Salterbaxter report reveals lack of diversity in design

A wake-up call to increase diversity in what is a young, white and largely male design industry is at the heart of a report being published today.

The study, by design consultancy Salterbaxter, finds that the make-up of the design industry does not realistically reflect British society, as it is predominantly white, with few disabled people among its number.

Compiled in partnership with a range of industry bodies, the six-month on-line questionnaire reports that 89 per cent of its respondents are white. It also finds that just 3 per cent of people in the industry are disabled, compared with an estimated national average of 20 per cent.

The report was produced with the support of the Design Business Association, the Design Council, the London Design Festival and specialist recruitment consultancy Periscope, among others. Salterbaxter hopes to use the findings to tackle these diversity issues among design’s workforce.

‘There are no real surprises here, but it has thrown up what we all suspected,’ says Salterbaxter head of operations David Boyle. ‘The study has first been used to raise awareness, but now we want to look at how we can really improve employee diversity. There are lots of aspects here/ women, disabled people and age, as well as ethnicity.’

According to the survey, 56 per cent of designers are male, but this rises to 64 per cent for the over-35 group. The majority of all consultancy staff are also under 45 years old (90 per cent of female respondents and 83 per cent of male). And while the under-35s are more than 60 per cent female, this drops to just 41 per cent for over-35s. This implies a fall-off of women employees in the older age brackets, consistent with the wider pattern of employment related to childcare.

By ethnic origin, just 5 per cent of respondents are Asian and 3 per cent are black. According to Salterbaxter, in London about 70 per cent of the population is white, but 87 per cent of designers are white.

‘I don’t think we should beat ourselves up about this, as it’s similar across a wide area of British business, but it is something people should be made aware of,’ says William Knight, director of the London Design Festival. ‘However, I want to make the festival as inclusive and diverse as it can be and also use it as a forum and conduit for debate on such issues.’

Boyle believes that the issues should be tackled directly. ‘The UK is a diverse country and design should reflect that, with new ideas and influences. I suppose when you accuse an industry of lacking diversity the standard defence would be that other industries have the same problem or that it is a problem for society in general. I think it can be too easy to find an excuse for the status quo when really everyone needs to do their bit to change society – we want to help the design industry do its bit.’

The Chartered Society of Designers and the Design Council have already promoted gender equality with the Women in Design event, held by the Parliamentary Design Group last year (DW 26 June 2006). According to figures from the Design Council’s Design Industry Research 2005 study, almost half of the UK’s consultancies are entirely male.

• Results of Salterbaxter diversity survey are published today
• Produced in collaboration with the Design Business Association, Design Council, London Design Festival, Employers Forum on Disability and Business in the Community
• The survey received about 400 responses

• 89% of designers are white and most are based in London
• Under-35s – 39% are male, 61% female
• Over-35s – 59% are male, 41% female
• 46% have no religious beliefs, 46% are Christian
• 3% have a disability, against an estimated 20% national average

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