Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
Proud Business Owner Episode 2
Sorry to do two proud business owner stories in a row but a recent post from one of our clients, Jennie Bell, made me very happy.
She took the photo at 1.30am during a show packdown. Shows look exciting and glamorous, and that’s our job. After the last guests have headed home to bed, it’s not so glamorous. The packdown crew labours into the dark hours pulling everything apart, into the trucks and back to the warehouse. It’s nice when clients recognise their unsung efforts.
I was so pleased to see Jennie recognising the women in the crew. It’s so rewarding to have clients noticing some progress here, because it’s been a long road.
I’m not holding us up as some kind of example to others. We have a long way to go. I wanted to write of our experiences and what’s helped us, in what is a really tough sector for gender balance. If it helps others, that’s cool.
Ours has been a blokey industry forever. Like the construction industry, it involves a lot of heavy lifting. There are lots of good parts to the job, but also plenty of loading cases through dirty hotel loading docks and working at terrible times of the day. So corporate event tech has been a real male bastion.
On average, these are some of the most dedicated workers you’ll ever meet. They’ll go through all kinds of all-night stress to save the day, solving problems caused by others. But some of those guys have brought quite the patronising, mansplaining style behind the scenes. Where a majority of the clients are female.
“This is very advanced technology, I’ll handle it, you wouldn’t understand.”
Why would you alienate female clients?
Stamping that mindset out has been important to us since we started the business, when I still had my ad agency.
At the time, I did TV campaigns for a big tyre retail brand. Their research showed the majority of tyre purchase decisions were made by women, who were largely disgusted by the tyre-buying experience. Crusty bathrooms, mens-mag posters on the wall, staff looking female customers up and down when they walked in.
We realised that their brand was better served diverting most of the ad budget into renovating the stores and training their staff. Rather than ads to bring people in for a grimy experience. That strategy paid off, and their whole industry has followed suit. Because it makes no sense to alienate your best customers.
We opened our Sydney business with one female and one male tech, which was unusual at the time and gave us the solid start we needed to get the place up and growing.
But my god female techs are hard to find. Finding women for sales roles is easier, but frontline female techs are super scarce. The hard reality is that however enlightened your policies, it’s not a career with widespread appeal to women. So when you find women that do like it, it’s essential to back them up however you can. Because it make our business better in so many ways. Different approaches to solving problems. Deeper two-way communication skills. Decisions that aren’t as ego-driven. Better awareness of stuff others have missed. None of these are 100% female or male traits but a wider range of ideas and mindsets always helps.
It’s not just an issue for bloke sector industries. A friend who owns a conference management company told me recently she can’t find men to work in that job. She has had 100% female staff for as long as we’ve known each other. Men just don’t apply for those jobs.
Younger staff are better at this
One of the reasons it’s getting better is the younger generation of staff who are far more chilled about who they’re working alongside. When I was working shows, there was very little outright malice about gender, race, sexuality and so on.
There was plenty of what people believed were good-natured insults. Done well, it’s one of the joys of the crew life. Few have the skill to consistently do it well. Done badly, it’s a great way to make people feel excluded. Made much worse by the old “just joking!” when people don’t go along with it.
Younger staff just work together like normal humans, without anyone’s presence being a thing. The male crew don’t need to be told: behave, there are women present. They are behaving pretty much all the time. This is progress.
Steps that have worked for us
We have no game-changer ideas to improve the gender balance. It’s a lot of very small steps.
We’ve gotten involved with local training colleges in several states, with our partners going along as guest lecturers. We’ve offered practical placements for students during their course, which we hope is a positive experience, and offer any promising female students jobs after they graduate.
Our job ads for techs specifically mention that we are strong supporters of female techs, and provide a safe and supportive environment for women to work in. Shouldn’t need to be said, but it does.
If you’re a warehouse-based industry like ours, ask your female staff how the facilities and working environment can be improved. There will always be basic issues that need fixing up. Guys: don’t assume what the answer is. Ask. Listen.
Where the job allows, providing flexibility for working mothers is the difference between them working for you, or working somewhere else. Bringing down rigid rules when it’s not essential is a great way to lose valuable talent. They will get the job done. They know how to get things done.
Our industry has a Women In AV organisation, which for the last five-odd years has provided visibility to female techs, and a forum for general industry support. It’s largely driven by one person’s efforts, while also holding down her demanding day job. Her work is invaluable, and it’s important for industry to back it up.
Step back from the problem a bit
I think sometimes looking at this situation purely through the gender lens gets you too close to the problem, when it might help to step back a bit.
When we have staff social events, I make it a priority to chat to them all one-on-one and see how they’re feeling. When I’ve spoken to our female crew, I’m so happy that they generally report our male crew are pleasant and supportive to work with. It’s good to hear, though it’s still important to ask what we can do better.
Yet that experience isn’t purely a product of gender policies. It’s about your entire culture. Being pleasant, supportive and reliable to the rest of your team is our number one priority, because otherwise the team falls apart when shit gets intense. No matter what your skills, if you can’t be decent to the people around you, and believe you’re somehow better than them, we cannot employ you.
Your business can have impressive documented gender policies, and put lots of effort into your International Women’s Day social posts, yet it all may mean nothing if you permit staff of any kind to be nasty to each other.
I don’t want to sound like a total hippie, but building a foundation of respect for everyone is such an obvious way to make your business work better in almost every way. One of which is a better gender balance. Looking forward to lots more progress in that area. If you have any more ideas or suggestions, hit us up.
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