Charmaine Torruella, chair of AVIXA’s Diversity Council, tackles some difficult issues in the hopes of creating opportunities and furthering careers for minorities in our industry.

AVIXA members come from every corner of the globe and span a vast number of disciplines: education, government, business, performing arts, broadcasting, to name just a few. As our industry broadens to encompass integrated experience, IT services and beyond, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint a “typical” customer for AV services. It’s becoming more and more important for the industry to reflect and adapt to this multifaceted world.

Charmaine Torruella | AVIXA Charmaine Torruella

As the AVIXA Women’s Council provides a beneficial forum for discussion and support for our female members, the recently formed Diversity Council aims to provide similar benefits for our ever-more diverse membership, as well as outreach to under-represented members of our society who may be considering AV as a career path.

Heading up AVIXA’s new Diversity Council is Verrex Global Managed Services Account Manager Charmaine Torruella, whose 18-year career in both IT and AV, as well as her Jamaican and Cuban heritage and achievements as a single working mother, put her in the unique position to galvanize and champion this subgroup of our industry. She chaired the Diversity Council’s first meeting last summer at InfoComm 18.

“One of the things I noticed at our first meeting was how wide-ranging the minorities in our industry really are,” says Torruella. “It went beyond black, Latin, Asian, women, and LGBTQ… we were joined by a hearing-impaired member and a woman whose brother faced difficulties within our industry as a person with autism. There are many functional technical people working in our industry who exceed expectations, but are not always getting the opportunities that the rest of us are.”

Torruella says that in her early years in the industry, she navigated the waters as a minority by finding ways to rise above obstacles and forge on regardless. “I tried not to focus on negative experiences, and just pushed through them. But I met a lot of other people like me who were trying to get into the industry and being turned down or pushed back. And I think that’s a real problem,” she says. “I don’t think it should be so hard for talented people to find their way into the industry or for those existing industry members to flourish.”

One of the main agendas for the Diversity Council is to promote education both as a way into the AV industry and for members who may find themselves stifled in terms of career progression.

“I believe that if you’re not welcomed by an industry, you’ll take your talent elsewhere, into industries such as IT, cybersecurity, manufacturing, and so on. But we need that talent, and also talent with diversity of thought,” says Torruella, who is passionate about formalizing paths to training and education and making it more accessible for minorities. “There are minorities in our industry who are plateauing in their careers, but they have ideas and expertise and shouldn’t be made to feel afraid to progress.”

She maintains that having a safe forum for expression fosters conversations about diversity, however difficult those conversations might be, and that can only lead to positive change.

“Diversity is being diverse in an idea or thought and having an option. In our industry, we wouldn’t sell one type of room system or do one type of integration; our job is to give our clients options to consider that can bring them their own vision of success. Similarly, as a council that is examining diversity, we need to welcome all feedback, negative or positive. Don’t feel bad if you’re going to say something and people think it’s negative or biased: Tell me why you think that!"

Millennials are a group that also gets short shrift, she says, acknowledging that with their culture and the way they’re used to working as knowledge workers, it can be hard for them to fit into an industry that hasn’t fully adapted to their generation.

Torruella hopes to integrate feedback from all these diverse groups into examinations of how certain issues are addressed within the industry and how to formulate initiatives to overcome obstacles to individuals’ and organizational success.

“It’s like running through a gold mine. There’s so much gold! What do we do with it?” she says, noting that from the 28 people who attended the first Diversity Council meeting, the group has grown quickly to more than 150 people, with new members joining the discussion the more it’s talked about.

“What I see from the Diversity Council is strong messaging to the AV industry. Furthermore, it’ll open up outside of our industry and explain to a wider range of people what AV is, which is one of the big challenges we all encounter. So many of us have to explain to outsiders the nature of AV, even when it is all around them. I already see the Diversity Council as opening that door. Diversity is a broader topic that can get us into different organizations to talk about the flavor of diversity for our industry, and allow them to come into the AV world and understand it better,” she says.

Although this is her first time volunteering with AVIXA, Torruella is encouraged by the support and encouragement from the people she has encountered so far.

“I’ve fought for various people throughout my career to make them more visible and to question why they aren’t being given fair opportunities. Now we have a chance for the council to take on that fight and make it easier for certain groups of people via guidance and mentorship and opportunities to progress through education and certification,” she explains. “With these types of issues, a lot of people think that it will take too long to effect meaningful change. But we always say that about topics that are hard, like diversity. I believe that with the right contribution and the right members and understanding, and the freedom and comfort to express our views, we can do it much faster than we anticipate, and that can only be good for everyone.”

Learn more about the AVIXA Diversity Council.