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Power Players: Honoring Exemplary Women in the Industry Published:2017-10-18

There may not be a more challenging game with a simpler concept than chess, with its intense battle of strategy driving the action. Tête-à-tête, pairs of opponents imagine a series of potential scenarios in advance to achieve an end goal that is often hours in the making. The key to success lays in best availing oneself of the powers possessed by each chess piece. Your pawn is limited in its one or two squares straight ahead; your knight hops pieces around a corner; the bishop slides diagonally while your rook offenses vertically or horizontally. Meanwhile, it’s the queen that is awarded the most power on the chessboard, and valued at almost double her nearest ranked officer. Each piece has a defining action, but the most powerful piece is capable of flexible, big-picture thinking about how she interrelates with the other pieces. Thus, she seemed a worthy symbol to represent some of the top female players of the AV industry. For the second year, SCN has selected a range of women to honor for their various contributions to the commercial AV space. In selecting the faces that grace our next few pages, we sought to find some common names and some that may come as less familiar outside their regional home bases. We asked them to share some of their unique experiences as women in this business, offer advice for others, and to shed some light into their geekier tech-lover sides.

Marla Suttenberg
Owner, Sapphire Marketing

SCN: What kind of experiences helped shape your success in this industry? Are there any memories that have stuck with you?

MS: Having two great mentors/bosses in the industry helped me model my business 15 years ago, and I learned the “lay of the land” of what it takes to become a successful manufacturer’s representative. Over time, I developed my own style and adapted to changing markets and business protocols. I learned what was important in how to treat customers, manufacturers, and employees, and developed close business and personal relationships with many of them over the years.

My favorite memory on how I got into sales was when I was in a marketing position at a manufacturer, and was kind of bored and looking for the next challenge. I convinced the sales manager to let me be in sales, and so I was given Eastern Canada—based out of NYC! I quickly learned how to be a productive and successful road warrior.

SCN: How has being a woman helped you make a difference in your career?

MS: I don’t think my gender has made a difference—I’m a very hardworking, passionate, and fair person, and I fell in love with the industry many years ago. As a result, understanding the technology and being able to speak about it from an applications standpoint came easy to me. There might have been an instance or two when someone was surprised at my technical knowledge, but I never felt any prejudice because of it. Back then, there were a fair share of women salespeople, just not many engineers, PMs, designers, etc. Today, I see a healthy representation of women in these positions, which makes me happy.

SCN: What advice do you offer women in this industry?

MS: Work hard and work smart, and don’t be afraid to learn the technology.

SCN: What futuristic sci-fi technology would you most like to see become a reality?

MS: Cloning—so I could be in more than one place at a time, and teleportation—so I had a means of transportation to get there.

Ann Brigida
Director of Standards, InfoComm International

SCN: What kind of experiences helped shape your success in this industry? Are there any memories that have stuck with you?

AB: Being in a male-dominated industry, I am often the only woman at a meeting or event. I try to treat everyone with the same respect I hope to get back, and it seems to work out well for all of us. We manage to have fun while doing some pretty challenging projects. I also think that coming from the “outside” nine years ago helped me appreciate the professionals in this business for what they truly are: earnest, creative, and often unaware of how to represent themselves and their true value to the communication arena.

SCN: What advice do you offer women in this industry?

AB: I wouldn’t worry so much about being a woman as being a professional. Focus on being the best at what you do, and treat others the way you want to be treated. Know, and then prove, your worth. Hone your communication skills. See yourself as a leader and empower others. And SPEAK UP! We can knock down gender bias issues if we object respectfully and openly to any situation that is unacceptable.

SCN: What futuristic sci-fi technology would you most like to see become a reality?

AB: I am eagerly awaiting commercialization of the Star Trek Transporter, so I can beam myself right out of long lines, rush-hour traffic, unnecessary meetings, or similar unpleasant experiences.

Malissa Dillman
Director of Training and Education, Kramer Electronics

SCN: What kind of experiences helped shape your success in this industry? Are there any memories that have stuck with you?

MD: I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some of the greatest talents in our industry by volunteering for InfoComm committees that once existed. This was long before social media was even a consideration. Through those committees, I met people like Mario Maltese, Lorrie Morrow, and many, many more—people that today I am fortunate enough to call friends. It was Mario Maltese who told me that once I earned my certifications, I owed it to the industry to give back that knowledge by way of teaching. Obviously I took that to heart and it’s a big part of how I ended up where I am today.

SCN: How has being a woman helped you make a difference in your career? What advice do you offer women in this industry?

MD: By being a woman in the industry, I suppose it has made me much more visible. There were many classes that I sat in where I was the only woman in the room. That’s still true today. Being a woman in the industry is a double-edged sword. In some situations, I’m viewed as being more approachable and less intimidating than my male counterparts; however, sometimes it’s also more difficult to have your voice heard.

I encourage women in this industry to find a mentor. There are so many outstanding role models both male and female who are willing to share their knowledge and encourage you. Take advantage of those opportunities.

SCN: What futuristic sci-fi technology would you most like to see become a reality?

MD: There are so many that I want to see. I think one of my favorites is holograms. I can’t wait for the time to arrive when I can engage with a hologram of someone who may be across the country, yet look and feel as if they are in the room with me. My second favorite will be when we can project and manipulate 3D images in the air as if they were real objects. That one is probably going to happen in the very near future!

Gina Sansivero
Director of Business Development, Education, FSR

SCN: What kind of experiences helped shape your success in this industry? Are there any memories that have stuck with you?

GS: The honesty and support that most people in this industry have shown from my first day have definitely shaped my success. Most memories I have and those that continue to drive me have to do with the passion we have for this industry. We are an industry focused on providing exceptional experiences. The quality, talent, knowledge, and attention to detail that building these experiences require means that you must also have a real passion for it, and you can feel it move you because the passion is almost tangible or electric when you get a group of AV people together. How can that not be motivating?

SCN: How has being a woman helped you make a difference in your career? What advice do you offer women in this industry?

GS: I remember most recently an email from a mentor/colleague/friend that was truly eye opening. I was caught up in the idea that I was too busy with work, with family, with life, that I made excuses for not setting aside time to maintain the professional relationships that are most important to me. Sometimes the idea that “they are in the same boat, they’ll understand” [my flakyness] became my crutch for not feeding the relationships that are so necessary. The email that I received from my colleague finished with a simple demand. “Fix this.” Meaning, pay attention, cut the crap, pick up the phone, and get your priorities straight. Those people who motivate you, teach you, support you and make time for you are the individuals that you HAVE TO make time for too. Never be too busy to feed your relationships.

On another note: I shared an article on LinkedIn the other day about how professional development was your own responsibility, not that of your employer, your teacher, or even your mentor. Being able to improve and see that improvement reflected in your career path is so very motivating. Continue to learn and continue to work on you. Sometimes women forget that “me” time is not selfish, but necessary.

SCN: What futuristic sci-fi technology would you most like to see become a reality?

GS: Oh boy, I am so not a sci-fi person. I mean, really not. The most sci-fi movie I have ever seen is probably Back to the Future. Ha! Oh, wait, I did see Guardians of the Galaxy with my son. I liked the soundtrack of that movie! Anyway, aside from being able to wrap my son in some sort of protective force-field so that nothing can hurt him, what I really want are ruby pumps that not only transport me to anywhere I want to be (I hate airplane travel) but are also super comfortable without compromising style!

Christa Bender
Inside Sales & Marketing Coordinator, Applied Video Technology

SCN: How has being a woman helped you make a difference in your career?

CB: I did not have many positive female role models available to me in the beginning of my career, so I’ve strived to prove to myself and my peers that gender does not matter in the workplace. I think that I’ve shown other women that working in the AV industry can be fun yet challenging.

SCN: What advice do you offer women in this industry?

CB: Be who you are. Don’t conform to what you think people want you to be. Take charge and steer your career in the direction you want.

SCN: What futuristic sci-fi technology would you most like to see become a reality?

CB: I would really like to see time travel become commonplace. I would love to get into my personal TARDIS and go wherever I wanted to in any time period.

Dr. S. Ann Earon
President, Telemanagement Resources International Inc; Founding Chairperson, IMCCA

SCN: What kind of experiences helped shape your success in this industry? Are there any memories that have stuck with you?

SAE: The number one thing that helps you get ahead in my opinion is education. Take as much training as you can. Whether it’s formal, college-type, or graduate school education, or it’s education you get from the various vendors in the industry or attending seminars. I think education has helped me immensely.

Number two is sort of the old rule you supposedly had in kindergarten: do unto others, as you’d happen to do unto you. We’ve become such a frenetic, fast-paced society, that we forget to say thank you. We forget to take the time to recognize people who’ve done something nice for us. The old, write a note and stick it in the mail is gone. It’s just gone. And it shouldn’t be. I think we need to step back, take time to appreciate what people have done for us, and recognize them when they do so.

SCN: How has being a woman helped you make a difference in your career?

SAE: I think being a woman has given men a different perspective on issues. I think that has helped. I think being a strong woman has helped get people to realize that you don’t have to be a male to be able to be competent.

I was asked in the early 80s, when the U.S. was opening up telecommunications in Japan—basically the Japanese were finally saying “yes, we’ll listen to you,”—to be part of a trade commission to Japan. There were 72 of us that went from the United States to Japan for the trade commission; I was the only woman. I think that did two things for me. One, because I happened to be working for the largest company in the world at that time [AT&T], it made people say, “What’s unique about this person that we should be looking at women?” The Japanese were notorious for looking at women as second-class citizens. I met with a group of women over there who basically were the secretaries to most of the executives over there, who thronged to hear me talk because they all felt that they were intelligent but put in a subservient role. I think anything women can do to help other women realize their potential and not be afraid to stand up and speak out for themselves, is beneficial.

SCN: What advice do you offer women in this industry?

SAE: I think one is listen to others. I think two is give your opinion. I think three—and I mentioned it already—was get as much education as you can, and that doesn’t mean just formal education; it means learn from others. I think lastly, as I said before, learn to say thank you.

SCN: What futuristic sci-fi technology would you most like to see become a reality?

SAE: What I’d like to see become a reality, and it never will, is to be able to dial the number and then be there—the “beam me up Scotty” type thing. I would love that to be a reality. It never will be. Other than that, I am thrilled that all the technology we have today— and I’ve been a video centric person for a lot of years—at least has an off button on it.

Sharon Culotta
Mid-Atlantic Regional Sales Manager, Symco

SCN: What kind of experiences helped shape your success in this industry? Are there any memories that have stuck with you?

SC: While attending a rep training years ago, on day two, the gentleman next to me asked me if I felt uncomfortable being the only woman in the room. I hadn’t even noticed! I was merely part of the team.

I was told by many, when I came into the industry over 20 years ago, how honest and fair my father was, and how he had helped so many “newbies” without drawing attention. I tried to form my habits with this in mind. Jump in and work hard, be fair and honest, ask the pros when you need help, and share the knowledge gracefully.

SCN: How has being a woman helped you make a difference in your career? What advice do you offer women in this industry?

SC: Empathy and the desire to evolve. Sometimes women approach situations differently than men. I truly care if someone needs something fast, is struggling with a problem or deadline, and needs you to go that extra mile immediately. It’s not that men don’t possess and live this, but I see it more in women. I want to help people and relate and empathize with them. I tell women to stick to the basics: know your product; know your audience; sell the solution; and bring tangible value to your partners. It’s easier to keep a customer than find a customer, so take care of them in the “bad” times.

SCN: What futuristic sci-fi technology would you most like to see become a reality?

SC: Teleportation! I love what I do because of the people. The interaction is what I enjoy and thrive on. Also, time is money and sales needs to be face-to-face. If not a teleporter, a flying, self-navigating office would do the trick!

Hope Roth
Programmer, Riordan Brothers Integration

SCN: How has being a woman helped you make a difference in your career?

HR: Being a woman in this industry definitely tends to make you stand out. People will often come up to me at events (it happens a lot more often than you’d think) just because I’m a woman. I’m a very social person, so I like having that opportunity to meet so many new people. It also means that people tend to remember you, just by virtue of the fact that you’re slightly out of the ordinary for them. It makes it very easy to network. I look forward to the day that I’m just another face in the crowd.

SCN: What advice do you offer women in this industry?

HR: Ask lots of questions. When I first got started out, I worked at a university. Every time an installer or service tech came to work on one of our systems, I would ask them a million questions. They were always happy to show me how things worked. It’s how I learned enough to move on to that next level. Be curious; ask questions; take your skills to that next level.

SCN: What futuristic sci-fi technology would you most like to see become a reality?

HR: I’d like to see self-driving cars get on the road sooner than later, but those are more in the realm of reality than sci-fi at this point. If we’re going super futuristic, I would want one of those replicators from Star Trek the Next Generation for my house. I am a terrible cook.

Rebeca Villareale
Public Relations Manager, Middle Atlantic Products

SCN: What kind of experiences helped shape your success in this industry? Are there any memories that have stuck with you?

RV: I saw an opportunity several years ago to shape the voice of Middle Atlantic in the social media space and engage with customers and media on a whole new level. It was still relatively new to our industry, but with only the risk of time (and no monetary investment), I took a chance on something I thought had potential. I’m proud to have grown that effort into a critical component of our company’s communication today and encourage others to take risks like that, so we can all continue to reap the rewards, like continuing to grow our AV community online.

I also had a mentor that loved this industry with his whole heart and soul and was very influential in shaping my success both personally and professionally. His name was Herb Jaffe, and sadly he passed away a few years ago. It was a most unlikely friendship, but one that I will treasure for my whole life. I still visited him when he moved to an assisted living community and the last time I saw him, my husband Mike and I took he and his wife Evelyn to lunch at one of his favorite local restaurants.

SCN: What advice do you offer women in this industry?

RV: Don’t take criticism personally—not everyone is great at doling out feedback that’s constructive, but we always have a choice in how we respond to it.

SCN: What futuristic sci-fi technology would you most like to see become a reality?

RV: I’m still waiting for my Marty McFly Hoverboard—preferably one that works on concrete and other non-magnetic surfaces and won’t require a second mortgage on my house.