The Essential Role of Mentorship

Published: May 10, 2024

The AV/IT industry is notoriously male dominated. That’s a fact. Even as workplaces make strides to initiate diversity, the numbers just aren’t suggesting that initiatives have really caused a noticeable change. For example, according to an article from AVIXA, only 13% of InfoComm attendees were women; what’s more, women only made up 5% to 8% of engineers in 2022. 

So, how do we create an ongoing, welcoming, nurturing and supportive environment for women who choose to grow within the AV/IT industry? 

What Kind of Challenges Do Women Face in AV/IT? 

I’ve worked in male-dominated industries for the majority of my career. It can be hard to fight off feelings of isolation when you are painfully aware that struggles you experience are not necessarily shared by your peers. Women tend to communicate in large groups differently from how men do, lead teams differently and manage their time differently. That means earning respect can mean taking a different path, as well. Having women to look up to in leadership positions when I was younger, as well as working for men who took the time to understand the unique challenges associated with sometimes being the only female in the room, has allowed me to understand my value in a way that I could not if I had been left isolated. 

And for all the parents: The challenges seem to get even more daunting when you’re managing more than just your own professional livelihood. As I’ve climbed the ladder to my role as a director, I’ve watched many male executives have the ability to put 100% of their focus into work — often not having to worry about filling the role of primary parent at home and/or caregiver to aging parents. Putting blinders on and ignoring the societal norms placed on the sexes takes away the reality of how people actually live their lives. 

Related: Women in Small Businesses: Imposter Syndrome or Systemic Barriers?

The most important takeaway is that these challenges, if not managed, can interfere with creating supportive work environments. The limited number of women who do work within the AV/IT industry do so while facing a number of barriers. The overwhelming lack of representation, often unequal pay, stereotyping and unexpected gender bias leaves women naturally reaching out to other women for camaraderie and support. Organizations such as the AVIXA Women’s Council (AWC) and WAVIT formalize this networking, expanding beyond the camaraderie into structured opportunities and real tactical support. Some 75% of WAVIT members look to the group to provide networking and professional development, with over half of members looking to be mentored or to become a mentor. Women in AV/IT are recognizing the value of working together to increase our numbers and our voice, and this is making a positive difference. 

Developing a Successful Support System 

Women in AV/IT face those feelings of isolation, and that means it’s important to latch onto the right kind of support system to foster positive emotions and the right kind of work environment. 

My suggestion — no matter where you are in your career — is to look for any kind of professionally run group out there where you can connect with fellow women and share your triumphs, experiences and overall challenges. LinkedIn is a great way to constantly stay in contact with any people you meet during the length of your career. As mentioned earlier, WAVIT is a wonderful organization that aims to support women within the industry through uplifting messaging and educational tools. Most importantly, WAVIT will work to connect mentors with mentees, in the process building lifelong connections and, eventually, changing the way that the entire world will experience AV/IT. 

These connections and relationships can help foster a supportive career, as they can become not only lifelines for future projects or initiatives but also real friendships with people who can relate holistically to what you experience every day. Support can take the form of anything from prepping for a job interview, to helping search for a new job opening, to finding sponsors for a marketing project, to getting advice about an upcoming event, to much more. 

Professional networking also opens people’s eyes to experiences from others all across the world. When you understand what women everywhere are going through, you can become an ambassador for change. You can have those difficult conversations, set those pay-range boundaries, uplift your coworkers and create a more welcoming environment for generations to come. 

The Power of Meaningful Mentorship  

When it comes to women in AV/IT, there’s nothing more valuable than mentorship. 

The guidance, support and advocacy that mentors provide can make all the difference, whether a mentee is just starting out or freshly beginning a new higher-up role. Mentors possess invaluable insight into the industry broadly — but, even more importantly, the industry through the lens of underrepresented women. 

These mentors create irreplaceable feelings of community, constantly empowering women to advance their careers. For all the seasoned professionals reading this, being a mentor is highly in demand. So, seek out professional groups or create your own effective messaging to nurture the next generation of AV/IT extraordinaires. 

For every meeting in which a man talks over you, there’s a mentor ready to listen. For every inappropriate comment or joke, there’s a wave of women with similar stories to make you feel strength. For every time you feel alone in your workplace, there’s a network of women out there waiting to connect. There are truly countless reasons that fostering an environment of support and admiration through mentorship is vitally important. 

As an industry, we need to have a diverse group of talented individuals passionate and at the ready. If we don’t, it will show. The AV/IT products distributed to the masses will lack a true understanding of all the people looking to use them. By employing the actual technology and platforms we work to better, we can also better the professional development and work environment for countless women everywhere. 

Embracing and Enacting Change in the AV/IT Industry 

As these groups and relationships take form, we will really start to see a difference in the environment in the AV/IT world. It has been proven that gender diversity in technical roles also leads to higher degrees of innovation. It’s important to take mentorship to a higher level, where support can build a whole new level of operations. 

Passion, confidence and efficiency are the ingredients that breed the best kind of workplace. Whether you are (or intend to be) a mentor or a mentee, the ultimate end goal is an inclusive and equitable industry. 

Carrie McKenzie-Bush is director of marketing at Peerless-AV. 

Posted in: Insights

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