International Women's Day: Succeeding as a Woman in AV
8 March 2022 // 15 mins read
With this year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme of #BreakingTheBias, we are empowering women to share their success stories of being in the AV industry.
Runtech spoke to five inspiring industry-leading women on a range of topics, such as learning how they kick-started their career in AV, any encounters of adversity, their proudest achievement, and tips for other women interested in entering the industry.
As a company, we are proud to continually strive to ensure we do our part in helping break the bias in our workplace and industry. We would like to say a huge thank you to Carys Green, Vicki Goodlock, Faye Patterson, Rachael Hamilton, and Faye Bennett for sharing their stories.
I started working in the AV industry completely by accident! After University, I had a few different jobs in sales and then a recruitment agency put me forward as an Account Manager for an AV distribution company, Maverick (now a part of Tech Data), launching my career in AV! I really enjoyed the working environment, it was a busy, buzzy sales office with great people. I found the technology really interesting and loved the fact it’s ever-evolving so you aren’t seeing the same products year after year!
After two and a half years of working at Maverick, I went on Maternity leave to have my first son. During this time, Maverick went into administration which meant most of the team, including myself, were made redundant. Applying for jobs that offered flexibility whilst also being a professional levelled role was really challenging. After my second son, I briefly left the industry before coming back in 2012, where I started a new role at an AV integrator where I was fortunately offered flexible working.
Fast forward to today, a lot has changed and parents play more equal roles in childcare, not just in the industry but also in society. I’ve experienced a few other instances of adversity, for example someone assuming I don’t have the correct technical knowledge, so instead of asking me a question they go to a male colleague first. However, the industry is moving forward and there is less adversity. I’d recommend joining a company that has a culture you feel comfortable working in.
Some of my proudest achievements includes being in AVIXA Women’s Council UK leader. In recognition of my work to promote conversations around Women’s diversity in the industry, I was selected in Installation “Pro AV Power 20 list”, which rounds up the most inspiring and influential figures from across the AV and installation market, globally. Additionally, stepping up and taking a role at Shure after only working for small to medium integrators is a great achievement!
Some of my top tips include:
- Build a network to have allies you can rely on (within your company and also in the wider industry)
- Try and get a mentor for impartial advice during every stage of your career
- Sometimes we have to be thick-skinned and work harder to get noticed. If you work hard and shine, people will recognise your ability and opportunities will come your way.
AVIXA women’s council is hosting an event on 16th March to celebrate International Women’s Day. The council will also be hosting online and in-person events throughout the year and will be launching its mentoring scheme.
Like many, I fell into AV; I left uni with a degree in Interdisciplinary design (think the apprentice only with a qualification at the end rather than investment). I headed to London wanting a career in Fashion, but it turned out it didn’t pay well! So, I applied for roles in technology where the money seemed to be and took my first AV job at Micro-p (now Exertis). I found something I enjoyed; I’m a little nerdy, so AV seemed to work for me. I moved around a few different roles within the Industry before ending up back where I started doing marketing which was a big part of my degree and where I found my passion.
I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I’ve felt uncomfortable at events being one of a handful of women or that I haven’t felt unfairly treated due to my gender; however, those occasions aren’t a fair representation of the Industry and for me feel very much in the past.
There are so many times when I have been encouraged and jeered on by the Industry. When I started on my own, I couldn’t have been given more support than I did, by those I have met along the way, both male and female! I found many of my champions early on in my career, and they still have my back now. With the right support network, most situations can be overcome and knowing one’s worth is very important.
There are several occasions where I have been proud during my career in AV; Imago ScanSource winning distributor of the Year at the AV Awards, While I was Head of Marketing was a real highlight. Also, watching my clients win awards that I’ve been involved with has been really rewarding. Working in Marketing, especially in the background, means I’m not always there in person to see clients pick up awards, but I’ve loved the occasions when I have joined them on stage to pick up their awards. I also get a real buzz from seeing my clients in the press or when they win a big tender.
There are some pillars within any industry/career that we would all benefit from sticking to:
- Find your champions, those who make you feel good about what you’re doing and who are willing to give you their time. (don’t forget to give back too)
- Remember your values and stick to them, Plans and career paths may change, but your values should remain.
- Take every opportunity to learn. I took the CTS exam; it helped my knowledge base and was a great personal achievement.
- ‘Failure’ isn’t a bad thing; we all mess up at times, no matter who we are. Be humble and honest and own the error.
- Celebrate your successes – and keep focusing on them and not the mistakes.
I fell into the AV industry after working as a project coordinator in a fire and security company. I was employed by a global digital marketing agency as project and operations coordinator to help set up their engineering department for their new AV division. With no previous technical experience, I learnt so much from this role which typically involved project managing from conception through to completion, preparing client proposals, and procurement. This was all with the help of an amazing female AV consultant who became a great mentor to me in my early career. After briefly stepping away from the industry, I was employed by Runtech and it just went from there!
Sadly, I have had to experience adversity particularly when dealing with specific industries that are heavily male dominated. The assumption that I am less qualified to work in the industry as I am a female, has really pushed me to work hard to establish myself regardless of my gender or level of education. I completed the Women in AV (WAVE) mentoring programme in 2019, which helped me start building my network of other women within the industry. Anytime I am faced with challenges, I remind myself to be confident in my decisions and ability.
My proudest achievement is having the capability to juggle motherhood with my career. Although this can sometimes be a challenge, particularly as a single parent and a new mother, I believe creating the right balance is key and is achievable with the correct support from your employer and personal attitude. Since joining Runtech, I have also been recognised in this years’ Inavate 40 under 40 and last years’ Commercial Integrator 40 under 40 class which is really rewarding!
A few of my tips include:
- Reach for those high-level roles and don’t be intimidated getting there! Although it can be difficult, never question your ability!
- A manager of mine once told me “It is s perfectly fine to make mistakes, as long as you don’t make the same one twice” and this has stuck with me throughout my career. I truly believe it is better to try something and give it your all, rather to never try at all.
- I also recommend joining a women’s network or mentoring programme. This really helped me as I met other women who shared their expertise and knowledge early on in my career.
AV Business and Marketing Consultant
Founder of I AM RACHAEL (IAR)
I studied broadcast journalism and politics at university hoping to become a foreign correspondent having grown up in Libya. Sadly I was unable to find a job in broadcast, so fell into magazine sales back home in Derby. I knew I needed to be in London to get a journalism job, so I applied for an account manager role at AV Magazine in 2007 and got it, thinking if I work closer to their editorial team I can make the jump. I quickly realised there was no money in journalism so stayed in sales. In 2003 I left AV Magazine and moved into broadcast for 10 month, the AV team fondly call this my ‘AV sabbatical’. I really didn’t get on in broadcast and missed AV, so made a return to AV Mag. During my 13-year career at AV Mag, I picked up another degree, in marketing, and rose through the commercial ranks, and ended up running the AV Magazine publishing business. In 2020 having achieved everything I could at AV, I decided it was time to prioritise my mental and physical health, so jumped ship to work on my work life balance and quality of life. Having worked with the industry’s end-users for many years, I’ve got a holistic understanding of the challenges they face. For that reason, I decided to leverage the knowledge, experience and connections I had made and set up IAR – a dedicated AV Business and Marketing Consultancy. We help AV businesses grow sustainably by putting their customers at the heart of all business decisions.
Personally, I haven’t faced any adversity and I can’t express enough how fortunate I feel for all the support I’ve had from various individuals and businesses across the industry. However, working for an industry magazine is very different to working for a male dominated AV business so I don’t think it’s fair for me to say there aren’t barriers out there. I’ve heard horrendous stories. I can say, the industry today is very different to what it was when I started 15 years ago. Visiting trade shows you’d walk through a sea of trolly dollies, the various ‘boys’ only clubs and the lack of women at any event. Although there certainly aren’t the levels of women, or individuals from diverse background we would like to see, it has vastly improved. There are more women than you think out there working in operations, service, sales and technical jobs, they just aren’t self-publicising.
My proudest achievement? God. This is a tough one….perhaps the time I mounted the AV Awards 7ft projection/chocolate cake because I was so overjoyed the evening that I got kicked out of my own event? But seriously, my proudest achievement (a long winded answer) – is helping save AV Magazine. Back in 2008 the legendary long time editor Peter Lloyd left. I was a fresh faced account manager, and between 2008 to 2010 AV Mag was up for sale. There was a recession and a lot of change. Publishing is a ruthless industry, if a magazine isn’t making the margin they want they close down or sell it on, regardless of its legacy (AV Mag was born in 1972!). A major issue with mags is their staff turnover is on average 18 months, so you have little consistency… and more importantly, no one really cares. In 2010 we were sold off, our entire team apart from myself, my predecessor Adam Kingshott (now of Clevertouch) and now Paul Milligan (now InAVate). Adam and I loved the AV industry, and absolutely adored the AV Magazine brand – to the extent we always semi-joked if we could we would buy AV Mag ourselves. We took this opportunity to reassess the mags value proposition; we brought it into the 21st century; we gave it a purpose which it had lost along the way and fundamentally, developed AV Mag into something the industry needs and wants. Jump to 2016, Adam left and I took over as brand director. Without a shadow of a doubt, I got to be part of the greatest dream team AV Magazine had ever seen between 2016 – 2020. This is my joint greatest achievement. Zoe, Sabrina, Amit, Guy, Julian, Clive and Kim – we lived and breathed the brand and the industry; we fought our management to ensure our customers were at the heart of every decision made…and more often than not, we won. This resulted in the biggest revenue and profit growth AV Mag had ever seen. I am so honoured to have been part of this incredible team, we shared blood, sweat and tears and so many laughs.
These are my three tips for other women wanting to get started in AV:
- Get a mentor – have a few mentors. I can put my career, knowledge, and connections down to a handful of people in this industry. I am part of the AVIXA Women’s Council committee, this will be something we will be working on to help women progress their careers in AV.
- I would say to all women out there – don’t lean in – jump in, join the groups, contact the magazines or your companies PR department and see what articles you can contribute to or panels to speak on – remember if you can see it you can be it.
- I would say you need to avoid being too easily offended (within reason of course), stay true to yourself and be brave. Don’t pretend you’re something you’re not, and certainly ask for help when you don’t know. You need to gain the trust and respect of not just men, of anyone in the industry – being honest and human will do this.
When I returned from Greece in 2011, I was looking to start my career back in the UK. After four months of searching, I came across a Customer Service job advertised for an LED manufacturer (Daktronics). I really didn’t like the idea of Customer Service – on a headset all day getting shouted at… no thanks! – but that’s where it all began. My first AV job with Dak was just fantastic, a perfect and rewarding start to my career in AV. And now Customer Service is my business!
Working in the tech industry, there can be a lack of diversity. Introduce a young(ish) woman with big ideas of how to transform AV support and you’ll get some friction… at least that has been my experience. The adversity I’ve come across is more to do with that awful phrase ‘well, that’s how we’ve always done it’ or ‘that’s not how it’s done in the industry’, which I, as someone who’s trying to push the boundaries and make a difference, hate to hear.
In the beginning it led to feelings of Imposter Syndrome – do I really know what I’m doing? Am I a bit of a fraud? Is this the right way to be doing things? These days, I overcome that by working with the customers that have similar values and attitudes to me. Those AV businesses and end-users that just ‘get it’ and where there is complete leadership buy-in for transformational change. It’s really refreshing to work with companies like that.
Without a doubt, my biggest achievement is going solo and setting up my own business in 2019. I left Samsung that winter without another job; just an idea and a clear vision of how to fill a gap in the market. It’s certainly been an adventure, and sometimes I need to take a step back to see what I’ve accomplished since then.
I’m a big believer in women supporting women and there are some fantastic women in AV! For anyone who is unsure about a career in AV, I’d advise them to be bold and reach out to women who are making their way in AV. Apart from good advice, I think they’ll find some brilliant personalities, stories and mentors to help them get started in what is a brilliant industry.