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Cynthia Wisehart on Industry Diversity

How can our industry evolve to be more diverse?

I’ve been in this industry as a theme park designer and a journalist for decades. I can confirm that it was advanced by the labor of many men that I respect. They did most of the lifting. You could say they had most of the opportunity, connections, mentoring, etc., and that would be a fair statement. You also could say that mixed into that male majority were key women whose accomplishments were instrumental, whether at the leadership or code level. That would also be true.

As a woman in AV, I nearly always felt included and appreciated, but I was still often one of the few women in the room. Some things did happen in those male-dominated spaces that wouldn’t be tolerated today; jerks will always be a thing, unconsciousness is a thing (we all do it), and so is being paid less than your male colleagues to do the same job. I’m not naïve about challenges or injustices. But that co-exists with my direct experience that nothing was done by “men” or “women”. People– individuals and teams—built this industry. (Yes, lots of them male).

So I feel that any conversation about diversity must start with acknowledging the good work of those who preceded us, as well as the opportunity at hand. I believe there is a real desire for people to collaborate across gender and other demographics. I hope that’s because there’s a growing understanding that different viewpoints and backgrounds are not important only because it’s “fair” but because there’s a vitality of thought and enterprise that goes with diversity

We’ve all been around the bureaucratic efforts to foster diversity— women-owned companies, minority-owned companies, and other vehicles for driving change. Sometimes they work, sometimes not. I’m not a super fan of bureaucracy and political solutions; they can have their place. They are sometimes powerful forces for progress. But nothing really works without people taking personal action. And that works best when people are chasing something they actually want, not something they think they “should” want.

Personally, I want diversity. By that I don’t just mean opportunity for myself as a woman. I mean, I want to be in the flow of a diverse environment. I want to work with people who think differently than I do, who have different histories and who learn, create, manage, vent, succeed and fail differently. Sometimes that’s hard, but I still value it more than the alternative of homogeny. And I want to be part of being more fair to people who have been and still are excluded—whether arbitrarily, willfully, subtly, or even violently.

Years ago, I wrote a book about a theater company that integrated people with and without physical and neurological disabilities. The power of that company was not that they “accommodated” or “included” anyone, but that everyone included everyone else. They worked with the differences as a resource not an obligation. The result was surprising and powerful art, and unforeseen success.

CORRECTION: In last month’s print issue, we incorrectly illustrated coverage of the Audix M60 which is a sleek, unique-looking boundary mic, with a picture of the more traditional ADX60 (and a caption that said ADX50!). I apologize for the errors, and any confusion. It is corrected online but it’s still wrong in print because print is forever.

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