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Women in Event Tech: STEM

Women in Event Tech: STEM

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Today’s top educators are striving to get more girls and women involved in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) focused areas of school and the workforce as a way to combat the male-dominated, “boys club” atmosphere within these sectors. Alford has actively supported women being involved in the most technical aspects of the industry; however, we too have a long way to go to reach equality. As we continue to cement our commitment to diversity and inclusivity, we are striving to pave the way for other talented female engineers to design and build their own roles. These women are as equally capable and dedicated to growing with the event tech industry, making a name for themselves as experts in their field. Alford sat down with two of our accomplished female technicians, Bonnie Gillum, Sr. Video Specialist, and Tiffany McCray, A/V Engineer.

Bonnie Gillum came to Alford in 1995 after working for several years with Crown Audio Visual, an AV company housed and employed by the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California. As a student at Cal Poly Pomona, a friend introduced her to hotel AV, showing her a whole new world of tech. In her free time, Bonnie enjoys reading and relaxing at home as well as traveling to see her family in states across the US.

Bonnie started out at Alford in projection and soon became a valued expert in the field. She credits her growth to a few mentors over the course of her career. In California, Bonnie worked closely with a fellow Crown Audio Visual employee, Lee Schwabe, A/V Senior Technician, who taught her much about the industry, including assisting him on photo shoots. At Alford, she credits Curtis Sanders and Danny Harris for, “Really teaching me how to be a Projectionist.” said Bonnie.

Bonnie graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a Bachelors degree in Communications and learned the technical skills on the job, saying, “You have to have a willingness to learn, you don’t need as much knowledge to start, but the ability to keep learning the ever-changing equipment and software is a must.” While speaking with Bonnie, we asked her how often she came across women in a similar role to hers while on show site, “I can probably count on one hand how many female techs I’ve come across since I started in this industry.”

“While the live events industry, in general, is not that well known…There’s an opportunity for women and there always has been.”

According to data compiled by the National Girls Collaborative Project, a nonprofit funded in part by the National Science Foundation that aims to increase girls’ participation in STEM; girls now make up about half the enrollment in high-school science and math classes and they are scoring almost identically to their male classmates on standardized tests. This is not the same case for female undergraduates, who make up only 37 percent of STEM-focused majors, a stagnant percentage held since 2007.

As for event tech and AV, the lack of exposure to young people is one of the main reasons they aren’t as well represented in the industry. “While the live events industry, in general, is not that well known. I think you could maybe do some sort of outreach for middle and high schoolers,” stated Bonnie, “There’s an opportunity for women and there always has been.” Sharing some advice for women on the technical side, Bonnie indicates, “You have to learn to work under somewhat adverse conditions and be flexible to long hours. You must have the technical skill, the physical ability, and the mindset to do this job.”

Starting out as a stagehand for Show Masters, Tiffany quickly caught on and applied to Alford after four months of training. She was hired as a screen technician and soon moved to the QC video department where she developed a talent and interest in media servers, “My ultimate goal is to become Alford’s first dedicated Media Server Programmer and further develop our services.” said Tiffany.Tiffany McCray Tiffany McCray has long held an interest in technology, going to college for video production in 2004. Her initial interest was to produce music videos and move to California. After working for a sport’s merchandising company and traveling nine months out of the year, Tiffany decided to find her way back to tech. In her spare time, Tiffany enjoys disc golfing, attending comedy shows, loves to travel and finds any excuse to learn new things, especially in technology.

While Tiffany has been in the event tech industry for only a few years, she recognizes that her status as a female technician is a rare one. “I’ve been on jobs where I’m the only female or black female and not seeing that diversity can be something that forces an individual to stand out, which can be intimidating,” Tiffany said.

“Being able to hear ideas from diverse groups provides so much more opportunity for the industry to grow. You’ll see the overall morale goes up as well.”

To combat discouraging cultural factors, the tech industry must acknowledge that they are part of the problem by not implementing diversity in a noticeable way. “If you think about it, it’s just detrimental to have the same like-minded people in one industry. Even if the diversity conjures up some conflict, that’s good too because it’s forcing people to see other points of view,” Tiffany said, “Being able to hear ideas from diverse groups provides so much more opportunity for the industry to grow. You’ll see the overall morale goes up as well.”

When Tiffany is on show site, she says she rarely comes across other women in a similar technical role, instead of seeing them in producer or event planner positions. “It’s always awesome when you do see other female techs because it is so rare,” said Tiffany. “Even if we are busy and just passing by, there’s always a moment when you want to chat and hear how that woman got into the industry.” Female techs have been a source of inspiration and inside information for Tiffany, “Bonnie was always the first one to answer my questions and happy to answer because she wants you to know, she wants you to learn. Whatever I ask or need, she encourages me to learn.” Another time, while Pam Schoen was working on a show site before coming to Alford, as our newest National Account Coordinator, Tiffany appreciated seeing another woman have such tenacity for her job, “Pam was working as a Producer at an outdoor show in a tent and she was just handling it. I was admiring everything she was doing.” said Tiffany.

As a whole, STEM-based jobs are still largely held by men, and there are multiple reasons for this, including social, educational and economic circumstances. For instance, a lack of female representation at the world’s top universities. “Women are less likely to participate in science and engineering settings in which they are outnumbered by men,” found Stanford University psychologist Mary Murphy. Another study by the Center for Talent Innovation states, “Women who left their tech jobs were less likely to report opportunities for training and development, support from a manager, and support for balancing work and other competing responsibilities. They were also more likely to report undermining behavior from managers.”

In the end, we find that women and men are equally as likely to be inclined towards STEM areas of academics and the workforce. The real issue is retaining women’s interest and employment over time. According to the study, Women in Tech: The Facts, it’s been discovered that women in tech leave their jobs at twice the rate of men. Understanding why women are leaving is key to developing useful methods for the retention of women in STEM fields.  While Alford seeks only to encourage and cultivate an inclusive and diverse workplace, the industry as a whole has a crucial responsibility to pave the way for all young women.

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