Smashing the patriarchy and other workplace problems at SXSW


AUSTIN (KXAN) — In an age when it can feel like the cards are stacked against people in the workforce, one interactive art installation at South by Southwest aims at shattering the barriers.

The interactive installation ‘Breaking Barriers’ is part of the Future Workplace Track at the festival presented by ADP and is set up at the Empire Control Room and Garage at 606 East Seventh Street.

The concept, set up jointly with Havas and WIRED Magazine, gives festival-goers a cathartic experience by allowing them to destroy job-related frustrations both physically and metaphorically. Themes at the exhibit include shattering the glass ceiling, achieving better work-life balance, closing the wage gap and moving past old, clunky technology.

(Tulsi Kamath/ KXAN) 

Suited up in protective gear and armed with a weapon of choice – a crowbar, a pipe or a baseball bat, among others — participants get to smash an object that represents their workplace barrier.

“It’s just a fun experience to get you thinking about what you’re working for, beyond your regular paycheck,” said ADP employee Annie Smith.

For those who choose the glass ceiling, they get to literally shatter a pane of glass above their heads. The wage gap is represented by a ceramic piggy bank, work-life balance represented by clocks and for those who choose old technology, fax machines, old computers and other objects become the target.  

The rooms that drew the most people Friday were the glass ceiling and the wage gap, according to Havas Creative Director Nick Elliott who thought International Women’s Day might be the motivation behind the trend. There was also a clear winner when it came to the most effective weapon of choice.

(Tulsi Kamath/ KXAN) 

 “The crowbar is the one to go for,” said Havas Creative Director Nick Elliott. “Make no mistake with the crowbar.”

It may just be a coincidence that the installation coincides with International Women’s Day or the twentieth anniversary of the movie “Office Space,” but a steady stream of people came through the Empire Control Room to smash some glass and their feelings at the end of a long work week.  

Two participants who chose to smash the glass ceiling both had similar motivations.

“It’s International Women’s Day and I decided to simulate what I want to happen in the world which is to have economic freedom, economic equality,” said one woman. “I want to be able to do the same job as men and be paid for it adequately…and more!”

The other woman said she wanted to show her daughter that women could do anything.

Participants must sign a waiver before they can smash some glass. The interactive exhibit is open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. at the Empire Control Room.

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