Joanne LadioAfter more than 20 years in the AV industry, Joanne Ladio, CTS®, DSCE, Audiovisual Specialist at Michigan-based NBS Commercial Interiors, started thinking. Why are there so few women in technology roles in the industry? Why are AV companies having to work so hard to recruit new talent to fill the demand for jobs? And why aren’t there college courses teaching this stuff?

With all these questions rattling round in her head and her own personal love of training and education, both as an attendee and a "technical translator" (to use her term), her interest was piqued when she learned about Eastern Michigan University's Digital Divas conference. This STEM program, free for middle school and high-school-aged girls, is part of a big push in Michigan to make it the number one state for women in technology. It offers a daylong schedule of events that include hands-on sessions on coding, 3D design, robotics, animation, forensics, cyber safety, web design, and, thanks to Ladio, audiovisual technology. About 500 girls attend each of the two annual conferences, held in April for the high schoolers and November for middle school girls.

"I first heard about Digital Divas through the Michigan Council of Women in Technology," says Ladio. "It happened to be right around the time that a friend in the industry was developing a mentoring workshop with AVIXA and was asking me questions about training materials. It was also the time when I had started questioning why there are no college courses focused on AV while we’re so desperately trying to recruit people into the industry."

Ladio responded to a call for volunteers, and developed an audiovisual session for the 2016 Digital Divas high school event on the topic of interactivity, involving an interactive pen, a smart marker, a board, and the girls’ smartphones. A few months later, she presented a second seminar, for the middle school conference, which she called "Step Up to the Mic." The girls had an opportunity to take turns on different kinds of microphones, discover feedback, try mixing multiple mics, and add some special effects.

"I went out of my comfort zone," admits Ladio. "It wasn't training for people who know what they want to do. I was starting from scratch without any established materials. The challenge was getting across the essence of AV in an exciting way to this group, and in a relatively short period of time."

She was able to borrow equipment through her connections in the industry and, with a donation from her employer, to buy giveaways for the girls, including microphone pendants that doubled as bubble wands.

"I also found these 4-foot blowup mics, which the girls could win by answering questions correctly. By the middle of the day, there were all these girls carrying giant mics around the conference hall. It was great advertising!"

Ladio hopes that her Digital Divas sessions might encourage some of the girls to eventually consider jobs in the AV field. But there is still that niggling question about college courses.

"My concern is, if I get these girls excited about AV, where do I send them? There is no degree program or certification program at the college level," she says. "Yet there is a great demand within the industry. Everyone is looking for installers, technicians, knowledgeable sales people, project managers; there simply isn't enough new blood coming in."

She feels inspired to promote the need for an AV college course to local colleges, and to open their eyes to opportunities, particularly for young women aspiring to work in technical roles in the industry.

"For so many years, I was the only woman doing this that I knew of. Now there are more, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t be 50-50. There is nothing about it that keeps women out. This is a brain job, not a brawn job," she says. "We're seeing more women considering IT as a field, but they should also know that they can take a right turn and look at AV as it’s a really cool field to be in."

Now, it's your turn to help. AVIXA is working to add AV curriculum to education institutions around the world. Take the first step.