Historically, AV was a male-dominated industry. And the few women in the industry were mostly out of sight in low-level positions. But that’s all changing. Over the decades, as more women have been recruited into AV, many have climbed up the corporate ladder.
But there is still work to do. At the forefront of that effort is the AVIXA Women’s Council.
“The AVIXA Women’s Council has been working to build community in the AV industry, particularly among women,” said AVIXA chairperson Penny Sitler, who is also Draper’s marketing manager. “We help women make connections in the industry, find training and certification opportunities, and grow through leadership.”
One of the ways the council encourages this is with the AVIXA Women’s Breakfast that takes place each year at InfoComm.
Gina Sansivero, the director of business development and education for FSR, Inc., has been involved with the council since its inception.
Gina Sansivero, director of business development and education, FSR.
“I think the most important role for the women’s council is the support and empowerment of women in a non-competitive, non-judgmental, and open environment no matter her position, skill set, or tenure,” said Sansivero. “Clearly there is not only a need for this type of group, but also a significant desire to communicate and network with and support other women in the industry.”
“Building a supportive community that offers women opportunities, preferably opportunities in the boardroom where women have the opportunity to lead within their companies,” said Cory Schaeffer, the director of system solutions at QSC Global Enterprise Accounts. “The industry is improving – yet there is still much work to be done. This starts with us taking the council local and I believe the council’s role is to build awareness.”
Although the annual AVIXA Women’s Breakfast is always well-attended and supported, only a small percentage of people in the AV industry actually attend InfoComm, so it doesn’t reach those who might benefit most.
Cory Schaeffer, the director of system solutions, QSC Global Enterprise Accounts.
“The people who are at the InfoComm show are already leaders. They have been chosen by their companies to represent them at a major industry event,” said Sitler. “Most of the people who are early in their career growth curve are not sent to InfoComm. But those people have huge opportunities to benefit from the education and networking opportunities of a Women’s Council event. Obviously, we need to bring it home.”
And that is just what Schaeffer did. In 2016, she and RP Visual Solutions marketing and business development manager Brandy Alvarado set up the first local AVIXA women’s group in southern California.
“I wanted to connect with this community more than once a year, and I wanted to uplift and support women,” Schaeffer said, “and I knew it needed to start locally for us to see real change.”
Now there are 15 active local groups in the United States and one each in Canada, the UK, and India. Several more in the planning stages.
Christy Ricketts, the vice president of operations and marketing at Contemporary Research, has been active in the Dallas group since January.
“The thing I love the most is when women start to connect, they really support each other. Once we connected local leaders on LinkedIn, we all started to comment on each other’s posts, share meeting info, topics and cheer each other on,” said Ricketts. “Even though I had not met many of these women, they were mentoring me. I also feel this group has the ability to connect people in the AV Industry throughout the year.”
At this year’s AVIXA Women’s Breakfast, the council provided training for leaders, and helped attendees connect with local groups that have already started. Guidelines and inspiration for starting more groups was provided as Sansivero, Schaeffer, and Alvarado shared stories from their experiences. One of those stories involved professional education.
Christy Ricketts, vice president of operations and marketing, Contemporary Research.
“Education is also important to this organization. We provide industry related topics and free seminars on products at meetings,” Ricketts said of the Dallas group’s meetings. “Our goal in the future is to provide volunteer opportunities to help young women enter the AV industry after college.”
“We also should work to reach young girls to ensure that they are aware of our industry,” said Schaeffer. “We cannot just wait until young women are in college. We need to be reaching down to those younger and younger.”
One challenge currently facing the AV industry is a shortage of new talent. Many AV companies are struggling to fill skilled professional positions such as installers, engineers, and programmers. Meanwhile, many women who are already in the AV industry are seeking opportunities to advance.
“The AVIXA Women’s Council is a perfect venue to help these women leverage what they have learned on the job, obtain additional training that they need, and grow into positions where they are needed,” said Sitler. “It is a huge win-win for our members, employers, and the industry. “
Sansivero also underscores the lack of women in executive and leadership positions, agreeing that part of the solution is for the women’s council to attract women to the industry.
“Diversity in any company, organization and industry makes that entity stronger and better able to weather the inevitable storms that it encounters,” she said. “The more points of view, strengths, and characteristics that are sewn into the cloth of an industry the sturdier it becomes, but more importantly, the more attractive it becomes to those inside and outside the industry. With increased diversity (not just gender diversity), our industry will, by default, attract new talent. And we will begin to fulfill our own prophecy.
For more information on the AVIXA Women’s Council, click here.