That’s What She Said: How Women are Faring in the CE Industry
Other industries have made great strides to welcome female employees into their labor pools; the electronics industry market however, lags behind today’s hiring practices.
Robert Archer · February 19, 2015
Politically a lot has changed over the past half century in America. From the Civil Rights movement to the Equal Rights Amendment to today’s fight for gay marriage, to name a few areas of impact, society is slowly making the effort to provide a level playing field for all Americans.
Outside of politics, the country’s workforce has also undergone a transformation that has seen the ranks of female workers rival their male counterparts in many sectors, including management, healthcare, education and retail.
Certain markets, however, lag behind other industries with employment opportunities for women. Those include the technical and electronics fields impacting the custom integration industry, where the amount of male workers vastly out numbers females whether it be in business operations, sales, labor or other areas. If recent history is any indication, though, strides are being made in at least some portion of this male-dominated market.
A Look at the Numbers
Going back to August 2002, CE Pro first looked at the topic of women in the electronics industry in a story called, “The Women’s Movement.” Using information collected from the magazine’s readership it was estimated that back then that males accounted for about 94 percent of integrators.
A decade later in a 2012 study conducted by CE Pro called “Who Are You,” which put together a picture of the typical integrator profile through various business and personal questions, the percentage of males actually crept up to 96 percent. A vast majority of respondents reported to be Caucasian, with a median age of 51.
For comparison purposes, a study released by American Express Open called, “The State of Women-Owned Businesses, 2014” reports that female-owned firms make up 30 percent of all enterprises, and are growing at a faster rate than “most other firms.”
In addition, between 1997 and 2014 the number of businesses in the U.S. increased by 47 percent, while the number of female-owned businesses increased by 68 percent. Moreover, businesses owned by women saw employment growth of 11 percent and their revenues grow by 72 percent.
Overall, American Express estimates that there are nearly 9.1 million women-owned businesses that employ nearly 7.9 million workers, and together produce more than $1.4 trillion in revenues; over the past year, the study found, four out of every 10 new businesses are started by women.
Reasons for Optimism
Despite the discrepancy between male and female employees and business owners within the custom installation industry, there is hope for change.
Last September the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) released its annual Market Research Findings and according to the global trade organization, it expects continued economic growth within the industry.
According to CEDIA, dealers experienced a 15 percent increase in gross revenues in 2013 and it expected a 20 percent increase in those figures in 2014. Overall CEDIA forecasts that revenues are shifting from a hardware-based model to more of a service/labor-based model with cloud services driving this shift.
Jeff Gardner, director of certification and workforce development, CEDIA, points out the growth is enabling more employment opportunities than years past.
“Last year’s CEDIA Benchmarking Survey indicated the average CEDIA company expected to grow their staff by 14 percent in the upcoming 12 months,” he states. “The labor and compensation component of the survey will happen again next year. All indications at EXPO tell us that virtually all companies are hiring. In most cases they would like to hire experienced ESTs [electronic system technicians], but they are next to impossible to find.”
Gardner notes the job market in the custom installation channel is robust with a variety of opportunities, with the highest demand being for ESTs. He suggests that a good way for job seekers to enter the market is to start out as an EST.
“Even if someone wants to eventually focus on programming, sales or project management, starting out as an EST in the field is a good foundation to have,” says Gardner.
Focusing on how women might help to fill the labor void, Gardner speculates that homeowners would love to see more female representation in the electronics installation workforce. He notes CEDIA is working with educational institutions to infuse the industry’s labor pool with both male and female talent.
“We have seen some females in the school programs like Lincoln Tech and MMI, [and] I also see a lot more working in professional A/V as stage hands and on tours,” he says. “[The recruitment of females] would be a great initiative to get started.”
A Unique Perspective in Manufacturing
The manufacturing sector of the custom installation market is also overwhelmingly male in ownership and employment. One of the few women owners in the industry is Gretchen Gilbertson, co-founder and CEO of Seura. Started in 2003, Gilbertson’s company has grown quickly to provide the residential and commercial electronics industries with premium outdoor TVs, displays and mirror products.
Recently the Wisconsin Department of Administration awarded the Green Bay-based company its Woman-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) certification. This recognition verifies the company’s management is at least 51 percent female owned, controlled and managed, and through the certification Seura is now qualified to receive specific contracts with corporations and government agencies that seek vendor relationships with fellow female-owned companies.
Asked why there aren’t more women-owned businesses within custom electronics, Gilbertson says one factor is the general public’s overall lack of familiarity with the industry.
“Lack of awareness of the many wonderful career and business opportunities that exist,” she says. “To attract and retain female talent, there needs to be a focus on education starting from the early school years when young women are beginning to dream about and envision their futures. Women typically do not grow up aspiring to be business leaders within our industry, despite the growing influence of technology in our daily lives through tablets, smartphones, computers, etc. It’s an unfortunate reality given the many talents females have to offer.”
Gilbertson admits that she, “fell into the CE industry,” and at the time she wasn’t actively looking for an opportunity to start a business in a largely male-dominated market.
“I had no previous experience in [consumer electronics]. I got into CE because my husband and co-founder Tim and I recognized a need for a solution to a design challenge that no other company, large or small, could deliver,” she recalls. “Call it what you may — naiveté, determination, or just plain risky — after more than 10 years of living, breathing and dreaming of consumer electronics, I am glad to be participating in this exhilarating, challenging and extremely gratifying industry. There’s no doubt in my mind more women would find it incredibly appealing if there were additional educational and awareness outlets driving them to CE.”
Although the market remains male-dominated, being a woman has its advantages, according to Gilbertson. She says Seura’s success is rooted in the company’s staff, which is made up of both men and women, but she finds that she can relate well with her female business peers and clients that are dealing with many of the same life challenges.
“I also find that being a female in CE has its advantages when collaborating with male counterparts,” she adds. “Men I’ve had the pleasure to work with do not typically find me intimidating because I’m fairly grounded in my approach. In general, I find that male/female business relationships can often be less threatening, and there is no need for us to show dominance over one another. This allows us to focus predominantly on the business at hand, turning challenges into opportunities and opportunities into successes.
“Make no mistake about it — the success of our company is due entirely to the men and women who make up our team. However, my experiences as a wife of over 13 years, a mother of three children and an entrepreneur has affected my ability to intimately relate with our customers. In today’s world, everyone is extremely busy, working to find that perfect work/life balance that allows us to ‘have it all.’
“The expectations we as women have of ourselves and of each other have increased substantially from even 10 years ago. We are ‘always on,’ racing to meet that next project deadline, hockey game, date night, PTO meeting, volunteer initiative, dance recital, etc. These same women are also design conscious, and they don’t necessarily want the technology they rely so heavily on to be in their way. It’s got to be convenient for them both functionally and aesthetically … my ability to personally relate to these life pressures is the true essence of how Seura emerged with the development of our original TV mirrors.”
Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at [email protected]
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