Integrating the Outsider – creating a culture of inclusivity @AVIXIA #techgirls #STEM

Letter to Tech Girls Are Superheroes from a participant at AVIXIA / Integrate Conference Melbourne

This week I attended the integrate AV Expo. I came to this experience as an outsider. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea why I was there, to be honest. My background is psychology. I am disabled. And I am female. I know from my life experience, that technology rarely considers how to integrate women and the disabled. But this week’s expo changed my views on that.

Firstly, as an outsider, don’t be fooled by the ‘AV’ (audio visual) in integrate ‘AV’ expo—there was some stunning AV, but this expo captures something more. Integrate explores the borderlands of where people and technology meet thus, giving us a window into the future of this industry. It was a week ripe with inspiration and opportunity for anyone from any background… so long as you weren’t a woman.

Don’t think being a female in this industry is a disadvantage? Ask me how many times I was asked to “Get us a coffee will ya, love?” at integrate. Ask me how many times I was asked where my husband was? Ask me how many times I was looked over in the integrate Q and A sessions? Then look at the figures for how many women are in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field, and how much they get paid when compared to their male colleagues. Women are significantly disadvantaged in the STEM field when compared to men. Not only are we under-represented, our experiences in the field, whether on worksites or presentation podiums, are often discouraging.

However, the tide of sexism is turning. Not only did Integrate put on another flawless and exciting expo displaying future trends of our industry, they are actively working to reduce the gender gap in STEM. Their partners in this venture are CEDIA and AVIXA. Both are authorities in AV industry. Both provide training and certification in this industry. Both are bound by a code of ethics that includes inclusivity.

Tech Girls are Superheroes (TGAS) is an organization that works to engage girls in STEM. AVIXA invited the founder of TGS, Doctor Jenine Beekhuyzen, to speak at the women’s breakfast. Dr Beekhuyzen was deeply inspiring in both her energy and her words. The work TGS is doing, and the impact that TGS is having worldwide, promises a bright future for women in technology. Indeed, many of the women at the breakfast were visibly moved by Dr Beekhuyzen’s words. The room was lit up with hope. As coffee flowed, so did the excited hum of women connecting and energizing each other.

The power of recognition and connection can never be overestimated. It is incredibly powerful and revitalizing to be in a room amongst people who are navigating the same challenges that you are. AVIXA’s Women’s Breakfast was no different. Even just sitting among these women was inspiring. As I reached out and spoke to various members and listened to their stories of hardships and successes, I was reminded the tide of sexism is slowly turning. Women are out there in the industry, working in any number of roles, achieving and succeeding. This progress is in part thanks to organizations like TGAS, AVIXA, and CEDIA. Not only because they are lobbying for greater equality and equity, but they also understand the importance of simply bringing women together.

 When Dr Beekhuyzen invited the room to get involved with TGS and work as mentors, the whole room surged forward. Everyone was eager to help in any way they could. In response to Dr Beekhuyzen’s leadership, the whole room was ready to lift up other women up, to smash through the binds of patriarchy, and show young girls that if they can dream it, they can do it. Connection is our key to the future.

Integrate is a fabulous opportunity for industry and industry partners to come together to explore the cutting edge of our industry. Through forging these new partnerships, we will bear the technology of the future. And while gender is still a pressing issue, it was heartening to see it being tackled head-on by someone such as Dr Beekhuyzen as supported by integrate. Both are courageous and necessary leaders in the field, and both understand the importance of bringing likeminded people together, even us outsiders, because in these collaborative spaces that the magic of change happens.