The Lack of Diversity in Pro AV Causes This CEO So Much Disrespect

For all those who doubt the necessity of more diversity in pro AV: just listen to how this CEO is disrespected as a black woman in a male-dominated space.

Angie Billingsly Leave a Comment
The Lack of Diversity in Pro AV Causes This CEO So Much Disrespect

You often hear women talk about being in the “male-dominated” AV industry, but I am running a company in an environment that has been dominated by white men as far back as I can remember.

Finding Pro AV…and Being Disrespected In It

I studied cellular and molecular biology in college after receiving an undergraduate degree in nursing. By choice, I was a stay at home mom with zero regrets when I witness everyday the success of our daughter, who is also an entrepreneur and doctoral candidate.

Angie Billingsly is the founder and CEO of KMT Digital Technology Services.

Choosing the pro AV industry happened somewhat organically. It started out as a sole proprietorship, heavily focused on meeting and event planning. After several years of tedious and laborious work with events, I realized where the real money was when it comes to events. So, I pivoted.

Since incorporating as KMT Digital Technology Services, I’ve learned a lot!

  • I’ve learned that this industry is not very welcoming to women Founders/CEOs.
  • I’ve learned it’s even less welcoming if you’re a woman CEO AND black.
  • I’ve had men ask my husband (who is my CTO), “how does it feel to work for a woman?” His reply is always the same: “She’s more qualified and competent than any man I have ever worked for.”

It’s Even Worse at Trade Shows

We attend Infocomm every alternate year in Las Vegas and it’s always interesting to observe how people (men & women) communicate with us on the show floor.

As my husband and I go booth-to-booth, every person we talk to addresses my husband. I am invisible, literally. I am invisible until the moment they want to scan his badge and he gingerly says, “scan her badge, she’s the decision maker.”

In my small way, I’m trying to change the narrative.

I’ve taught classes at local community colleges encouraging women to participate, I’ve partnered with non-profits and taught classes to kids in urban schools as “blended learning” to introduce young black kids to technology, and now I’m strongly thinking of how to have pro AV included in the STEM definition.

It may seem lonely, but it isn’t; it may seem unfair, and it is, but no one knows who I am when I speak with them on the phone.

Most assume I am the admin assistant, the receptionist, or a clerk. It is never the assumption that you are speaking with the founder, the owner of the corporation you are hiring for your high-end private event in San Francisco.

I recently shared with a friend, who happens to be our Yamaha Rep: “Our clients have never met me; to most of them, I am just a virtual voice, and even then, they don’t know I’m the CEO.”

Listen: Pro AV Needs More Diversity and American Made Audio Visual Products: Episode 19 of AV+

He laughed, but to me, I’m protecting my company from those who would otherwise discriminate.

About the Author

Contact:

Angie Toussaint Billingsly is the founder/CEO of KMT Digital Technology Services.

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Comments

  • Rich Roher says:

    Thanks for running this story and bringing attention to this subject. While I can’t say I’ve observed or been involved in a situation where women or people of color have not been treated fairly or with appropriate (professional) respect, I’ve heard sufficient first hand accounts from clients and other credible sources to know the problem exists — and persists.

  • Dean Callies says:

    I don’t see how anything you mentioned here constitutes disrespect. A person emphasizing their communication towards one person or another at a trade show is not disrespect. If you introduce yourself and state your title and are then treated poorly, that would be disrespectful and unacceptable.

    • Adam Forziati says:

      Dean, thank you for the comment. The insinuation is that — because she is a woman — it is automatically assumed that the man who she is with must be the decision-maker. Yes, the other person might not have any way of knowing who she is until meeting her, but the fact that this happens so regularly is telling of a problem.

  • Thank you for sharing this article and continuing to raise awareness; it is an unfortunate reality that exists. Race and color should not be an indicator of a persons position in life or profession, we are all the same on the inside. Anyone who wants to make it ahead in life needs to put themselves out there and go for it. I would like to encourage Angie to keep strong and continue on. Continue to get right out there and let people know its your company and your the decision maker! I look forward to hopefully meeting her at the next Vegas IC in ’20 to shake her hand and saying thank you.

  • Mark Jerome says:

    It is troubling to see this synthetic topic of ‘diversity’ thrust upon the A•V•C industry and while none of us have control over what another individual chooses to do, the merits of this dubious language are only slight. Diversity should be the realization of the culture you have after building it through the objective of bringing the most qualified and skilled individuals into your organization — NOT a framework or cage that is built to then force talent inside of. As a culture founded of free people in the United States there should be no desire to police what individuals think — and those who feel compelled to continue to divide citizens across lines of race, gender or any other label designation should seek instead a clearer understanding of basic human decency and whether or not they will embrace the clarity and resolve to practice this value conservatively and with integrity.

    None of us are entitled to respect because we carry a title or have a senior position in a company… we EARN respect through great dedication & perseverance, proven skills, delivered innovation, and sincere interest in fostering the professional success of our clients and our coworkers. Introducing ‘fairness‘ into the business environment opens the door to a subsidy mindset and awakens the beast of entitlement. This Is nothing more than an insidious and politicized corruption of what should otherwise be good business practice.

    Building collaborative relationships with competitors in the marketplace can be of great value when the skills we possess complement a distinct and alternate set of talents offered by those competitors. Raising both the value and Quality of packaged services we offer to our marketplace serves our customer base and raises the bar for competition, which in turn improve the overall Quality of our competitive environment. The rising tide floats all ships — though the leaky vessels have farther to sink.

    Subsidy, diversity and affirmative-action all contribute to lowering the tide and ensuring that all the leaky vessels stay far enough above the waterline to survive. Nations are not made great through these tools that neutralize a competitive marketplace .

    It is somewhat ironic that In the world of A•V•C systems development and sales we are building transport mechanisms for content delivery, but we somehow surrender our critical thinking when it comes to the actual quality of messaging within that content. I encourage all practitioners in the world of A•V•C systems to become The Objective Underground and apply conservative critical thinking to the constant barrage of ideologically-driven messaging that assaults our cultural values of individual freedom and equality of opportunity (not outcome) for all. We are better than this and herein lies the messages we must teach our team members to keep our USA culture strong.

  • Eli Ferrer says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience in the industry. This is an important topic. Unfortunately, I’m not sure legacy AV folks will be able to understand your point of view, though I certainly do.

    The most important point that AV companies need to understand is that as AV becomes IT, diversity will be paramount. Most IT depts have decision makers that are foreign born with English as their second language. It is possible that AV companies that are more diverse will be better fits for these customers, especially if the client values diversity. Most private companies claim diversity as a primary value – so why wouldn’t an AV company want to move in that direction?

    Many of these folks are working class, blue collar people who tend to feel threatened by diversity. The AV industry is dominated by tradition which is inherently a conservative approach and in contradiction with values like diversity. I think this is because as technology and society changes, these individuals are static. They resist change in order to feel secure, unaware that the tide will wash them away regardless of their feelings. I’m not sure we can ever move those folks. Many in the AV industry think that experiences like the one you detailed above are not typical and do not warrant further consideration. I meet many AV professionals with decades of experience yet little idea what they are doing in a modern environment. I once had a contractor tell me without qualification that racism isn’t really a problem and doesn’t really exist. “Oh thanks… now can you get back to installing the video system moron.” I didn’t actually say that but it’s another example of how clueless some people are.

    As far as trade shows… They are staffed with sales people and promo models and are more of a reflection of the vendor’s product managers and marketers(just people with business degrees), not AV professionals.

  • Joanne Ladio says:

    I am so glad to see that Ms. Billingsly is part of the AV industry and we need more like her! It makes me sad that she works on the phone to protect her business from the discrimination that is out there. But she is a smart lady and dedicated to making her business succeed whatever it takes. Again, we need more like her. Anyone who says they don’t see color or that racism doesn’t exist is wearing a neon sign that says “white” and is part of the problem.

    I can speak to the gender discrimination in the industry. It is improving from the days when I started – I remember one manufacturer’s training class I attended. They took the class to lunch – to a topless bar. Getting rid of the very sexist booth attendee outfits at NAB and Infocomm was a big hurdle. I always wore business suits so I would be taken seriously. Even then, if I was with a male associate, all comments were directed to him, even if I asked the question. (And I asked good questions!) The rise of the Women’s Councils and strength in numbers are making this change. I will be eager to see the Diversity Council do the same thing!

    I appreciate Eli’s comments – we may have to get beyond this old guard generation who are happier with their own kind. I am part of that generation and know that it doesn’t have to be that way. The world is changing – new technology and hopefully lots of new people!

  • Angie says:

    Mr. Roher, thank you for acknowledging the problem does exist even though you have no direct experience. I appreciate that very much. Mr. Callies, although my cup runneth over with examples, I was limited to a specific word count. To address your comment, yes, this happened after introducing myself OR after our badges containing our names and titles were read. Thank you for your reply. Mr. Forziati, thank you for your comment. Clear and concise with profound meaning. Mr. Cuddy, many thanks for your comment and for open mindedness! We need more of you! Mr. Jerome, thanks for sharing; although, I don’t agree with much of what you write, I certainly respect your opinion. Mr. Ferrer, I agree with just about everthing you’ve written and appreciate your reply. Very candid and I love candidness. Due to the $$ my company spends with manufacturers, I make it a point to converse with a representative of the company, if not our personal sales rep, someone significant. Thanks again to everyone who responded! I appreciate you all very much. I love this industry, the work, the challenge, the people I’ve met, lessons learned and yet to be learned. I love what I do and each of you have contributed to making this industry great. I appreciate the “private” responses I’ve gotten from here (USA) to Europe, from women AND men. Awesome and see y’all soon on some trade floor!

  • Dan O’Brasky says:

    Thank you Angie for addressing two key issues prevalent in our AV industry: racial and gender diversity. Even IT which is also historically not very diverse with regard to women and people of color, there it has changed for the better, even if still too tilted to men. But our r technology business we are far behind. I can make this distinction as I spent almost a decade in the IT market. Raising greater awareness of these issues is all-important to attract the best talent we can going forward. Mark Jerome sees it differently and at least he is consistent in his narrow-mindedness, though I find it offensive as a man, a human-being. I went to an all boys high school in an ultra affluent NYC suburb, my small class of 52 boys was all white when we graduated. I then went to school in England for a year and though it was also predominantly white, there was a bit of ethnic diversity. In college there was more but I know it was tense for some of color regardless of a student body known for its progressivism. If we ignore these issues and suffocate diversity we all lose the opportunity for exposure to ideas, experiences and the quality of our internal and industry-wide collaboration. We fail to communicate. And this is diametrical to our solutions purpose—to enhance communication within and without organizatio, businesses and organizations with their desired external constituents, whoever those may be. We also have an issue in attracting young people to our business but that’s for another discussion. Thank you again Angie and I hope we can all join in continuing to break down these hidden and exposed barriers!

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