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Closing the Gender Gap

In the 1970s, AVI-SPL's Helene Andersen remembers there weren't many women working in pro AV. Over the years, that's changed ... for the better.

Even in the 21st century, those stereotypes can rear their ugly heads. Ronnie Anne Spang, CTS, videoconference engineer with York Telecom, has worked in AV since 2004 and has been involved with electronics since high school. Several years ago, she says, she was working on-site for a large defense contractor who was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on AV systems. "I was there to design, program, and integrate their systems, but was met with open hostility," Spang says. "They had a hard time accepting that a woman was the programmer."

The client put Spang to the test, and she won them over by solving every problem they threw at her. "I told them, 'If you can imagine it, I can make it happen.' They challenged me with ever-changing parameters. But I didn't give up and they eventually accepted that I had the skills to program their system," she says.

Mentors Wanted

Unfortunately, despite the growing influence of women in the pro AV industry, it can be hard as a woman to learn from someone else's experiences. Willard says finding a female mentor can be difficult because, although their numbers are increasing, women in AV are spread out all over the country. She uses InfoComm's Women in AV special interest group as an online resource to reach out and learn about other women's experiences.

"Learn and understand the AV business, stay up-to-date with the technology, and continue your education," Willard advises other women in AV. "The opportunities are here; you just have to be prepared to take them."For her part, Meade attends the Women in NSCA reception at the annual InfoComm trade show to make new contacts, and she recently joined the Female AV Executives (FAVE) group (www.faveinternational.org), a start-up organization that debuted at InfoComm 2009."Don't be afraid to be a woman in AV, even if you're treated as one of the guys," Meade says. "We're a different creature and it doesn't make us any less qualified, so embrace being a woman.""It's not always about knowing more or being taken seriously as a woman," Spang says. "Any company that doesn't hire women, or the disabled, or minorities is really missing out on new perspectives. Women see things that men don't see, and vice versa."Like the others, Heléne Andersen remains grounded in reality but not defined by it. "It's still a male-dominated industry," she says, "but you can succeed based on your capabilities. Be smart and you will do as well as any man."

Linda Seid Frembes is a freelance AV writer and contributing editor to Pro AV.



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