Building A Bigger Table
This column first appeared in Sound & Communications.
InfoComm 2016 might be ancient history for you, but those of us who work for InfoComm are straddling between finalizing our offerings for InfoComm 2017 in Orlando, June 14-17, and delving into what worked (and what didn’t) at last June’s show in Las Vegas. Of course, the star of the show is always the amazing technology that our exhibitors display and demonstrate. But the networking events we host alongside our training and exhibits play an important role in making visitors feel welcome.
In Las Vegas, InfoComm hosted many sold-out events aimed at welcoming attendees. These included an event for first-time attendees, an enjoyable mini-tour and reception at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, and our fourth-annual Women of InfoComm Network breakfast.
I have received many questions over the past few years about the Women of InfoComm Network (WIN), an official InfoComm council established and overseen by industry volunteers. People ask: Why does InfoComm have this council? Why is it successful? What message does it send to the industry?
The Women of InfoComm Network was formed by the association because it was needed. At the time, InfoComm did not have any programs specifically aimed at women in the industry. Attendance at our June shows was only about 10 percent women. There was a desire among the InfoComm Board of Directors to cultivate more women in leadership, but we did not have a volunteer relationship with a large number of them. Finally, and frankly, the industry needs to grow its workforce. We need to show students and young professionals that AV is an exciting, viable career for women, who earn more than 55 percent of college degrees.
It did not take long for WIN to become successful. Large-scale events have also been held at Integrated Systems Europe, Tecnomultimedia Brasil, Tecnomultimedia Mexico, Integrate in Sydney, Australia, and, recently, at InfoComm India. Mahua Mukhopadhyay, Director at AV Integration Distribution India and one of a growing number of women leaders in India’s AV industry, addressed the WIN event in Mumbai. “InfoComm’s Women of InfoComm Network is a great initiative for current and future women professionals,” she explained. “To address India’s shortage of skilled talent in AV, I look forward to seeing more and more efforts to inspire young people to choose AV as a first career choice.”
In addition to gatherings at trade shows, smaller happy hour events have been held regionally, all with a goal of providing a global community of InfoComm members and other professionals (women and men) committed to supporting and empowering women who work in the technology and AV industries.
At the WIN breakfast in Las Vegas in June, the council rolled out the WIN Career Empowerment Alliances. WIN’s successful events draw large crowds, but sometimes a more focused discussion among peers is beneficial for sharing ideas and support, advising on career topics, and planning initiatives that support the larger community. The WIN Career Empowerment Alliances will organize interested individuals into small groups with a facilitator to review articles and videos of importance to women in the workplace, and to discuss important issues such as career advancement, work/life balance and conflict resolution. The groups will meet virtually each month, and the participants will be able to share career challenges and successes.
What we have learned is that women will participate in industry events if they are made to feel welcome. Hosting an education session, acting as a webinar panelist or serving as an industry leader will only happen if women, and other underrepresented communities, feel included.
These efforts are already starting to show benefits beyond the WIN council. This year, half of new attendees at the InfoComm show were female. The past three winners of the Michael Vergauwen Scholarship, given annually by the International Communications Industries Foundation, were women. This is particularly impressive when one considers that scholarship applicants are evaluated blindly, and are therefore chosen purely based on their qualifications.
The success of the Women of InfoComm Network has given the association the confidence to create programmatic homes for other groups that are underrepresented at InfoComm. InfoComm recently launched the Young AV Professionals Council, with more than 200 members around the world. As a result, we now have fresh relationships with vibrant, next-generation leaders who are 35 years old and under. In a short time, the group has undertaken key projects, including creating career maps for those entering the AV industry, and creating videos explaining the different AV jobs one can seek out.
InfoComm plans to continue to create seats at the table for all who are interested in excelling as AV professionals. Our hope is that, by being an inclusive association, the entire industry will benefit. We will never stop serving those who made us successful for the past 77 years. However, by embracing industry diversity, we will ensure that the audiovisual field will continue to thrive in changing times.