Monday, July 15, 2013

Women in AV - A Q&A With An Advocate

Women occupy less than a fifth of all Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) jobs in the United States, and that statistic holds true for women in AV as well. 

We caught up with one woman working to change that. Jennifer Willard is the founder of the Women in AV group, which aims to raise the profile and support women in AV. We wanted to know what challenges women are facing in the industry and what kind of resources are available to them.

1. Why is the Women in AV group needed? 

Women in AV logo

I founded Women in AV (WAVE) in June 2011.  Just after returning from our annual InfoComm trade show in Orlando I thought, "how fantastic would it be to have a place where a group of women can all get together to network, share stories, and be there to support each other?"

At the time, only FSR, Inc. and NSCA were holding a trade show reception specifically for the females in our industry.  Quite unexpectedly, we had 26 members join within an hour of launching our Women in AV Linkedin group.  The need and desire were clearly there.  

Just recently, we added our 600th member to our LinkedIn group and we have over 2,500 supporters on Twitter (@WomeninAV). In just two short years, WAVE is an internationally recognized organization with members from five continents and we represent all sectors, functions, and seniority of our overall industry. 

WAVE is very much needed in our industry.  Statistically, women make up less than 20 percent of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) jobs across all tech industries and this number has actually been on the decline.  

It is no different in AV, in spite of our being widely recognized as a service-oriented industry that focuses on the delivery of communications and information.  All areas you would expect women excel at and would naturally be drawn to.  

I think we need to do a better job at selling our industry for the creative and innovative things we actually accomplish.  We tend to focus on selling technical-jargon, boxes and cables, instead of promoting the fact you can actually be involved in saving someone’s life through the use of telemedicine or closing a million dollar deal with that one critical videoconference meeting.

Our mission is to encourage, recognize, and advance the women in our industry.  We want to provide opportunities, activities, and a place for women to feel respected and part of the discussions and decisions that continue to make our industry grow.  

We also encourage men to be a member of WAVE. We truly recognize and value that, being in a male-dominated industry, the men in our industry are our biggest champions and without them those of us who are in AV would not be where we are today.  

This industry is unique in that we have an incredibly high number of women holding senior-level positions in their companies versus what we tend to see in other STEM industries. Over 60 percent of our LinkedIn group falls into a category of management or higher.

2. What unique challenges do women face in the field? Is it difficult to break in or advance? 

Many of the challenges women face in our field are those we impose on ourselves.  It can feel intimidating to be the only woman in a room, which can lead to hesitation when we may want to speak up or have an idea to put forward.  

It’s also a little hard to shake that natural instinct of wanting to be helpful and a team player.  Therefore, it’s sometimes easier for us to fall into the role of supporter rather than risk alienating ourselves saying something controversial. 

Women tend to want to feel they know everything about a topic or particular area. In that sense, we put far too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect rather than being comfortable jumping in and learning as we go.

I was incredibly blessed to have the opportunity in high school to be involved in a broadcast environment and be educated on the fundamentals of AV at a young age.  This gave me the background and confidence to pursue bigger opportunities throughout my career.

This is not just for women, but how we encourage and engage all youth to see the value and long-term benefit in pursuing a career in AV. All I wanted was to produce and create a news show at the time.  It never crossed my mind that my skills would be transferable to landing my first job out of college being an AV Systems Administrator of an international audio and videoconferencing program.  I had no clue what videoconferencing was then, but, I did know I could figure it out if given the chance.

3. Are there any skills or traits that women bring to the field that men might not?

What I continue to hear, from both sexes, is that women are relationship builders and this works to our benefit in being able to develop long-term business partnerships and opportunities.  

I think women have a very good sense of situational awareness that allows us to be able to “feel” out what any given situation needs to keep it moving forward constructively.  

It goes without saying too that women are highly organized and efficient. While men can focus on one detail very well for hours, women are multi-tasking and able to take the 50,000-foot view needed to keep everything afloat.

4. You give an annual WAVE Mentoring award. How important is it to find your own mentor in the field, and where can women go to find them?

It is incredibly important for women to have a mentor in AV.  WAVE would not be what it is today without the founding members of the Women in AV Planning Board.  

Jan Sandri, Cory Schaeffer, Laureen Jones, Kelly Perkins, CTS, and Sara Abrons, CTS are all women whom I consider my mentors and have given tirelessly of themselves to help other women.  Growing WAVE to this point was truly a team effort and were it not for their counsel, efforts, and support, we wouldn’t be where we are today.  

To that end, we have just launched our WAVE Local Chapters Initiative that will rollout over the course of this year.  Chair Theresa Hahn with Verrex Corporation and Kramer Electronics Malissa Dillman, CTS-D, CTS-I are working with WAVE leaders across the world to establish a program that will help women connect with other WAVE in their local area for activities, networking, and developing relationships.  

You can learn how to get involved and receive more information on the program by contacting us at

(Kirsten Nelson, editor of SCN Magazine, was the recipient of this year's WAVE Mentoring Award, and there couldn’t be a more deserving woman.  Not only does she lead as an example of what a woman in our industry can hope to achieve with her own experience, she is always giving and supportive of making sure all women in our industry are recognized and have a voice.)

Women in AV founder Jennifer Willard
Jennifer H. Willard, CTS is an award-winning, international speaker on AV design and construction in the judicial and corporate environments.  As the Supervising AV/Video Systems Technical Analyst for the Judicial Council of California - Administrative Office of the Courts, she is the primary AV staff person overseeing the work of architects, consultants, building trades and AV systems integrators on new courthouse capital projects throughout the state of California.  

Founder of the Women in AV (WAVE), Willard has a strong passion and enthusiasm for helping woman advance their careers and professional development in the AV industry.  Through her efforts of creating activities, networking events, and educational opportunities, she assists women to feel confident, recognized, and supported in pursuing their professional and personal dreams and goals.  She is the creator and host of the rAVe [Publications] WAVEcast podcast focused on promoting women in AV and addressing the issues they face in a male-dominated industry.