Fira Barcelona, Gran Vía
31 Jan - 03 Feb 2023

#Breakthebias – an industry roundtable

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #Breakthebias. We spoke to seven prominent women from the pro AV industry about their perceptions of bias in the workplace and their thoughts on how to address it.

What does bias in the workplace mean to you?

Chris Schyvinck, CEO, Shure: It’s part of the human condition that we show up to work every day with our own background and experiences guiding us, and we may unwittingly judge a situation or a person in an unfair way. Being aware of these biases, and talking about them in an open fashion, is the only way to start chipping away at them and minimising their impact over time.

Jenny Hicks, Head of Technology, Midwich: For me it is the quick judgement and assumption that categorises people into job types based on their appearance, gender, personality, race, academic achievement, or background. It is the real-life example of judging the book by its cover.

Jenny Hicks

Petra Van Meeuwen, Director Customer Experience Europe, TIG: Looking up the word ‘bias’ in the dictionary, I found this: ”Inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair”.

To me ‘bias’ in the workplace means that people are being hired/ promoted based on their gender but broader than this, also based on ethnic background, age, looks etc…

Faye Patterson, Project Sales Manager, Runtech Group Limited (40 under 40 Class of 2021): Conscious or unconscious opinions based on stereotypes about certain groups of people.

Faye Patterson

Have you faced bias in the AV community?

Malle Kaas

Malle Kaas, Founder and CEO, Women in Live Music: Absolutely. Simply the fact that ‘women and engineering’ is still not normalised means that in a heated situation, ‘a man would be needed’– at least that is what employers, event managers, audience and even male co-workers would think.

Beky Cann, Director of PR & Communications EMEA, Peerless-AV: I’m pleased to say I haven’t, or not for many, many years anyway. Everyone should feel valued and respected, and I am lucky to have been supported and encouraged in all aspects of my career since leaving university.

If I think back to exhibitions in general in the early 2000s, I do remember I didn’t always feel comfortable, or wasn’t necessarily given the time, as a young female starting out in the B2B PR business. The IT and AV industries were far more male dominated than today, and having the confidence to visit client stands for meetings and scout for new business was something I had to work on. Thankfully, the world of exhibitions has moved on significantly. They can still be daunting for anyone of any age or gender that’s new to the industry, but I’m pleased to see definite improvements in equality and diversity, with more balanced booth staffing, more women in different job positions and more initiatives and industry groups aimed at encouraging integration, development and recognition in general.

Efrat Elitzur, Chief Marketing Officer, Tecom Electronics (40 under 40 Class of 2021): Unfortunately, yes. I’ve felt sometimes that people were not taking me or my ideas and knowledge in the field seriously, while men in the same role and position were more successful getting their ideas accepted.

It is no secret that the AV industry is generally dominated by men, and as we go higher up in company hierarchies, we realise that there are fewer women, especially in key roles.

Tecom Electronics works mainly with institutional customers such as medical facilities, universities and colleges, installing hybrid classrooms and conference rooms. When I meet customers I’ve noticed, for example, that women in academia, as well as in medical facilities, are less discriminated against. Our industry has somewhere to strive.

On the same note, it is important to talk about the rising power of women in this industry. Each time I encounter a woman from the industry, almost always I’m impressed by her. Usually these are talented, hardworking women who sometimes work harder than men just because they need to prove that they are not less talented or committed than their male colleagues – I think it’s admirable.

Jenny Hicks: I joined the industry very young. Age and gender have led to some poor assumptions from industry colleagues. I would need an extra hand to count the number of times I have been asked if I worked in marketing.

The worst was a manufacturer employee who only asked who I worked for and when I answered he replied, “I think it’s great that they’ve sent you to cover the conference, we need these events marketed more, if you need anything explaining just let me know” – I was actually a guest speaker at the event. My favourite was an integrator who requested training for their design team, I think it was IPTV, and when the session was confirmed with times and my name the integrator contact reached out to his sales rep to stress that they were looking for technical product training, so was there anyone else from Midwich that could be sent to them!

Honestly, at the time and still today it has always made me laugh, as I felt confident in my knowledge and particularly enjoyed the surprise I would witness when they couldn’t catch me out with their questions; but if I hadn’t had that confidence the comments could have affected me differently and even set me on an alternative career path.

What are your tips for overcoming bias?

Petra Van Meeuwen: Common sense, an open-minded mentality, belief, sense for equality, open discussion, more women as CEOs.

Chris Schyvinck: I believe education is an important starting point. There is a wealth of information online – so if you haven’t received training on important topics like unconscious bias, carve out some time and learn. From a very personal perspective, continue to believe in your abilities and surround yourself with knowledgeable, team-oriented people. I am fortunate to have been working in a supportive system at Shure that does not discriminate between men and women. This is a company that has had a woman serve in the Chair role since 1995. If you are not in a culture like that now, work to change it.

Faye Patterson: Be confident in your ability and your decisions, you have every reason to be there!

Malle Kaas: Well, we need to start at an early stage and teach children they can be whatever they wish despite of gender. Then we need companies, managements etc to ask for diverse crews. And nevertheless, we need our female co-workers to step out of the shadow and into the spotlight and claim their work position.

Efrat Elitzur: In order to overcome bias and move forward into a better and equal future, we need to realise that these are processes that take time and patience. I recommend calculating a route and seeing how we can still achieve our goals:

  • Stay as professional as possible and don’t let anything disturb your good work or break your spirit.
  • Be determined toward your goals and prove yourself according to your work success or according to the test result – nobody can argue with your success.
  • Expand your network and co-workers, meet new colleagues as much as possible and keep in touch with them.

In general, we all should raise awareness of this issue, not ignore it, and develop constant thinking about it.

Do you think that gender bias presents a challenge to recruiting women into tech roles?

Faye Patterson: I think the bias comes more from other industries that are interacting with ours. I believe the AV community is pretty inclusive, however outside sources will sometimes have the expectation that they will be working with a male and can therefore make you feel that you must prove you are qualified enough.

Jenny Hicks: The industry has changed significantly over my career. I didn’t really notice any bias in my sales roles, it was only as I progressed into technical roles where I felt more conscious of being in the minority. It feels very different now and it has been a long time since I was ‘mis-roled’, but females in tech roles remain under-represented across many sectors, not just AV. I think as an industry we could be more aware of gender stereotyping in our marketing and advertising at times but mostly it’s about outreach programmes to youth, particularly secondary schools. AV is almost invisible to school age students outside of what is in their living room and the school hall/theatre. Getting in front of this demographic, workshop style, to show the typical projects and roles available would drive a more diverse workforce in the future.

Beky Cann: I personally know many women in varying roles whether it’s tech, engineering, sales, marketing, operations, purchasing, HR and more; many of them within Peerless-AV, not just in Europe but globally. And this, I hope, would send a positive to anyone looking in that is considering working for our company. It also shows how the AV industry has progressed in the last 20 years and sends a message of hope that this will only improve as we see more talent coming direct from universities.

Do you believe the AV industry is doing enough to tackle this issue?

Efrat Elitzur: I believe that the world is changing and so is the AV industry. In my 11 years of working in the industry I have seen an increase in the number of women working in tech roles, as engineers, managers and consultants; but I believe it’s just the beginning of the change we will start to see in the coming years. There is a lot more to do, women are still the minority in this field.

I believe that building a global community that unites the women in tech roles, giving us tools, tips and knowledge, will help us to step forward faster into what the future holds. Talking more about this important issue and raising it up the agenda should happen on a daily basis. We should hold conferences on the subject and give incentives to firms that hire women in large intakes.

We should also educate our children and the next generation to pursue equality and make decisions as objectively as possible, not according to prejudice or stereotypes.

Petra Van Meeuwen: I genuinely think that the AV industry is a progressive industry going with the times but I do encourage bringing attention to the subject and opening the discussion through things like International Women’s Day.

I would like to add, though, that outside our industry there are many places and organisations where there is still a lot of inequality. As an avid tennis player and fan, the battle for equal pay between the men’s and women’s draw is still going on since the days Billie-Jean King started the debate.

Beky Cann: I believe so. Every time I open a trade magazine, the new hire pages generally show a more balanced outlook and far more women are, quite rightly, speaking with authority on all manner of tech topics. The establishment of an AVIXA Women’s Council in Germany is another example of AV industry progression. It’s all going the right way.

Malle Kaas: I believe that many different corners of the AV industry have realised that if we should move anywhere towards a sustainable gender balance, they need to take some serious steps in order to change the current picture. But for instance ISE is making a big effort this year in Barcelona with many activities like panels debate, network sessions etc that have diversity as their topic. And they have a lounge dedicated to Women In Live Music, the platform for female crew in the live event industry that I’m representing.

Chris Schyvinck: Professional AV organisations, as well as many companies, are really stepping up to increase diversity and battle issues around bias. The more we can showcase the achievements of women in AV, the less bias we hope to see. The workforce and biased views continue to evolve. I believe that the world is becoming more vigilant about these issues. Successful companies are adapting accordingly. Those with archaic views, who are unwilling to change, may struggle. At the end of the day, you want to have the best talent possible, so why would any company want to limit themselves?

You may also like to read...