On Diversity

“I’m a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are.”
–Homer J. Simpson

I’m with you, Mr. Simpson. Even if my ideas aren’t all crazy, I understand that as a cisgender, heterosexual, Caucasian male living in the United States of America I have just about every privilege it’s possible to have. People – sometimes inexplicably – pay attention to me. Has this influenced my success in this industry?

I can’t be certain that it has, but there’s no way of being certain that it hasn’t.

What I do know is that, when I needed one, I’ve always been given an opportunity. A new job. Chances to be more technical, and then more client-facing. Did these come faster and more easily because I look the part?

Possibly. But there is, of course, more.

Stepping back to everyone’s favorite unnaturally-yellow three-fingered cartoon dad, people listen to me. They always have. From grade school through today, I was encouraged to speak out, to fill the male role of being strong and assertive. Many of us were, just as many girls are warned about “being bossy.”

The word “bossy” is rarely applied to men.

Where are we as a result? In addition to whatever chances I’ve been afforded there is a comfort in asking for chances, in reaching for them. There’s a comfort in speaking out publicly, born in part by a lifetime of being told to speak up, to stand out. To be heard. Young men and boys live a lifetime being told that they aren’t to be invisible.

Why am I talking about this today?

Homer Simpson pointed out that everyone listens to him. Peter Parker has famously said that with great power comes great responsibility. Being listened to is a power, and giving others the same chances to be heard is a responsibility. It is important for those of us with unearned power and privilege to recognize that and to give others a chance. The world — and, in a smaller sense, our industry — will be stronger for the inclusion of more voices.

Are there women who left the industry after seeing an all-male panel at one too many event and assuming there was no place for their voices to be heard? African-Americans who heard an executive of a major industry firm make a racially insensitive comment at an industry event? LGBT individuals who overheard one too many jokes about trans women and didn’t hear anyone step up to say that such joking is wrong and dehumanizing?

See also  What Keeps an AV Professional Up at Night – Part the Second

How many voices has our industry lost to the toxic parts of our culture?

It’s our job to pay attention to the words we use and to speak up when someone missteps. After all, sometimes we can reinforce biases without even meaning to. A respected colleague moderating a panel on AVaaS began a question, “If a technology manager wants to change this, what should he… ”, or something like that. I interrupted the question to point out that we shouldn’t use gendered pronouns for a hypothetical technology manager; the moderator switched to “he or she.” I’d prefer “they,” but progress is progress, even if incremental.

Another step I’ve taken is to join the AVIXA Diversity Council, This week marked the first New York metropolitan area meeting of the AVIXA Diversity Council, co-located with our sisters in the AVIXA Women’s Council and generously hosted by the good folk at Verrex. As a founding member of the Diversity Council and a long-time supporter of women in the industry, these groups are both important to me and are both focused on work which the industry needs in order to remain healthy and relevant.

The Diversity Council mission statement is as follows:

The AVIXA Diversity Council’s mission is to encourage inclusion and promote human, cultural, and systemic diversity in all forms within the commercial audiovisual industry through the utilization of professional networking, educational opportunities, leadership development, and community awareness.

To me, the most important parts of this are the idea of helping people in their careers, mentoring, creating leadership opportunities. There is work to be done, but it deeply depresses me that today, in 2018, we still need to teach the value of diversity. Watch this space for more news about the steps we take to make the industry a better and more inclusive place.

This particular white male will be doing all he can to not be the only one to whom the industry listens.

Image via The Simpsons

Leonard Suskin

About Leonard Suskin

Leonard C Suskin, the pixel-and-inkstained wretch, lives in the suburbs of the greatest city in the world with his wife, two children and cat. A veteran of the AV industry, he works for Spectra Audio Design and continues to pen fiction and poetry in his spare time. Opinions are his own, not reflecting his employer, colleagues, rAVe staff or three cats - though they'd likely agree. The cats, that is. You can find him on Twitter @Czhorat.

  • Mike Switzer

    A great read Leonard.

    Within the last few years I think the push for diversity has moved on quite substantially and it is interesting to hear about a professional questioning whether they have been handed any more or less because of who they are.
    I am a very firm believer in the thought that, with the entering of every new generation in to the AV world, the push for diversity will become a lot more prominent.
    I hope this will lead to lessening the ideas of only listening to, or giving opportunities to people because of who they are, or what they look like.

    Our industry is so reliant on working with the newest technologies, building systems and structures that work together no matter what the location of the job, the budget, the size of the team or the amount of different types of equipment it takes to hit the end goal. Isn’t about time we applied this thought of togetherness and willingness to the staff and companies making all of this happen?

  • Corey Moss

    The push for diversity in the AV industry has always been an interesting one. I am a white male above that age range in the meme, so I’m not 100% sure how that applies, however that’s fair enough. AVIXA CEO Dave Labuskes recently stated ““Diversity (and inclusivity) is not a numbers game,” – and nothing can happen without everyone working on it. I’m happy to do my part, join the council, and help make that difference as Dave is talking about is needed. I have already been working closely with the AVIXA Women’s Council across the country and Canada. Let’s make this fair game for all.