A landmark study gives us invaluable insights into who we are.
By Jennifer H. Willard and Kari Martinez
Undertaking the AV industry’s first demographic study on female representation has brought forth more positive, encouraging and informative insights than we ever could’ve imagined—not only for the women who are pursuing careers in technology, but also for the men who call the AV industry their professional home.
Four key factors that the “2020 Women + Girls in AV Study” uncovered are the following:
- Mentoring is a real-time activity in which we can all engage during the course of normal activities.
- Men play a critical role in supporting and advancing women in the AV industry.
- The AV industry is not commonly a place in which females experience hostile, toxic work environments.
- Understanding how women pursue careers in AV will help target recruitment programs to match their unique needs and challenges.
Prior to this study, everything we’ve thought about, conjectured on or derived from the professional females who work in AV has been based on lived experience, shared stories and gut feelings. Likewise for hypotheses about why we, as an industry, struggle to engage and retain women. As one of your coauthors, I [Jennifer H. Willard] came up as a telecom engineer and AV technician. I’ve always been one who relies on facts, data, process and hard proof to inform my decisions. So, it was especially frustrating never truly to know who my female colleagues around the world were. I always knew that, if we had a baseline of overall female representation, there’d be so much more we could do to help each other—and ourselves—succeed.
My first attempt to conduct this type of study was in 2013; unfortunately, it faded with only 74 respondents. I now realize the missing ingredient was a brilliant, young, female live-sound engineer—namely, my coauthor [Kari Martinez]. Co-creating the “2020 Women + Girls in AV Study” reaffirmed that when we, as women of all ages, set our minds, hearts and passions to helping one another succeed, no goal or achievement lies beyond our reach.
Pointedly, one significant outcome of this research has no connection to any demographic we uncovered; rather, it centers on how opportunities for mentorship are readily available every day, allowing veteran women to collaborate with young women to create something meaningful and pioneering. Being a mentor is as easy as working together on milestone projects, shadowing a big presentation, connecting about important career developments or offering mentees real-time counsel so they can make constructive professional decisions.
My coauthor Kari can speak knowledgably about this. According to Kari, “Realizing how much I still have to learn, it’s intimidating to have immediate recognition for my work. I’m still trying to find out who I will be in an industry to which I’m new. Luckily, I have the support group and resources to help ground me and teach me the ropes. It all started with a study called ’The Girls/Women Lifestyle Survey,’ which was created out of curiosity to see if there were other girls out there just like me. Spoiler alert: there were.
“That study gained recognition, but I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. At the time, I didn’t really have solid female figures in the industry to turn to for help. Creating my next study with WAVE, I’ve realized that I truly needed an experience like this to help build some skills I wouldn’t otherwise have had. I believe other young girls my age can also benefit from experiences like this. They might not create surveys, but they would benefit from having an established veteran show them what’s possible. If others my age haven’t been able to collaborate with or talk to someone wise, then I hope our study can help create those opportunities and provide valuable information about women who work in the AV industry. When there are others whom young women can relate to, they know they’re not alone.”
We know from the survey results that young women certainly do have accomplished and experienced female role models in whose footsteps to follow and with whom to create these special connections. Nearly 60 percent of women who work in the AV industry currently hold management positions, as compared to 40 percent who count themselves as staff. So, the opportunity for female-to-female mentoring exists; however, that opportunity is not currently being seized.
Indeed, one result that the survey uncovered was that, although 44 percent of women do not have a mentor, 28 percent said they do—but exclusively a male one. Men should be especially proud of this; confident women do recognize the significance, contributions and advisory role of males in making females feel welcome and supported in the AV industry.
A second, and equally important, result of the “2020 Women + Girls in AV Study” is how women perceive the AV industry’s valuing of women’s representation and diversity. Of survey respondents, 52 percent said the industry “Could Be Better” at that. At first glance, that might seem like a discouraging result; after all, it indicates more than half of women feel the AV industry could be more responsive and respectful of females. However, more positively, only two percent of respondents perceive the AV industry as being “Unwelcoming.” That statistic reflects that, although the AV industry does have work to do in valuing women’s presence and accomplishments, our industry does not typically foster hostile, toxic and discriminatory workplace conditions for women.
Everyone can point to these statistics in their recruiting efforts, helping to overcome misperceptions, stereotypes and fears that women and young girls might have about the type of experience and reception they can expect when embarking on a career in AV.
Knowing how women get started in AV is critical if we want to develop effective career programs and targeted recruitment efforts, as well as understand what draws women to our industry. Some 67 percent of survey respondents said they “Fell Into It” when asked how they got started in the AV industry. Another 15 percent received some formal education/training, whereas five percent were referred.
That data tells us that, at present, we don’t have a handle on how women find their way into our industry; thus, neither our past nor our current recruitment efforts are having their intended effect. It’s fascinating to know that 337 out of 506 women surveyed are here by random chance, and that’s worth delving deeper into in future studies. We have to understand why the AV industry seems to be “an accidental choice.”
The results of the “2020 Women + Girls in AV Study” finally give us that long-sought-after snapshot of exactly who the professional females who work in the AV industry are. We now have valuable insight into who they are, what they do and how they perceive the tech landscape in which they pursue their career goals and dreams.
This research unearths areas that deserve attention, and it celebrates how far the AV industry has come in offering a diverse, welcoming and promising career choice for females. Both women and men can take pride in having a significant role in advancing gender equality.
Find the full results of the “Kari Martinez + Women in AV 2020 Female Representation in AV Study” by visiting www.womeninav.com.
To read more business-centric articles from Sound & Communications, click here.