I had a chance to visit with Marilyn Sanford, who recently left LaScala Media, a Vancouver, BC residential integrator, to start Lincedge. Her inspirational and grounded perspective is wise and relevant for a generation of women poised to achieve in the CE industry.
Jennifer Davis (JD): How did you get started in consumer electronics?
Marilyn Sanford (MS): I started Smart Systems in 1991, naively believing that there was a business in the progression from the analog world to the digital world. I saw cars as more intelligent than houses and I thought I could change that.
JD: Over the years, the business went through some changes [joining with LaScala, buying out her partners, selling LaScala and now starting Lincedge], but at the heart of all of them has been a respect for technology and the folks that were making the technology work for people. What inspired you?
MS: I would say I just really liked technology. I was an early adopter, who had her first computer in 1979, upgraded every three years, had my staff on computers very early and the like. I wanted to get deeper into the technology and see if I could make people’s lives better. To make things simpler. I was raised in a family of trades and have a lot of respect for the trades. People who end up having to make things work. Going beyond an idea, a thought, or some initiative, and doing the hard work of creating a tangible result really appeals to me. This was the cornerstone of my entrepreneurial efforts in consumer electronics.
JD: When you think about being a women in CE (or any technical field), what are some of the challenges?
MS: To put it in perspective, we are in a culture that isn’t really holding us back.
JD: Do you mean that no one is risking violence or death for seeking out a technical role in CE?
MS: Yes, that’s right. I always believed all things were possible and as a result they were. I believe we are in this together — women and men — to make a difference and to live up to our potential. Especially so, when we stop differentiating and we just accept that gender doesn’t matter. We might feel pressures and intangible biases, and those are felt down at the individual level. In my career, I was blessed that I felt like my gender wasn’t holding me back or pushing me forward or making me special in some way. It felt totally neutral. That said, I am discouraged by the statistics about women in technology and in the trades, which haven’t moved as much as you would hope in the past 50 years. Perhaps hiring managers have a hiring bias and they need to think about what might be motivating that. Are they acting out of fear that hiring a women into a technical role will disrupt the tone and feel of the company, change the dynamics on their crews, or that there is some other undefined risk, because women are not terribly common in CE and it doesn’t feel mainstream. Even so, I’m not sure there are that many women actually interested in Trades, which we also need to keep in mind.
JD: What advice do you have for companies in the industry as they seek a more diverse workforce?
MS: Invest in infrastructure and mentoring programs to make sure women are ready to take the positions that you want to give them. Make sure they are qualified and ready to succeed.
JD: What advice do you have for folks entering the AV industry?
MS: My advice is follow your gut and follow your passion and doors will open. In my experience, they don’t close. It’s okay to be naïve enough to think it is possible. Just do it. Don’t create agendas or your own roadblocks. When people have the confidence, others will stop filtering and believe it, too. We are all drawn to folks with confidence. There are many people who would be happy to mentor, who have good experience, and who would be sages, if they were asked. Opportunities are created by action, not the other way around.
There are so many things that you could do. So many things that you could put your energy into. Make sure that what you choose is fueling and feeding you.
About the Author
Jennifer Davis is a senior executive, industry presenter, business leader, mentor and volunteer. She is the vice president of marketing and product strategy for Planar Systems, a global leader in display and digital signage technology. More information about Jennifer Davis is available at atjenniferdavis.com.