CI Making Waves - Imposter Syndrome or Systemic Barriers?

Imposter Syndrome or Systemic Barriers?

from Commercial Integrator Jan/Feb 2024 Issue

by Caroline Dunn is VP of Marketing at Wahsega

"Imposter Syndrome" is often characterized as a self-inflicted state of doubt, affecting both men and women in various sectors. However, in male-dominated fields like AV/IT, women disproportionately grapple with this condition. While it's easy to dismiss this as a psychological hang-up, a deeper analysis suggests that systemic barriers may be playing a far more significant role.

The Phenomenon of Perceived Inadequacy

Imagine encountering a job opportunity that perfectly matches your skill set. Instead of joy, you're plagued by hesitance, wondering if you're genuinely competent for the role. You're not alone in this predicament. People, especially women, frequently experience these doubts. Are societal factors amplifying, or even generating these feelings we label as "Imposter Syndrome"?

Recent findings illustrate this issue's gendered dimensions. A study of 4,000 adults revealed that 53% of women have felt underqualified or skeptical of their competencies at some point. Conversely, 63% of men claimed that they have only occasionally felt like imposters at work, while 54% said they have never experienced this feeling. (Source: Galaxy)

Women in AV and Technology

Temporarily sidelining the emotional aspects, let's consider some concrete numbers. Women make up only 27% of the computing workforce, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. (Source: NCWIT) Furthermore, Avixa reports that only 9% of global AV professionals are women. (Source: AVIXA) These figures offer a compelling narrative about gender imbalance in the field.

Challenging the Traditional View of "Imposter Syndrome"

The term "Imposter Syndrome" is most commonly seen as an individualized emotional state, something to confront and overcome on a personal level. However, these feelings might not be solely our own making. Could it be that systemic barriers in industry and academia create a fertile ground for what we understand as "Imposter Syndrome"?

Challenging Norms: A Personal Reflection

Having earned both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech, an institution where men significantly outnumber women, I found myself questioning the psychological barriers many face. I’ve met countless women who were discouraged from pursuing engineering, math, and computer science degrees. 

The Promotion Paradox

Promotional opportunities, or the lack thereof, offer another complex layer to this issue. The “like promotes like” phenomenon is an unwritten rule in many corporate settings, making it difficult for women to break the glass ceiling when those in leadership roles are predominantly male.

Workplace Culture: The Subtle Reinforcers

The environment of a male-centric workplace extends far beyond hiring and promotions. Microaggressions, lack of mentorship opportunities, and exclusion from ‘boys club’ activities can add to the stress, enhancing feelings of imposterism.

Employers Can Create a More Inclusive Ecosystem

Objective Hiring Practices

It's imperative for companies to instruct hiring managers to look beyond mirror images of themselves, a practice that perpetuates a homogenous work environment and encourages unconscious biases. Mandatory training sessions on uncovering and mitigating unconscious biases in recruitment should be required for every manager.

According to Forbes, teams that are more diverse are not only financially more successful but also tend to be stronger in innovation. (Source: Forbes)

AI and data analytics tools can be calibrated to assess qualifications objectively. These technological solutions can offer an initial screening process that ensures a more balanced and diverse selection of candidates.

By combining mandatory anti-bias training for hiring managers with cutting-edge technology, organizations can take robust steps toward creating a more equitable work environment. This will not only meet social justice objectives but, as the data suggests, will also positively impact the bottom line.

Transparent Compensation and Benefits

To genuinely level the playing field, companies should adopt transparent compensation structures and equitable parental leave options. But it's crucial to understand that the concept of parental leave extends beyond just maternity and paternity leaves. It should encompass flexible schedules that allow for attending to family needs, such as caring for sick children or picking them up from school.

Far too frequently, women find themselves shouldering these responsibilities, often at the expense of their professional commitments. While their male colleagues may have the luxury to attend after-hours networking events that can be pivotal for career advancement, women are more likely to be tied down by familial obligations. This imbalance perpetuates systemic gender disparities in the workplace, hampering women's professional growth and feeding into feelings of imposterism.

The Role of Community: Women-Led Initiatives

Organizations including WAVIT offer more than just a supportive community; they are instrumental in driving industry change, emphasizing the importance of education, representation, and inclusion for women in the AV and tech sectors.

Final Thoughts

The narrative around "Imposter Syndrome" needs an overhaul. Instead of viewing it as an isolated emotional state, we need to examine the systemic elements that contribute to these feelings. In doing so, we don't just validate the experiences of thousands of women; we take a significant step toward creating a more equitable and inclusive environment for all.

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