AV Industry: A Future Woman's World? Believe in Yourself and Nuture Your Dreams.-by Catherine Shanahan

In 1951, my father founded Shanahan Radio & Television Service, a small shop in Lowell MA. How small was it? Dad's first sound truck was bigger than his shop. He had to put one TV on the sidewalk so he could repair the second TV at his service bench. But size didn't deter him from building his company. During the next three decades, Shanahan became one of the largest sales and service centers in Massachusetts, surviving monumental changes in the consumer electronics and commercial sound industries.The piece of history that many people don't know, however, is that my mother was just as involved in the company's formation and success: from administration and finance to training and everything in between. Yet, she never thought of herself as "running a company"; she was simply there to support her husband. Fifty years later, we haven't come that far as an industry in terms of female participation, though we're seeing more movement in that direction, which is good. There's no reason why more women can't be involved in technology industries, but we have to reach them early, when they're still children. Parents and schools need to let young girls know they can do math and science, they can be leaders and they can be competitive.

The National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA), of which I'm on the Board of Directors and am a long-term member, has always embraced education for both men and women. The NSCA Education Foundation recently awarded five scholarships, two of which were given to young women. Both have dreamed of working in the industry since they were little girls. No doubt, these bright students were encouraged by family, friends and teachers to follow their dreams, even if those dreams involved stereotypical "male" jobs. Fostering this sort of can-do attitude in today's youth is important, but so is changing existing attitudes.

In 1987, my brother Patrick and I took over Shanahan Sound & Electronics. In 1994, I became sole owner. Occasionally, I get a phone call from someone who asks to speak with the owner. When I say, "You're speaking with her," I'm usually greeted with disbelief or an insistence on speaking with "Mr. Shanahan." What does this say about where we are in 2007, when some people don't even expect women to own tech-related businesses? I'm fortunate that both of my parents supported the dreams and endeavors of their eight children, five of whom have gone on to run their own businesses. Of those five, three are women. I'm proud of the direction I've taken this company. In the last five years, we've grown three-fold in terms of revenue. We've made an effort to attract technicians and engineers with extensive training. We're a young company, meaning we have a lot of youth and vibrant energy. The people we hire are here for the long term, and our repeat customers benefit from these strong relationships.

Although I'm grateful for the opportunities and the encouragement I've received every step of the way, it still saddens me to think about my mother. Even though my father considered her his business partner, she never considered herself that or gave herself credit for her accomplishments. Perhaps this is the most important lesson of all: Women have to believe they can work in the electronic systems industry, despite trends that suggest otherwise, despite phone calls from disbelieving customers, despite those people who say we can't. Some of the best business owners I know, regardless of the industry, are women. We're natural negotiators, multi-taskers and organizers - all valuable traits for company CEOs.

At Shanahan Sound, I have 12 staff members, three of whom are women. I welcome the idea of more women but, unfortunately, not many apply for jobs. This is what has to change, and that begins in the home, in schools, in the current workforce and, most importantly, in women themselves.

Catherine Shanahan is president of Massachusetts-based Shanahan Sound & Electronics, Inc., which has been providing custom design, installation and servicing of sound and video systems to schools, churches and corporations for more than 55 years. For more information, go to www.shanahansound.com.

Used with permission of Testa Communications from the November 2007 issue of Sound & Communications magazine.

Sound and Communications - November, 2007