Celebrating International Women’s Day: Building Careers in Pro AV

Attend any Pro AV industry trade show, conference, or seminar, and you’re likely to hear something about diversity, equity, and inclusion. At KMH Integration, DEI is more than a talking point. Kelly Rittenhouse and Kristin Medina are two women in the rare roles of holding key technology and business positions at a system integrator.

Both came from Stony Brook University in New York and were introduced to the AV world by career development programs through the school and recruitment efforts by KMH Integration owner Kevin Henneman. Now, Rittenhouse has advanced to director of operations for the Brooklyn-based integrator, while Medina is expanding her project coordinator role. They recently sat down to talk about how their experiences and what the industry should be doing to make sure everyone in the room has a voice.

SCN: How did you choose a field that was focused on technology?

Kelly Rittenhouse (KR): I majored in mathematics, with a minor in electrical engineering. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I felt like that was broad enough to lead me somewhere. Technology is so omnipresent now; it touches everything.

Kristin Medina (KM): I also have my undergrad degree in applied mathematics. I knew I wanted to do something STEM-related, and I was also curious about computer science. As far as choosing the AV field, it all started with my on-campus job. I was an AV technician at the Wang and Student Activity Center for various campus events, and that type of work stuck with me. When I learned about this job at KMH, it seemed like the next logical step for me.

SCN: When you both graduated, KMH was your first job?

KR: Yes. I graduated in June 2016 and started here in July. My original title was the project coordinator. I started putting together equipment lists, helping to manage the office, and supporting any role that needed help. Even as I’ve progressed here to a broader operation role, I still do a bit of everything.

KM: I started while I was still in school, working part-time here for about a year before I graduated. Then, I came on full-time in May 2019, starting in the same position Kelly had, project coordinator.

SCN: Since you’ve both begun working in Pro AV, have you encountered any bias?

KR: Many people in this industry have worked together for decades, and they have their own established relationships and strong camaraderie, and that type of community can be hard to break into.

KM: When I started going to industry events, it was obvious these guys all have their own history together. But the only way to build my own history is to stick around.

SCN: How do you overcome that?

KM: By doing the job well and creating some recognition for myself. We have a really strong team [at KMH] that works hard to give us the opportunity to speak up. They’re great about including us in everything, not as women colleagues, but as colleagues who are just part of the team. And that’s how it should be.

People in the industry will naturally look toward the people they have built relationships with. However, just by being visible, they begin to recognize our names, see the quality of the work we do, and take us seriously.

SCN: Was it hard at first to be confident in having your voice heard?

KM: When you first start at any job, as a woman or man, you’re probably not going to be the one running meetings at first, with customers and subcontractors. But then you begin to gain more confidence and speak up more. Everyone is here to do a job, and as long as you can show you know what you’re doing, that’s all people really care about.

SCN: Do you find that most people in this industry are supportive and want to help you grow and develop?

KR: Absolutely, yes. I am sure there is still some bias present, whether conscious or not, but for the most part, everyone is very welcoming.

SCN: Do you see the business changing with more women involved in different roles?

KR: There are plenty of women already in the industry, maybe more on the sales or manufacturing side, or in finance or accounting. In the system’s integration world, I don’t see too many women techs or engineers.

SCN: What could be done industry-wide to help the next wave of employees find a career path?

KR: About two years ago, when Kevin [Henneman] and I started to look for new ways of finding talent, it was clear there was room for improvement. Job fairs and online recruitment sources are great, and people do respond if they see you are genuinely interested in helping them find a place in an exciting industry.

KM: What would help is if current working professionals put more effort into giving students more exposure to the types of careers available to them in different fields after they finish school. Stony Brook has a job site called “Handshake,” and I applied online to KMH.

KR: Through my engineering program at Stony Brook, I had access to incredible mentorship opportunities. And that’s just one example. Schools will always welcome alums back to meet with students and share their experiences, so that’s an easy thing to do as a start. It’s sometimes hard to put that time aside when work gets busy, but you have to make it a priority. We could always be doing more, and it’s not only about promoting women. For example, look at many of the current leaders in our industry. When they retire, I don’t think there’s a proportional amount of younger people, like Kristin or me, who are ready to step up. Diversity and inclusion are broad topics, and change doesn’t happen overnight. We have to keep chipping away.