Diversification is the key to success – AV Magazine

Posted: October 15, 2021 at 9:12 pm

When diversity and inclusion training company The Right Track took to Twitter to discover how people felt about the topic, more than half associated it with political correctness, rather than as an opportunity for change.

As Claudia Cooney, lead director of The Right Track, points out, this means in a team of ten as many as half of team members havent yet been brought into the diversity and inclusion conversation.

AV is ahead of that curve in terms of attitude, our diversity survey reveals with a predominantly positive and open view of the topic: 58 per cent of respondents drawn from across the world of AV, predominantly in EMEA, recognise it as a positive move worth pursuing, rather than the latest incarnation of political correctness.

Its encouraging from an industry that, like many other STEM industries is very male and pale, that 66 per cent report D&I to be one of their organisations stated values and/or priority areas. However, not everyone is convinced: 29 per cent think D&I is a great idea but hard to deliver, another six per cent questioned whether it will make any difference, while the naysayers albeit very much in the minority deem it nonsense, a waste of time or even a scam.

Challenge and educateEducation and awareness are critical in learning about the perspectives and experiences of minority groups, explains Stephen Cuppello, principal research psychologist at Thomas International, an international talent assessment platform and co-author of Rethinking Workplace Diversity 2021. The wider the audience you learn from, the greater the awareness you will build.

Almost half our research respondents have attended diversity training and of those, nearly half thought training had either challenged or changed how they think and act in the workplace. Others said it deepened their understanding and opened their eyes to diversitys breadth of definition. For the most part, AV attitudes have moved beyond mere legal compliance; the majority report the primary focus of their organisations diversity programmes is to attract and retain talent.

There is a lack of diversity in our industry and an appetite to increase it, says Denise OKeefe, director of specialist AV recruiter, Woop Jobs. The issue is timing. The industry hasnt returned to pre-pandemic levels, so for many businesses the focus is still on survival.

What is back to normal is there are more vacancies than candidates, as it has been for twelve of the thirteen years Ive been in business. The priority for our clients is to hire someone with the right level of AV experience. We can only consider the candidates that are available. More could be done in job descriptions only one of our current positions includes a statement on diversity for example.

Even the language of the job ad can be optimised to ensure it does not inadvertently put anyone off. Multiple studies found job descriptions for male-dominated jobs for example, contained more masculine-themed words associated with male stereotypes than job descriptions from female-dominated jobs and vice versa.

Widening the talent poolWhen AV Magazine surveyed the issues of diversity in 2019, long before any of us had heard of Covid-19, one respondent nailed the issue facing AV: There is a very small pool of talent coming into the business and this works against the principles of diversity and inclusion.

In that respect nothing has changed. There is a shortage of talent, says Graeme Massey, director of Jacobs Massey. As an industry we know we have to make AV better recognised and attractive to those at the start of their careers.

Massey has been one of the team working hard behind the scenes to develop the newly-announced AV apprenticeship. Spearheading the two-year apprenticeship is Jack Laidlaw, HE cross-college co-ordinator at Middlesbrough College, also responsible for creating the UKs first BSc Honours degree in AV technology. It has been a labour of love, three years in the making, says Laidlaw. The challenge is that AV is five jobs in one. A new apprenticeship may not overlap existing ones so we had to eliminate any perceived cross-over. It took a lot of persuasion.

The AV industrys response has been incredible but, says Laidlaw, there is much work to be done to drive sign-up for a career in an industry theyve never heard of. AV isnt visible to them in the way the film or music industries are, explains Laidlaw. The world is full of impressive AV displays live events, theme parks, museums but a lot of the technology is hidden.

We need, says Laidlaw to better tell the stories of the people and the technology that make these impressive displays happen to attract new, young talent into an industry populated by professionals who fell into AV rather than sought it out.

Raising awarenessDiversity is a topic rising ever higher on the AV industry agenda. AVIXA has brought focus and discussion to the topic with its Diversity Council while Women in AV has done much to provide a networking and mentoring framework.

Its first report on female representation in AV in May 2020 revealed 52 per cent of those surveyed felt the industry could be better at valuing womens representation and diversity. According to the report, 80 per cent of women in AV are white/Caucasian, 92 per cent live in the US or Europe and 58 per cent hold a non-technical position. Notably, like many other professionals in the AV world, rather than choosing AV as their career path, 67 per cent fell into AV.

While there is no doubt women are under-represented in AV, diversity is more than an issue of gender, or ethnicity for that matter. Age and physical ability are other core and typically visible factors, as AVIXA points out in its video on unconscious bias, but there are other less visible core factors like ethnic heritage, social class, sexual orientation and religion to consider, along with secondary factors such as organisational role and level, income, expertise, education and training and family status and role.

It is a much wider definition than many appreciate. Less than half of our research respondents considered level of education and training, political opinion, family status and social class to be aspects of diversity and less than a quarter, role, level of seniority and length of service.

When were hiring we may focus on these visible aspects of diversity, but these additional factors are more likely to come into play in workplace inclusion. Bill Schaninger, senior partner at McKinsey, responsible for driving organisational change, explains: Diversity is the mix of people. Inclusion is the culture in which the mix of people can come to work, feel comfortable and confident to be themselves, work in a way that suits them and delivers your business needs. Inclusion will ensure that everyone feels valued and importantly, adds value.

This is where the E in DEI comes into play. DEI is the term increasingly adopted by organisations including AVIXA, but while you might think the E is for Equality, and the majority of our research respondents certainly did, the E is for Equity.

The meaning of equityEquity means fairness, not in the sense of treating everyone the same, but in supporting them to succeed by providing each with the resources they need. Emily Holtaus, managing director of diversity, equity and inclusion at NonProfit HR, explains it well in the AVIXAs Unconscious Bias video.

Holtaus analogy focuses on three people all wanting to pick apples from a tree. None can reach the apples unaided. Equality would provide them with a box to stand on, but boxes of the same height. Equity would give each a box that enabled them to reach the apples. The first is fair but fails to take their differing height into account. The second is tailored to the specific needs of each. An even better approach, Holtaus suggests, is to place all the apples in a basket, making them available to all without assistance.

If the goal is to enable everyone to succeed, to support the employers success, then employers should, the argument goes, ensure the creation of a fair work environment where demographic related needs are taken into account.

Differing needs go beyond physical characteristics to personal circumstances. Today that includes supporting remote and hybrid workers, and ameliorating any potential cultural conflict with office-based staff. City of London office workers made news headlines recently when it emerged fully office-based workers were using an insulting acronym-based nickname for colleagues spending only Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the office.

Funny or insulting? It depends if youre making the joke or are the victim of it no harm in it work culture is one that urgently needs diversity and inclusion training, was the off-the-record response from one AV professional.

As Iffat Chaudhry of Involve Visual Collaboration told AV Magazine at an AVIXA diversity panel last summer, we need to build a work culture where people have the confidence to call out behaviours that arent acceptable and to speak up on others behalf.

Inclusive focusIf diversity in hiring helps to attract talent, an inclusive workplace aids talent retention. Close to 70 per cent of our research respondents thought their organisations D&I programmes should have a strong focus on creating an inclusive environment, which, diversity specialists concur, is one where people feel valued and accepted in both their team and in the wider organisation, without having to conform.

Successful DEI is less about programmes and more about culture, warns DEI strategist Jeff Waldman. Integrating a culture of DEI with DEI baked into everything the organisation does within its operations is, he argues, a more effective way to drive improvement in employee engagement, employee productivity, and quality of hire. Every organisation may measure these things differently, but the constant remains that by building a culture of DEI you will see obvious measurable business results.

A 2018 report on Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace by Deirdre ODonovan suggests workplace diversity and inclusion can also inspire feelings of belonging. Inclusion matters more today because, ODonovan says, individuals simply wish to be allowed to be themselves.

When you make it easy for people to bring all their skills and thoughtfulness to innovation and problem solving, they do better. It builds up social exchange. It builds up goodwill. Its a virtuous cycle, says Schaninger. Contrast that with finding out about a meeting after the fact having your background, your experiences, and your ideas discounted. Thats a vicious cycle. No doubt, this has a direct impact.

The majority of our research respondents report they feel valued, included and able to succeed in their organisations. Their line manager listens to and values them while and their contribution to the organisation is recognised. Of more concern is that close to a quarter do not think their workplace has a mix of people that look and think different from one another and over 30 per cent do not feel or feel only partly supported.

Nearly 70 per cent believe their colleagues demonstrate a commitment to creating an inclusive environment, but again, we should be concerned that more than 30 per cent do not. There is clearly plenty of room for improvement. So what can be done? Is an inclusive mindset like a sense of humour in that we all think we have one? Being prepared to challenge our personal thinking is surely a good place to start.

Unconscious biasUnconscious bias is integral to human psychology; it enables fast decision making and is formed from our life experiences. When we open our eyes and ears, we start to notice assumptions and preconceptions. Like the myth that women talk more than men, and myth it is with multiple studies showing women actually talk less than men and are less listened to.

One study by Yale psychologist Victoria Brescoll, found that when male executives spoke more often they were perceived to be more competent, but when female executives spoke more often, they were given lower competence ratings. Other studies showed women were less listened to in meetings and their valid points ignored, only to be accepted when repeated by male colleagues.

The experience is often mirrored in online meetings. In an interview with The New York Times, Mita Mallick, head of diversity and inclusion at Unilever, said frequent interruptions by male colleagues often prevent her sharing opinions in online meetings.

Luxury or necessity?Massey admits as we emerge from the pandemic, focusing on diversity and inclusion might feel like a luxury not every business can afford. Actually, its the ideal time.

The pandemic put the spotlight on AV we were the ones that enabled everyone to work from home, hold and attend meetings and conferences and its brought a new level of respect. Now is a good time to tell the wider world what we do.What we need are AV ambassadors, says Massey.

People who will share their stories and inspire the next generation of AV professionals. Many AV businesses invest in telling their stories to prospective customers to win business.

Maybe its time to explore how to come together and shine a light on what we do in AV to inspire new talent to join an industry that can offer them a great and fulfilling career. Research suggests D&I can boost profitability and innovation as well as attract and retain talent so its a win: win.

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Diversification is the key to success - AV Magazine

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