28 Jan 2019

Tech Sisters International. More important than you think.

By Julius Grafton.

Girls backstage do get discriminated against and do occasionally get sexually harassed. They get fatigued like everyone else, may get heat exhaustion, and can in times of desperation consider suicide. They sometimes also are paid less than guys. Worst of all they often don’t have a network of like minded girls since they are sadly a minority in this workforce.

Over a late breakfast in Balmain, 27 year old audio tech Jessica McCloughan talked about her bump out that lasted until 3am today, the heat, the rain, and the fear that in that long grass there may be a snake. “I’m happy to go get under the stage but less happy when the grass is this tall”, she indicates a high spot in the air. And the time this summer her gloves started to melt as the black cables were so hot. Or how her (male) assistant made 17 audio connections against her 42 – in the same time.


(Typical Jess cable run!)

One thing Jess has never done, and I’ve known her since age 16 (when she tuned up to supervise ME at an audio rehearsal because I hadn’t done stage monitors on an M7CL before) is whinge. She’s a super positive, professional tech that people like having around. We talked about a whole range of issues faced by girls, and then she told me about Tech Sisters International, a Facebook group she has just started.

“A community of sisters who are committed to working super hard and supporting others to gain career and personal success. This group is focused on helping each other with tips and tricks and creating an open platform for any questions to be asked from anyone in the group”, it says in the intro.

“We have a vision to have a place for open minded industry techs to have each other’s backs and support each other. If you don’t feel ok you can PM the admin techs for help with dealing with the everyday struggles of working in this industry. It’s a community so when one falls down we all help you get back up again. It’s not easy and we are all in this together”.

“Is this about pay?” I asked? “Not really”, Jess said. “Imagine I have a question that would usually be called a ‘dumb question’, like – I do audio – so I want to understand how two Par cans work in series. Or you do lights, and you want to know about ohms law. Can’t imagine why, but anyway …. now we have a ‘safe’ place to ask this. Ask in an open tech group and you’ll get a lot of flaming!”

We all have issues – Jess says that fatigue can, when combined with diet and a whole pile of other problems, lead a positive person to think about suicide. And that is something most people are loath to discuss in an  open forum.

For that and other reasons, Tech Sisters International is private and only open for working tech girls (women/girls/sisters) referred by someone known to the admins. It isn’t intended to be exclusive, she says, rather it’s designed to be safe. And it isn’t what you might categorise as a ‘feminist collective’.

“So if you agree to all the above and are committed to supporting others then welcome to the TSA family. Another important point is each of you in this group knows one of the admin techs personally. This creates a point to point family connection to avoid becoming lost in the group”, concludes the intro.

Jess asked me whether the fore-bearer females in tech, back in the 1970’s, were discriminated against.

“Only if you consider being called a dyke, a groupie, and every second guy asking you for a blowjob”, I answered. I only knew about three female crew in any case. They were that rare.

She discussed some recent scenarios she had encountered where she didn’t get some jobs because she suspects she is female. I didn’t see that the same way – I suggested there are some people who just don’t like you (or me), for prosaic reasons like the colour of your hair.

We had a nice breakfast and chat about RF and audio. Jess found out her grand dad was an army communications expert way back when, and thinks that’s why she is really interested in complex comms systems – which are part of her speciality set.

The working life of an audio girl. Fascinates me, and as time goes on it only gets more technical and the risks seem to increase. A good reason for Tech Sisters International and I hope Jess is joined by as many sisters as possible on Facebook.


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