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Women in Small Businesses: Imposter Syndrome or Systemic Barriers?

Published: 2024-02-06

Imposter Syndrome is often characterized as a self-inflicted state of doubt, affecting both men and women in small businesses and large businesses, across industry sectors. However, in male-dominated fields, such as AV/IT, women disproportionately grapple with this condition. Although it’s easy to dismiss this as a psychological hangup, a deeper analysis suggests that systemic barriers may be playing a far more significant role.

The Phenomenon of Perceived Inadequacy 

Imagine encountering a small business job opportunity that perfectly matches your skill set. But, instead of feeling joy, you’re plagued by hesitance, wondering if you’re genuinely competent for the role. You’re not alone if you experience this predicament. People, especially women, frequently experience these doubts. Are societal factors amplifying, or even generating, these feelings that we label “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, 54% of men said they have never experienced this feeling. 

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. Furthermore, AVIXA reports that only 9% of global audiovisual professionals are women. These figures offer a compelling narrative about gender imbalance in the field. 

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

Challenging Norms: A Personal Reflection 

Having earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech — an institution where men significantly outnumber women — I encountered the psychological barriers that many face. I’ve met countless women who were discouraged from pursuing engineering, math and computer science degrees. And there are numerous other challenges, which we’ll now explore. 

The Promotion Paradox: Promotional opportunities, or the lack thereof, introduce another complex layer. The “like promotes like” phenomenon is an unwritten rule in many corporate settings. This makes 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 and, thus, enhance feelings of imposterism. 

Related: Overcoming Gender Bias in AV Design

Employers Can Create More Inclusive Ecosystems 

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 bias. Mandatory training sessions on uncovering and mitigating unconscious bias in recruitment should be required for every manager. 

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

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 also, as the data suggests, 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 leave. It should also encompass flexible schedules that allow employees to tend 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. Whereas their male colleagues might have the luxury of attending after-hours networking events that can be pivotal for career advancement, women are more likely to be tied down by family 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 

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

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 not only validate the experiences of thousands of women but also take a significant step toward creating a more equitable and inclusive environment for all. 


Caroline Dunn is vice president of marketing at Wahsega. 

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