Women’s Month in AV

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March is women’s month in the United States, and I am happy to see consistent messaging and support for it in the professional AV industry. AVIXA has regular posts on social media highlighting women in AV, and many other industry publications, including this one, do the same. A couple of months ago, a group of bold and successful women created the organization WAVIT (Women in AV and IT). In private conversations, I hear more men recognizing the value of having an industry with a strong representation of women. I hear much less of the demeaning words and actions towards women that were seen in the past. In articles and podcasts, along with other information about the industry, women are asserting their place as leaders in our industry. All of this is fantastic, yet we can not rest on our laurels.

In his HigherEd AV blog this month, Ryan Gray wrote about whether women are accepted and welcomed in AV, and he concludes it is not a welcoming industry. Specifically, Ryan writes about some of what he learned, heard about and witnessed as actions toward women at the recent ISE show. I was not there, but I have no doubt that Ryan and the people whom we spoke with are telling the truth.

In fact, the only issue I raise with Ryan’s article is not what he said, but what he felt he could not say. He writes that there are two companies that he will never do business with again because of the behavior of some of their employees. But — presumably due to social pressure from the industry itself — he withholds the names of those companies from the article, offering to discuss the companies and situations in personal communication. Ryan recognizes in his blog that this is an issue — how can he call for action if he (as a hetero-white male) feels like he can not speak the truth? I will admit that I have struggled with this myself in blogs I have written. Is it fair and appropriate to call out these behaviors by name in public?

So, as a person who strongly believes that having diverse representation in our industry is absolutely required for robust growth and creativity, I have some thoughts about how we can take action. Fortunately, those of us in higher ed have greater leniency in this matter. Our places of employment are leaders in inclusion and reward us for demanding it. If we have that ability, it is our responsibility to use it.

If we see unacceptable behavior in person, we can call it out as it is happening. If you are among a group that is speaking of women in derogatory terms or making innuendos about them, tell them you do not approve and leave the group. Standing by and saying nothing only perpetuates the belief that this is OK. Likely, only one or two people in the group are behaving that way, and the others in the group will probably appreciate you stopping it. Maybe they are with a boss and don’t feel like they can say anything, as they are afraid of being shunned in the industry. Again, we are fortunate as higher ed people and customers that shunning us only hurt their bottom line.

A second way is to follow up after the fact. Quick story about this. Several months back, I commented on a person’s social media posts because although the posts were informative, entertaining and thoughtful, this person would always reference divisive politics. My suggestions to that person went unheard, but others also jumped in and supported what I was saying. When those went unheard, another person brought these issues up with the leadership of that person’s firm (they were representing the firm in their posts). Within days the posts were taken down, and since then, this person has had the same informative, entertaining and thoughtful posts, sans the politics. The lesson here is that companies do care about how their employees represent them. So, if you see behavior at trade shows, dinners, or other situations in which someone is representing their company that is inappropriate, unwelcoming or otherwise non-inclusive, take the time and follow up with the company itself. Explain what you saw and ask for a response. The response, or lack thereof, will tell you a lot about the company, its culture and its beliefs. A response that makes clear the behavior is not acceptable or is representative of the company is a good start. Seeing that the behavior has changed is a great follow-up. If the company does not respond or downplays your concerns, then you know that the company has a set of beliefs that do not align with yours.

At that point, you should feel like you have done the fair and appropriate thing, and in my opinion, should have no concerns openly talking about what you saw, what you did, and the response you got. Then the rest of us in the industry can make choices about what we value and where we will choose to spend our money.

Certainly, one great thing about the higher ed industry is that our institutions typically support and celebrate diversity and inclusion. I feel pretty comfortable knowing that no one at my school would scold me for pointing out situations in which women, or anyone, was being discriminated against, excluded or harassed. Since we in the higher ed industry have this freedom, perhaps it is our responsibility to be the people who continue to be leaders in speaking up, speaking out and making a change.