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Women in skilled trades: Leadership in action

Samantha Ventura, senior vice president, education and training at CEDIA on females in the AV industry

The topic of women’s involvement in the skilled trades comes up often. This is particularly true over the past two years with the dawn of the #MeToo movement, and throughout the pandemic, with the term ‘working woman’ being used and dissected within many contexts.

These contexts include: working women in various industries; with children; working with stress; pay/benefit inequalities; sexual harassment; and diversity.

While the topic of working women in general has been explored, researched, discussed, and written about within a variety of circumstances, situations, and settings, the topic of women in skilled trades is one that is sometimes overlooked. Our industry does have impactful hashtags and groups such as, Women in AV (WAVE, #WomenInAV), Women in Tech, and Women in STEM, connecting women and men and bringing to light powerful success stories of women around the globe who are constantly pushing the needle on technology, standards, and education within the AV industry.

However, growth of any group that has not always seen equal industry representation requires background information to help support a more collective push forward for continued support and stronger future growth. In the area of skilled trades, and particularly AV, there is still work to be done despite large strides that have been made over the past three decades.

To better understand what we need to do, we should first understand how we got here. If you read the last article I wrote about the stigmas often associated with skilled trades (see Installation, December 2020), you will remember my call to action related to bringing more men and women into all skilled trades.

The industry as a whole has fought against unfair stereotypes for many years regarding perceptions often associated with someone seeking a career within a skilled trade. This, coupled with the misconception about the lack of physical ability of women, as well as the general apathy that has often plagued the growing number of people in any less-represented field, has often left the skilled trades with very few women pursuing them as a viable career option.

In fact, according to Tradeswoman.inc, women typically make up only 3%-5% of the skilled trades workforce, yet we have heard from multiple sources including many articles put out by Forbes and the americanactionforum.org, we are quite probably facing a huge crisis in the future demand of skilled workers vs how many are adequately trained and ready to enter the workforce by the year 2029.

This begs two questions: how can we work to support more women entering our industry, and why are they not here now?

Heather Sidorowicz, president and owner of Southtown Audio Video and former CEDIA Board of Directors member, recalls a time 19 years ago when she attended CES as an award winner for the Women in Consumer Technology Legacy Award. Upon hearing why she was there, a male attendee simplified her experience by devaluing the award, calling it a, ‘girly award.’

The words stung, and understandably, stuck with her. Yet, she reminded herself why she had followed in the footsteps of her father to be a part of such an amazing industry: “I see myself here as an advantage. I get to bring to the table a different perspective.” Empowering for her.

Similarly, Chhaya Landschultz, a 5-year marketing director at IndigoZest in the UK, agrees the advantages of women in our industry are vast, recognising that while the industry is male dominated, “our customer base is not, and there is tremendous value having a female perspective at the table”.


Enraged and saddened
While the experiences of both were important to hear when considering the tone of this article, I must admit, the comments of Heather enraged and saddened me, as her friend and because I have seen the level of technological expertise she brings to her work and the industry. It brought to my mind many similar challenges I have also faced in higher education over the past 25 years that were needless and frustrating. I had to wonder, will there ever be equal representation, and fair assessment and acknowledgment of talent, and equitable pay, in all industries?

I further reached out to current CEDIA Board of Director members, Amanda Wildman, co-owner of TruMedia, and Jamie Briesemeister, co-owner of Integration Controls, to ask for their opinions on the state of women in the AV industry, and the perception of women in skilled trades. I know and respect both for their knowledge of the industry, but also for their no-nonsense approach when answering questions, even difficult ones.

Jamie views her experience within the industry from the perspective of a successful business owner who happens to be a woman. She leads with the approach and attitude of her work speaking for itself, but does recognise the industry is male dominated. Amanda calls herself and other women in the industry ‘unicorns’, particularly in areas that rarely see women in the field, such as electricians.

She noted something most wouldn’t even think about: clothing on the job. For so long she made do with pants or boots that ‘would work’ but were not necessarily specialised for women in the field. There is a definite camaraderie amongst these women. They help each other, look out for each other, and have most certainly noticed, and applauded, men and women in our industry who do the same.


Panel equality
Tim Albright, founder of AVNation, recently made the commitment to no longer participate in panels or talks that do not include at least one female or person of colour (https://avnation.tv/podcast/avweek-459-race-the-av-industry/). I myself was honored to participate in a key tech event keynote address focussing on first steps in solving the problem of lack of diversity and talent in the AV Industry.

This topic had been prompted by the fantastic study released in 2020 by WAVE and Kari Martinez, which found that 80% of women in AV identify as white/caucasian (2020 Female Representation in AV Study –womeninav.com).

The topic of women in the AV Industry, and women in the skilled trades in general, is nuanced, and multi-faceted, and when looked at through a deeper lens has layers within the various issues themselves. Thus, when unraveling the many ‘why’s’ associated with lack of women in the industry, you must also recognise the significant lack of colour within the industry as well, for both men and women.

All four women I spoke with for this commentary piece had many positive statements regarding their time in this industry. And, in fact, most experts on the topic of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) will agree the support for bringing more young women into our industry and other STEM fields has grown in leaps and bounds from even a decade ago. In fact, millions of dollars globally are given each year to women seeking education in one of the areas of STEM, and according to the US Department of Labor, in 2016 $1.9 million became available in grants for Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO), and all of these efforts are helping.


Closing the gap
Yet, to close the gap more quickly, supporting as much diversity and representation in all STEM fields, skilled trades, and specifically our industry, there is a need for seasoned professionals and organisations already successfully immersed in their fields, to reach out and offer a welcoming hand and thoughtful support to those not fairly represented as yet. These are the key points as I see them:

Support scholarships for Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) programs

Support strong hiring practices and professional development plans and strategies that illustrate measurable outcomes and actual targets for better female representation, and particularly, females of colour

Support and enforce zero tolerance/no harassment zones for women, both for jobs in the office and in the field

Support mentorship programs by being one, or hosting women in your business to shadow you or your colleagues

 Participate in thoughtful webinars, podcasts, conferences, and other public facing opportunities for discussion on the topic of women in the industry

• Reach out to your local trade schools and ask how you can help bridge more women coming into the industry

• Continue to break down the stigmas surrounding skilled trades in general, but particularly the many misconceptions related to women in particular

• Recognise the challenges working women face, and support ways to remedy those challenges in the workplace

We have recognised the need to drive awareness and support for the skilled trades in general. Now is also the time to build a better foundation in our own industry that will s support and foster more diversity, and better representation. Supporting more women in any area of STEM, but particularly AV, will only benefit our collective future, in both large and small businesses, enhancing the overall elevation of the skilled trades in general.