Trade Show Season Is a Time to Support Diversity

diversity inclusion

rAVe [PUBS] and many other industry publications have written recently about the great work of the AVIXA Women’s Council and its partnership with Rosie Riveters. Since this has been written about in many places, I won’t rewrite everything here. There are a few points I would like to make, however. First, it is fantastic to see action towards a goal. One of the things the AVIXA Women’s Council has implemented with this partnership is a GoFundMe page to raise money for Rosie Riveters. Their initial goal of $5,000 was blown away by Bradford Benn of Advisist who donated that entire amount. In a tweet Benn wrote that rather than purchase and give out swag at InfoComm, his company would instead donate that amount to this cause. What an incredible move! As of the writing of this blog the amount raised is now up to $15,935 with several significant gifts from well known members of our amazing AV community.

Without a question, getting more women involved in our industry is a goal that we all need to support. According to the Women’s Council, only 14%-17% of the AV industry is female. We need more representation than that. Getting younger females into STEM, showing them they are as capable as men, and supporting them in this area is what Rosie Riveters is all about.

Additionally, we all need to do better in supporting the women who are currently in our industry and presenting a welcoming image to others who may want to join. Here is an exercise I would like everyone to perform. Look through social media pictures of InfoComm, ISE or any other tech conference. What do you see? One of the things I notice immediately is that pictures that include men and women too often have the men with their arms around the women. Why is this? You do see this on occasion with pictures of men and other men, but it is by far and large more common with pictures of men and women. For a professional woman who wants to enter an industry, or be at a trade show, what message does that send? That in order to be accepted into the industry they have to let men put their arms around them? How about what happens when you greet people at trade shows? How much more often do we men shake hands with other men, but hug women? Again, what message does this send to women? It seems to me that it continues to send the message that women need to allow people to touch them if they want to be in the business.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review discusses “benevolent sexism.” The authors define this as “attitudes, practices, and actions that seem positive — such as aid, flattery, and rewards — but that undercut their goal of supporting women at work, often under the pretense of providing them with help, protection, compliments, and affection.” They give many examples of this type of sexism. Surprisingly, their study revealed that the biggest offenders of benevolent sexism are men who describe themselves as highly committed to combating sexism. They identify several common examples of benevolent sexism and offer several ways to combat it. One point that stood out to me is that the biggest thing many men do is to assume that women need our help, or that they need our protection. When in fact, what they need is for men to not be sexist, and they are completely capable of managing themselves and their careers otherwise.

As I write this blog I fear that it may come off preachy, snarky or as pretentious. Let me guarantee you that none of that is true. As I read the article, looked at my own examples of being at trade shows, and thought about previous behavior, I am likely as guilty as anyone else who may be reading this blog. So, this is not about pointing fingers, rather, it is about calling our attention to our own behavior and making sure that we continue to grow into the most welcoming, diverse and wonderful industry possible.