DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN AV – IT’S OUR RESPONSIBILITY
By Toni McAllister
“IT’S NOT THAT WE DON’T WANT TO EMPLOY WOMEN, IT’S JUST THAT NONE ARE APPLYING.”
“IF YOU KNOW OF ANY WOMEN, SEND THEM OUR WAY.”
“WE LOVE HAVING WOMEN ON OUR CREW, IT REALLY BALANCES THINGS OUT.”
I’ve spent a long time wondering why there are so few women working in AV. Those of us in the industry know why we love AV. We have a passion for it that drives us to work the sometimes crazy hours and respond to the often weird and wonderful requests of our clients. But why do so few women appear to share this passion?
Employers in AV will tell you that women are just not applying for the jobs. And if they do, they’re often not sticking around.
So what gives?
Many employment sectors, like STEM, have been encouraging more diversity for decades. If we know we’re not attracting the female population, then what are we doing about it?
Rebekha Naim, Program Coordinator and Teacher of Certificate IV & Diploma of Live Production and Technical Services at RMIT University sees barriers to entry for young people in general. “Young people don’t know a lot about our industry. They don’t see AV as a career option.
“It’s often seen as something you might do while you’re studying to be something else. It’s not necessarily seen as a ‘real job’. And that’s on us as an industry to reposition ourselves.”
Naim reports an increase in female students studying Live Production from 10% to 35% (on average) in the last couple of years.
“I can’t say that we’ve actively done anything differently. We’ve always encouraged girls to apply. I think it’s just that now society is starting to catch up with us.
“And the more that AV involves IT the more traction we get with women. The work that STEM has done in this area has certainly had a carry-over effect into our industry.”
Brian Nash, Director of Audio Visual Services at ICC Sydney, has built a diverse team in his AV crew. He says “It’s about creating the right environment for women to feel comfortable, to work to their best ability, to ask questions and be able to grow”.
When asked if he sees a boys’ club culture in his team he says “Not here. It’s not something that stands on its own, it’s part of an entire culture that the company is building.
“It’s inclusive, collaborative, it’s a team effort. Creating an environment where people can come in and thrive.”
But with so few women in the industry overall, is there something we are missing? Does the boys’ club culture fly under the radar so well that it is being missed by those who have the power to act?
Paula Jones, freelance AV technician of 25+ years, believes we’re seeing a shift with the younger generation. She says “Gender is not the issue it maybe once was for the older generations. Having said that, we need to address any negative attitudes that may exist within the old boys’ club, before they have a chance to be passed down to the new generations.”
Naim adds that the attitude isn’t always coming from within the industry, that at times it’s the client that brings the unconscious bias with them. She relays stories of female techs that have had clients ask when the ‘AV guy’ is going to arrive.
What can we do, as an industry, to influence any negative behaviour and encourage gender diversity? To stem the unconscious bias and promote a more balanced view?
We know from research that diverse workplaces enjoy increased creativity, increased productivity and a broader variety of perspectives, not to mention increased profitability, employee retention and engagement.
The Women in AV group was setup to help address the gender imbalance in the industry – to attract more women to join the industry and to support those already there. One of the key strategies of the group is to promote role models for other women. After all, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’.
As founder, I have great aspirations for the future growth of the group. Using social media, networking events, training and career exposure we aim to create significant positive change.
The Tech Sisters is another fabulous promoter of diversity in the industry. Using social media, it’s a community designed to encourage, equip and empower all women in events, globally. Jessica McCloughan, the founder of the group and her team maintain that “you can’t hire more women if there aren’t any available to hire”.
By providing practical assistance they are equipping more women with the skills they need. And that’s where we should all be contributing. We must ensure there are plenty of training opportunities available to upskill and support women, and men, to advance and excel in this industry.
There are so few institutions offering qualifications in live production and technical services. Naim says “It’s a resource-heavy course that can be expensive to deliver. Unfortunately, demand isn’t high because you don’t need formal qualifications to be employed in AV. While this is the case it’s a quandary our industry will sit in.”
Which means we need to ensure we are offering other opportunities for newcomers to learn the skills we want to see. Traineeships and graduate programs are one solution to fill this gap.
Nash says “It’s about creating the pathways, like our graduate program, for the young to come in and learn. And when they come they’ll tell the next generation and their friends and so on.”
Jones agrees “all we can do is create the gateway, and then it is up to them to enter through it”.
But as an industry, we are responsible for opening this gateway. We must work together to create positive and significant change. The AV industry should be a diverse and inclusive environment, just like any other.
This is our responsibility. It’s not just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense.
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