ringing of the doorbell.

It was Caleb, and he  had that look. The one where the muscles on his face tighten up just a bit, like he's about to cry or hit someone. The first time I'd seen that look I'd asked what was wrong, got nothing but an angry glare and a defiantly muttered "nothing". So, I learned. The look means he doesn't want to talk. Not about anything real. Not that he ever does.

"Hey Riley. I was around. Thought I'd join you, maybe play X-box, maybe a beer?" The last hopefully, almost a question.

I stepped back to let him in. "uh...sure. My folks're out and..." he brushed past me, up the stairs.
It went the way I'd expect. Caleb sitting next to me at the edge of the bed, leaning toward the TV, the game controller tightly clenched between to fists, grimly slaughtering virtual legions of space marines, soldiers, aliens. He'd leave a half-finished beer sitting on the side-table half forgotten, then suddenly grab it and take a deep pull.

Something else was wrong. He smelled. Caleb's never been the most impeccably groomed kid, but this was something different than usual - a faint but definite body odor, as if he'd gone a day or more without showering. I glanced sidelong at him, saw the tightness in his jaw and neck, then turned back to the TV,  content with the companionable silence of gunfire and explosions for the time being. I was sure he'd open up eventually. It's fate, right?

The buzz of my phone jolted me out of the game-trance. Caleb flinched away from me as he felt the phone buzz, dropped his game controller to the floor. I didn't have to look. I knew who it was.

Caleb knew too. He dropped the controller to the floor, stood up with a quick, jerky movement. "That job again." He looked me in the eye for about a half second, then looked out the door. " I guess I'll go."

I got up, took the phone out of my pocket. The same no-number number as always. I took a deep breath, silenced the phone and tossed it back onto the bed. "No. I ... I deserve a day off." I grabbed his empty beer bottle. "Lemme get you a another."

Caleb nodded, sank back down to the bed. He muttered something under his breath that might have been "thanks". I trekked down to the kitchen, grabbed a couple of beers, carried them back slowly, willing the muscles in my gut to unclench. I'd just abandoned Fate, but if felt like the right thing to do. I hoped it wouldn't end badly.


This has been an interesting experience. The story didn't take the shape I expected from the beginning, nor did any succeeding chapter follow the previous in the way I expected - and that includes mine! My favorite part thus far was Carrie's opening chapter, and I clearly circled back there in an attempt to draw Caleb back into the story. None of this is what I would have written on my own, but I think we got something interesting out of the endeavor and am very glad to have taken part.  Next week Nicole Pyles will close it out. Stay tuned!