Women in design.
Women in design.
Now, it’s no secret that in the design industry the gender split is heavily in favour of men.
If we think back to earlier times, even how it’s depicted in the 1960’s based TV series Mad Men – it is clear to see that women had no authority, purpose or acknowledged opinion back then.
Aren’t we glad times have moved on?
They certainly have, and it’s great to see more and more women entering the field and making an impact. But we’re not quite there yet…
...even today women hold just 11% of leadership positions in the design industry, despite 53.5% of designers being women2.
What’s happening then?
It’s a combination of things, and for starters I’ll label the obvious: We’re still fighting for our place. The 1960’s were not that long ago and still the industry is getting used to female equals: equal opinions, equal titles, equal pay. It’s a process and a lot of companies are still adapting, but some companies are already acknowledging how powerful a mixed gender workforce can be.
They’re already there.
Because of this, one of the main issues is a lack of female leadership. When you have a female role model within your workplace, showcasing her success, hard work and inspiration, you are more likely to strive to get there yourself.
For example, female students are more likely to choose a major in STEM when assigned a woman professor; while retention of junior-level women employees is highly correlated with the number of women supervisors1.
What is this telling us? It’s easier, when you have someone to look up to.
Another interesting reason is one that often we overlook or don’t want to acknowledge as a factor. Motherhood.
In the Netflix documentary series ‘Explained’ they aired an episode called ‘Why women are paid less’3, where they show you a chart of your typical career alongside a man’s. For example: say, you both go to the same university, get the same grades, advance through your workplaces at the same rate. Your journeys are very similar. Then, later in life the woman has a child, and as amazing as this is, her career line pauses. Whilst the man’s continues.
By the time she’s back, he’s been promoted and she’s in the same position as before.
Not to suggest this is the only reason for unequal pay, but it’s definitely a factor, and this break in the timeline is true not only for the design industry, but for all.
With these obstacles amongst others being something women in design need to face and overcome, it’s amazing when we do. There has been some outstanding women in our industry, and here are some to name but a few:
An American designer, artist & educator, she rose to become the first female Principal at Pentagram. Hats off. She has a real passion for analogue typography which began in the early 80’s, drawing inspiration from historic design sources such as Russian Constructivism, obscure unknown typefaces, and a flow of her own impressive imagination.
Who’s also killing it on Bēhance with more than 130,000 followers, and rightfully so as a pastpartner of Sagmeister Walsh, until she left in 2019 to start her own agency & Walsh. What a woman. She has won numerous awards: Forbes magazine named her one of its ‘30 under 30,’ and the Art Director’s Club selected her as one of its ‘Young Guns.’4
London-born Sarah has shaped her career by designing for some of the UK’s most influential cultural institutions, including the Barbican Centre, Tate, the Architecture Foundation, and Gasworks4. She is an out-spoken problem-solver, using her sharp, clean and colourful approach to communicate her opinions on national identity and current politics.
Vanessa Eckstein & Marta Cutler
Vanessa founded Blok in 1999 and later invited Marta (who had a background in advertising agencies such as MacLaren McCann and DDB) to join. Together they run this successful agency, gathering a ever-growing portfolio of meaningful projects with brilliant execution. Power duo.
What do all these women have in common? I don’t know them personally but perhaps from my own experience, you need the following to be able to make your mark within this industry:
As a woman you’re most likely going to be out-numbered when it comes to gender in your career. You might find yourself as the only female within your team or without a female lead to look up to. You’ve got to be inspired by those around you, as well as becoming your own role model. Some of my biggest inspirations that have shaped me as a female creative have come from the most unusual places, as well as myself.
Know your worth and have faith in your ideas, however mad they might be or however put down they might become. It’s difficult and is something that takes time, even Paula Scher lacked self confidence once, she told Design Week:
It took me 20 years to realise I was good at my job.
You must back yourself. Some of the most successful concepts come from the craziest thoughts. But be humble, have the confidence to own up to your mistakes (they will be made). I always think those who admit when they’re wrong are the strongest people in the room.
The ability to level the playing field.
We have to almost forget we are female, it is not what defines us when it comes to our talent and our ability to do our job. Just like James next to you isn’t a man, he is a designer and he’s good at X, Y and Z. You must blind them with what you can do; how creative your ideas are, how well you can execute them and the respect you can show your team. Eliminate your gender as a judging factor by proving your worth, and they will never question it again.
These are but a few qualities that can become your tools to success, but also know that there are leaders out there, male & female who will change your career for the better.
Peoples perceptions are changing and like I said: we have certainly come a long way since the 1960’s, but we’re not there yet.
It’s up to us now, myself & every other woman who are currently in this industry or about to enter it.
Be strong, know you have merit and become the right role model for other women around you.
As we are the ones that will shape design for the women after us, make sure you’re making waves and changing stereotypes as you go.
2 According to the latest Design Census conducted by AIGA and Google
3 ‘Explained’ TV Series, episode 18 “Why Women Are Paid Less”
Author: Megan Jones