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‘The attitude towards women working in AV remains a problem’

Madeleine Vining, an award-winning AV technician at the Royal Society of Medicine, discusses why she chose a career in AV, plus reveals some shocking revelations based entirely on her gender

Winner of the Rising Star Award at the Install Awards in 2016, Madeleine Vining (pictured) is one of just a handful of (known) female AV technicians working in the UK, currently plying her trade at the Royal Society of Medicine in London – a venue with conference and events facilities used by thousands every year.

Part of a team of eight, Madeleine – Maddy to her friends – has moved up the ranks from being a trainee in 2012, to now senior AV technician – a position she’s held for almost three years.

In this interview, Madeleine explains the appeal of AV as a career choice, whilst also revealing some shocking revelations about how her gender is still seen as a weakness by some – something which couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Hi Madeleine: When did you first decide a career in AV was for you?

I studied music technology and thought I’d have a career in sound. After finishing university I worked at the 2012 Olympics and was trained in utilities – so helping with the cameras, setting up microphones and assisting camera operators. That experience made me want to look at a career in not just sound but also in vision, so my thoughts changed. A trainee job popped up at the Royal Society of Medicine and I was one of 200 applicants that applied – but thankfully I got it! I’ve progressed from trainee, to technician to senior technician in a short space of time.

What’s a typical day for you at 1 Wimpole Street?

Every day is different. There are other technicians that I manage, so if there are any technology issues, I will sort them out. I also do video editing, live streaming, video conferencing, meeting clients, site visits and video recording.

What is it you enjoy about the AV industry?

It’s always changing and there are always different challenges to overcome. I’ve not got bored yet!

Did your qualifications help you get the job?

My degree doesn’t really help that much in AV other than with sound. To be in AV you don’t need qualifications, which I think is really good. A lot of our technicians have the skills but not necessarily a piece of paper with a qualification written on it. It’s a job you can learn. If you apply yourself and want to learn, you can succeed.

What are your observations regarding diversity?

It’s a very male dominated industry. When I go to tradeshows, events or training there are very rarely many women – sometimes I’m the only one.

How about at your work?

We have eight technicians and recently brought in another female, which is great.

Why do you think that is?

It starts from a very early stage. People don’t see women doing these sorts of jobs and because women don’t see other women doing these jobs, there are no role models. During university, I was the only woman on my course, so I’m very used to it, but it would be nice to see more women involved.

Was AV ever mentioned to you as a career growing up?

Nearly everyone I’ve spoken too didn’t grow up wanting to work in AV. They didn’t study for it, so they just stumbled into it. AVIXA is trying to help schools become more aware of AV because people just don’t realise it’s a good career path.

Have you experienced any level of sexism in your position?

Yes, definitely. Sometimes I receive a call to the AV office and they seem surprised when I tell them they’ve reached the right team and that I am actually able to answer their technical questions.

So, there’s a feeling that because you’re a woman you’ll be unable to help?

Yes, exactly. Sometimes I’ll ask them what their question is and they’ll actually tell me I probably won’t be able to help them – which I can.

Do you experience any other forms of sexism?

When you go to different events and tradeshows and the stands are filled with ‘booth babes’ and women are seen as things and not taken seriously, it leaves a bad taste. Sometimes I can be with another male colleague and another male will speak to us, but won’t make any eye contact with me or address me during the conversation as if I’m not worth their time. If there were more females in the industry, I’m sure that attitude would change.

If you were standing in front of a classroom of children, what would you tell them?

I’d tell them it’s a very interesting job and definitely worth pursuing if you have an interest in anything technical. There are so many elements to AV and it’s always changing, so it really never gets boring.

Is this something you’d like to do?

I actually had a letter from my old high school, asking for former students to come in and do a talk about what it is they’re doing now. I wrote back saying it would be a great opportunity to tell the kids about AV and the opportunities it provides, but sadly, he just wrote back and basically told me thanks but no thanks.

How did you feel?

I was shocked. Even the headmaster is blocking potential pathways for students. Does he even understand what it is, that it’s an interesting job and that anyone can do it? Why wouldn’t you want to broaden their minds? AV is great career choice for males and females.