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ArtMedia Corp and Diversity in the AV Industry

Eugene Ababio and Giovanni Agramonte of ArtMedia Corp explain their paths to the AV industry and how they think diversity can best be fostered in any organization.

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ArtMedia Corp and Diversity in the AV Industry

When it comes to fostering diversity in the AV industry, it’s important to remember the diversity in diverse hires. Every AV integrator knows there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, and that holds true for creating diversity programs at integration firms. 

ArtMedia Corp. is a minority-owned firm led by founder and chief executive Eugene Ababio and VP of operations Giovanni Agramonte. The two came to the integration industry as most doindirectly. 

Both worked in different capacities until they discovered the AV industry, which focused on a variety of their technological passions. 

Most integrators, regardless of race or gender, came to the AV industry in a similar way—and, like any other integrator, Ababio and Agramonte’s paths to the industry are unique to themselves. 

Finding the AV Industry 

“I have always been into technology,” says Ababio, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana with his family at a young age. “I lived in the Bronx for a majority of my childhood and, at the age of about 10 or 11, I was repairing VCRs and TVs in the neighborhood. 

Friends and family would say, ‘Hey, my VCR is broken. Can you take a look?’ I’ve always been that kind of person – opening things up or breaking things trying to figure out how it worked,” he says. 

“It was from there that I realized that I had the ability to start my own business,” says Ababio. 

After working for many other firms at every capacity from tech to executive, Ababio says he realized his value and decided to leave his full-time job and pursue his own business. He had already learned much of what running an integration firm entailed. 

“I was pulling cables, doing procurement, bidding on projects, meeting clients, collecting checks, arguing with clients about checks, generating new contacts for new opportunities, doing the engineering and programming, hiring technicians to do the installation, he says. 

Ababio says that his experience as an immigrant in some ways psychologically shielded him from the realities of casual racism. He says he didn’t realize as a child that he may not have opportunities that others did because of the way he looked.

It was on one of his side projects building a recording studio that Ababio met Agramonte.

It was the recognition of one another’s focus, drive, and hard work that started a connection that eventually brought them back together after Ababio started ArtMedia Corp in 2015. 

Ababio says that his experience as an immigrant in some ways psychologically shielded him from the realities of casual racism.

He says he didn’t realize as a child that he may not have opportunities that others did because of the way he looked. 

It wasn’t until Ababio was an adult that he began to realize that others may see him for his complexion rather than his technological prowess. 

“I came in on one of my projects on a weekend and one of the guys made a comment that he was shocked to see me there on a Saturday morning because he doesn’t usually see people like me,” he says. 

“I took that home and I told my wife about it. I didn’t understand what he was saying. It took my wife, who was born in the United States, to explain to me what that actually meant,” says Ababio. 

“They don’t expect people who look like you working on the weekend, and definitely not in your position telling them what to do,” he says.

“I can only imagine someone who hasn’t come from my background, coming from another country and realizing that there are opportunities without seeing the roadblocks in the way. 

Some of the limitations that they may be going through where people who look like this, like us, are not necessarily exposed to this kind of industry or understand it can be for them, says Ababio.

Agramonte’s experience was that of the youths he and Ababio reach out to as mentors now.

Born to immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic and growing up in a Spanish-speaking household, he reiterates the phrase he and Ababio have adopted together. 

“AV saved my life,” says Agramonte. “I come from an urban environment that was full of potential. However, many of us lacked opportunity and outlets to channel our energy. 

“What happens is energy is placed towards what’s easily accessible, which in my neighborhood, unfortunately, was being in the streets and selling drugs.

“Falling victim to crime. I never saw that as a way out because too many people were doing it,” he says. 

“To me, if too many people are doing the same thing that’s not what I want to do,” says Agramonte

So I started early in the music business. I was part of a rap group back in the day. Then eventually I needed to know what that engineer was doing with those knobs.”  

Agramonte attended the Institute of Audio Research and learned about audio engineering and music production. 

“I learned how things connect and work together,” he says. 

His plan was to work in post-production for Disney in Florida, but a conversation on a train instead introduced him to a Winston Philip who hired him on an internship and brought him to the studio where he and Ababio first met.  

After a few more jobs building more sophisticated audio environments and some time at an AV rental company, Ababio eventually called Agramonte and hired him into his first professional AV integration environment in 2004.  

“He taught me everything,” says Agramonte“Since the owner was a gentleman that was there half the year and abroad the other half, Eugene had to run the shop for the other six months. In that process I was with him being exposed to how a business runs in AV from soup to nuts. 

It was a crash course learning, he says. 

 Agramonte freelanced working primarily in AV rental until several years later when Ababio convinced him to join the integration industry full-time. He took a job with the same firm as Ababio. 

“It was the university for AV. I learned everything – analog, digital, loading code, firmware updates, building racks. It was an amazing experience,” he says. 

It was here that Agramonte learned that if you make your work attractive then people can’t say anything bad about it. 

“Anything I touched I wanted it to be attractive,” he saysIf a person removes a display from a wall the cables have to look neat and organized. It’s like art. I always had the mindset of wanting everybody to be consistent, wanting everybody to produce the same product so that you can’t tell who did it. You just know it was done by a person that really cares about their work.”  

Agramonte worked his way up to a director of operations position at a firm that had plenty of work but the quality was suffering. 

He developed a curriculum and worked with technicians individually to help maintain quality systems while scaling the amount of projects the firm could take on. It was from there that he finally reconnected with Ababio at ArtMedia Corp. 

It is important to understand the story of ArtMedia Corp and especially the gentlemen running the company in order to understand the nuance of fostering diversity in the AV industry. Ababio and Agramonte came to the industry in vastly different ways and found common ground in their work ethic and desire to build quality systems. 

Fostering Diversity One Person at a Time 

After building a successful business, they now seek to show the next generation that the AV industry is a viable option for people that look like them. 

“Representation matters,” says Ababio. “It shows other people who look like me that they can be this too. We decided that, in our business practice, that we were going to find young people and introduce them to this market.  

Not necessarily hire them immediately or throw them on the job site because we have a business to run, but we do want to make sure that we can expose as many of them as possible, he says. 

“I’ve done public speaking at a few educational events and in schools,” says Agramonte. “When called upon I go to Lincoln Tech and speak with students that have an interest in lowvoltage technologyI go to schools in New York and help expose the youth from my community.” 

“Representation matters,” says Ababio. “It shows other people who look like me that they can be this too. We decided that, in our business practice, that we were going to find young people and introduce them to this market.  

Agramonte focuses on the prevalence and potential that AV and technology deliver. 

“I start with a conversation about their phone because the phone is a perfect piece of AV hardware,” he says.

“I give it to them in a scientific way. Exploring the world around them. How the military developed much of this technology. 

Through that process, we enhanced communication. Just giving them a description of this world [of AV] that is sci-fi if you don’t know what it is or what it does, says Agramonte. 

Agramonte says he looks for the faces that are paying the most attention and he’s been sought after by those individuals for mentorship, advice and opportunities. 

“There is no direct path to AV,” says Ababio. “If any kind of outreach program could be created it’s got to start with the schools2. If there are schools with music programs, I think that’s a good place to start to introduce audiovisual into that space. 

It’s not always clear to people what audiovisual is. There has to be some kind of explanation for people to make the connection. People don’t necessarily make the connections until you tell them digital signage is McDonald’s menu displays,” he says. 

“There’s got to be some kind of definition for AV that can be spread across the board,” says Ababio. “When that is done, you can bring it to the various avenues where you will find people like myself, be it in the music room or the computer lab in schools. 

It’s going to take a lot of work to bring AV into these communities, he says. 

Ababio mentions that seeking out talented, diverse employees in your own organization is a great way to start that process. Ask them if they know others that might be interested in applying for jobs or internships. 

“Maybe it’s not this grand scheme to make AV more diverse,” he says

It could be a simple act of helping one person evolve in the workplace. After evolving, they’ll have family members and friends. 

If they see them earning money, bringing in income, and happy working there, they’ll connect to other people that look like them. That can bring on board other people,” says Ababio. 

“That’s happened to Gio and myself,” he says.

“We have friends who we’ve brought up through that same connection. They see us earning and they want to know what it is we do. 

There was no specific plan to get more diversified. We just had the opportunity with the companies we worked for back then, we evolved, and other people saw it. It could be that simple. Take care of that one person that you have, says Ababio. 

Most organizations employ this same tactic when searching for new hires. Many organizations offer referral bonuses specifically seeking for their employees to vouch for a potential new hire. They’re willing to pay for it. 

The issue becomes that when the organization is majority white, then the majority of those referrals are going to be white. 

When diverse leadership is fostered within an organization it creates a self-sustaining diversity strategy. That leadership can bring diversity in at the entry-level through their own network. If even one of those entry-level hires rises to a leadership position, they can do the same. 

That momentum builds exponentially, like a Fibonnaci sequence of diverse leaders bringing in diverse hires and those diverse hires rising to leadership until industry percentages reflect national percentages in terms of breakdown of race and gender. 

Expectation of Equality 

The biggest thing for organizations to keep in mind, says Ababio, is to make sure to treat employees of color as if they belong. 

“Not many people believe me when I tell them that I’m a Java Enterprise developer. First of all because I’m in AV,” he says. “My skills are actually more catered toward being an enterprise developer. I have the certifications to prove it. 

When I tell people that they have a hard time believing it because I just don’t look like that kind of skilled person, so there’s a higher expectation to prove it. I have to show a lot more in order to prove I can do the same thing as someone else,” says Ababio. 

When you look at them you believe them,” he saysWhen you look at me. you don’t necessarily believe me. Having outreach is great, but beyond that, when they do get hired the owners need to release any kind of unrealistic expectation of needing to do X to keep their job. 

“The reality is that the person behind them might be doing something less. You have to do away with unreasonable requirements once they’re hired, says Ababio. 

The underlying message Ababio and Agramonte put forth is to treat diverse hires like anyone else in your business. Expect that they’ll be capable of success. Expect that they can rise to leadership. 

Related: Improving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Starts at the Top of AV Firms

Give them the same time to train, learn, and grow that you would give to any other employee. Diversity outreach is great, but reaching within to support your diverse staff that may have unconscious or even conscious biases affecting their growth path is just as important. 

Fostering diversity is a grassroots movement. Ababio and Agramonte have spent decades bringing diversity into the industry one individual at a time. They used their leadership positions to give people from their communities a chance in AV. Some of those individuals will grow to become leaders and do the same for others. 

With this same strategy mirrored across the AV industry the issues of diversity and lack of qualified candidates that integrators face today could be severely mitigated in a decade. The goal isn’t’ to fix everything today, it’s working toward a better future. That takes dedication and effort, because no two paths to the AV industry are alike. 

The reward for that dedication and effort is great, because it results in companies like ArtMedia Corp and industry advocates like Ababio and Agramonte showing that the AV industry can be a place where anyone can find great success.