An interview with Melissa Davis of All Media Group Inc.
CI&M: Would you encourage women to consider a career in cabling?
Absolutely! There are a lot of opportunities out there for cabling. Just think of all the construction and relocation the Fortune 500 companies are doing. If these companies can find somebody knowledgeable in the cabling arena, they will hire them to make sure their in-house cabling systems are laid out and implemented the way they`re supposed to be. The counties, the private sector build all the time. There`s tremendous opportunity.
CI&M: How can women find out about cabling? How did you learn about it?
I got an engineering degree from the University of Colorado. Before I graduated I was looking for a job and one of the cabling contractors who was doing work at the university went to the human resources department and pulled the resumes of engineering students who were looking for jobs on campus. He found me and called me. It was luck of the draw.
CI&M: Is engineering the best preparation for this field?
There are a couple of different areas. If you get into sales--selling product or design services with a consulting or engineering firm--you don`t need an engineering degree; any kind of business degree is good. If you want to get into estimating and design, an engineering degree may be overkill, but I don`t think anything else would prepare you as well. A construction-management degree might also be good preparation, and some colleges have made a commitment to BICSI (Tampa, FL) to offer communications courses.
CI&M: Do women tend to go into one area of this industry more than another?
Yes, probably into sales. There are not many of us on the technical side of it: the spec writing, the design work, the implementation. In the 12 years that I`ve been in the field, I have seen one female technician.
CI&M: How did you get to be vice president of a design and project-management firm?
After college, I stayed with the contractor who had hired me and worked there as an estimator and designer for five years. We were a contractor to a large service provider, and when that company made me an offer as a cable design and project manager, I went there for seven years. I realized that I wasn`t a corporate gal and neither was my partner. We wanted to do something other than retire from one of these big companies. We knew we could do something that would work for us, so we went into business for ourselves. My partner, Diane Travis, and I are 50/50 in a Subchapter-S corporation. If I had to do it all by myself, I wouldn`t. If she had to do it all by herself, she wouldn`t. She handles the business and accounting side of it, and I handle all the design and operations.
CI&M: What personal traits does a woman need to succeed in this business?
It has always been such a male-dominated industry, and it still has a lot of men with the old mindset. So both my partner and I are pretty thick-skinned and easy to get along with. We can hang out with the best of the boys. The industry itself has changed tremendously the last 10 years. There are more people from the computer and data side involved in it, which has changed the demographics.
But you`ve got to be aggressive and persistent because there are so many opportunities, and there are a lot of people selling products and services. To succeed, you have to understand that there`s a lot of competition out there. You have to be willing to devote the time it takes to find the new jobs and the right people to talk to. You have to be aggressive and excited about what you`re doing, and you have to like competition.
CI&M: What obstacles have you had to overcome?
Coming up through the ranks as I did, through the contracting world and then over to a large service provider, it was kind of difficult. Let me give you an example: In the early 1990s, I was part of a group of designers. I had the state of Florida, and there were 10 other designers--all men--between the south-central and southern service areas. This was a whole new position within the company. I had written the job description for the position and had gotten it kicked up from a pay-grade 3 to a pay-grade 4 because it was more difficult than the pay-grade 3 position. Still, every one of those men got his pay-grade promotion before I did. It was blatantly obvious that they took care of themselves--at least in that organization--at least during that time. Maybe things have changed now.
CI&M: Do you have to be better at your job than a man?
Yes, sometimes people don`t believe what we have to say as opposed to what a man has to say. We have to work a little bit harder to prove we know what we`re talking about. We`ve had to learn to set ourselves apart. When we put together qualification packages, ours outshine a lot of the others because of the experience we have, the way we present the information, and our more-detailed approach to the projects we have been selected for.
CI&M: Obviously, you manage to convince the client.
Absolutely. All they have to do is let us in for a little while and they see what kind of job we do. But initially, you have a woman knocking on your door about putting in a cabling system, and you have a man knocking on your door about putting in a cabling system--they tend to think the man will do it better. But that`s fine, I don`t have a problem with that at all.
I hope young women will consider a career in the cabling industry because the opportunities are tremendous. Everybody`s got to have cable. Changes are being made every day in products and cabling techniques. It`s a great field--it`s exciting.
Melissa Davis is vice president of All Media Group Inc. (Orlando, FL), a design and project-management firm.