Commercial Integrator + Security Sales Nov/Dec 2023 - 10

MAKING WAVES
Overcoming Gender Bias in AV Design
It's no longer enough for women to ask for a seat at the table; it's time to ask why
the table was built that way in the first place. By Rebecca Sullins
" THE REASONABLE MAN adapts
himself to the world; the unreasonable
one persists in trying to adapt the world to
himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the
unreasonable man. " - George Bernard Shaw
People ask me all the time why I
volunteer so much. I sit on every committee,
panel and council that I can get my
hands on. I never say no to a discussion
or podcast invitation. I volunteer to write
test questions and certification standards
for the industry. I teach classes, lead tours
and mentor whenever I can. Hell, I'm even
the president of my kids' parent-teacher
organization (PTO) at school. " No " might
be a complete sentence, but I've yet to
figure out how to use it as one.
The reason, however, is simple: I want
to change the world.
Design For and By Men
Every day, most of us get up, use the bathroom,
brush our teeth, make breakfast on
a stove, watch the news, get in a car, buckle
our seatbelt, open the front door to our
office, sit at a conference table with an AV
system, listen to music and go to bed. And
we do all those things that were designed
almost entirely for and by men.
The design flaws can vary from the
mildly annoying to the downright unsafe.
Have you ever wondered why almost all
public spaces - and especially office spaces
- have their air conditioning set at a
level that makes me want a Snuggie? Here's
the answer: That standard was based on
a study of the average metabolic rate of a
man who weighs about 175lb. And it was
set in the 1960s. Sure, I cuss a little under
my breath every time I forget to pack a
sweater...in July...in the south. But that
doesn't come close to things like medical
studies being performed almost entirely
on men, or the fact that even things like
seatbelts were built for men, and, thus,
women are 47% more likely to be killed in
an automobile accident than men are.
This gender bias in studies and
standardization creeps into our world
in everything we do in AV, regardless of
whether we're aware of the bias. Recently,
I was given the opportunity to teach a
class on how to design audio systems for
high intelligibility. This is my bread and
butter. I went to college for audio design
for theater. I can tell you the optimal frequency
range for vocals and instruments;
I can recite the decibel scales for optimal
listening from the start; and I often regale
partygoers with the science behind psychoacoustic
phenomena. (I'm a real hoot.)
This gender bias
in studies and
standardization
creeps into our world
in everything we do
in AV, regardless of
whether we're aware
of the bias.
Further Down the Rabbit Hole
But in the course of researching for that
audio systems class, I started to go further
down the rabbit hole. And what I found was
disconcerting. Almost every rule that we
follow when it comes to audio systems is in
place based on science that only took into
account studies with a distinctly male bias.
That revelation really started to make
me look at everything that I interact with.
We design AV systems with displays at
a certain height...with tunings done to
specific frequencies...with touchpanels
that were designed for people that are, on
average, four inches taller than us. And we
do it all on computers that were designed
for larger hands than ours are.
I was once designing an executive
10 Commercial Integrator+Security Sales & Integration | Nov/Dec 2023
boardroom for a large corporate headquarters
with its sister in Japan. The displays
were quite large, putting the bottom of
them at about 36 inches off the floor. I
immediately changed the initial sketches
to put the cameras above the displays and
submitted all documentation this way. I
was shocked when I came in to commission
and saw that the cameras had been
moved beneath the displays but that the
displays had not been moved up. I asked
the concerned parties why this change had
been made, and I was informed that, in
Japanese culture, it's considered improper
to look down on someone's head. So, putting
the cameras so high was rude. That's
an important lesson I am happy to know.
However, I immediately looked around
at the nine men in the room and asked
a pointed question: What would happen
when a woman - possibly wearing a skirt
- sat down at this table? I was answered
with crickets. No one had even considered
this. The room eventually was completely
redesigned, but the lesson remained: Men
are the standard. They are the status quo.
And, often, we don't even realize it.
Making the World Fit Women
It's an unfortunate fact that, if women
want this world to fit us, it's on us to make
it happen. No one is going to do it for us.
So, the next time you sit down at a
conference table and have to adjust your
chair, remember that that table and chair
are based in Le Corbusier's Modulor scale,
which used a six-foot-tall Caucasian man
for all design.
It's no longer enough for us to ask for a
seat at the table; it's time to burn the table
down and think about why we built it that
way in the first place. CI
REBECCA SULLINS' history and passion
lie in audio-system design for large-scale
performance spaces, and she loves to
educate the future of the AV industry.

Commercial Integrator + Security Sales Nov/Dec 2023

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Commercial Integrator + Security Sales Nov/Dec 2023

Commercial Integrator + Security Sales Nov/Dec 2023 - Bellyband1
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Commercial Integrator + Security Sales Nov/Dec 2023 - Cover1
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