A Worthy New Year’s Resolution

AVIXA Women's Council Breakfast from InfoComm 2019

AVIXA Women’s Council Breakfast at InfoComm 2019. Image via AVIXA Women’s Council.

At the turn of every year, I often think of blogging about the big stories or products of the past year, or the promising products of the coming year. I have never written about my resolution for the new year, as they are often personal and not business- or AV-related. However, this year is different. I am writing about my resolution and I hope that others in the industry will join me in this resolution and do what we can to be sure it is one that gets fulfilled.

This year my resolution is to be very conscious about how women are treated in business generally and in the AV world specifically. I attended EduCause this fall and one of the sessions was about the gender (im)balance in IT and in leadership. I have always thought of myself as a person who would value all people and all genders. Yet, I was surprised to find myself learning more about what I was likely doing and not even realizing it. As I learned more about this, and paid more attention, I began to see it in all kinds of places.

One place that I began to see this difference was on LinkedIn. A connection of mine posted pictures of an awards ceremony. The recipients would all stop for pictures after the awards. If there were all men in the picture, they each stood next to each other holding their award. However, when women were in a picture with the men, suddenly the men had their arms around the shoulders of the women. Why? Why is it assumed that it is OK or appropriate to touch a coworker? It sends a message that there is assumed permission to do this. It also sends a subconscious message that the person being touched is lesser than the person doing the touching. This is not just a problem in our industry, but in the world. Talk to a woman you trust and ask her how often she is touched without permission, even if the person doing it thinks it is harmless. How often does someone put their hand on her shoulder or her back? If you are a man, compare that with how often it happens to you.

A second issue that the conference helped me learn about, and I have seen in person since is having women do “housekeeping.” In this context, the word housekeeping refers to all the things that need to happen in a workplace that no one really wants to do. Since the conference, I have witnessed each of the following examples, how a woman has been asked to do this when it has not been their job, and regardless of rank:

  • Ordering more whiteboard markers
  • Cleaning the whiteboard
  • Taking notes at a meeting
  • Sending out the notes for a meeting
  • Bringing snacks or drinks to a meeting

Research has also shown that this translates to the type of tasks that women are given, including when a manager asks for “volunteers.” Check out this HBR article on this topic. A take-away from this article is that we can change this behavior, but first we need to be aware of it and make a conscious decision to change it. In particular, if you are a manager, don’t ask for volunteers if you know no one wants to do the task. Instead, rotate to whom you assign the tasks.

The final couple of points came from the EduCause conference, and have been confirmed in discussions I have had with women in trying to become more overtly aware of this. They are talking over women in meetings and taking credit for their ideas. If we are being optimistic, we can think that people are doing this subconsciously, but it does happen. As I thought about this over the past few months, I have watched at meetings and practiced not doing it myself. Even if you don’t think you are committing these two acts, being aware of them is important. Are you modeling for others by listening carefully and not interrupting? Are you encouraging good ideas by recognizing where they came from and allowing people to develop them on their own?

I think our industry has come a long way in the past few years, with tackling issues like “booth babes.” Many of my fellow male #AVTweeps have written and talked about standing up for women when we see clear harassment at conferences or after-hour events. AVIXA has shown a clear commitment to supporting women in the industry as witnessed by the growth of the Women’s Council and the many events they hold year-round. Now, let’s continue that progress by making sure everyone is able to be involved and contribute to this amazing industry. That’s a resolution worth keeping!