Women in design

As you’ll no doubt have already noticed, today is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the achievements of women, whether that be political, economic or social.

We were pleased to see women from the creative industries, such as architect Zaha Hadid and graphic novelist and Persepolis author Marjane Satrapi, represented in The Guardian’s Top 100 Inspiring Women (published in today’s G2), even if the list only yields one designer in the shape of fashion heavyweight Stella McCartney.

But International Women’s day should not just be about celebrating influential women, it should be about addressing the persistent gender inequalities that make such a day necessary in the first place.

Sadly, the design industry is just as susceptible to gender inequality as other more traditionally-minded professions. Design Council research has found that that although 70 per cent of design students are women, 60 per cent of the industry is male.

A postcard from the launch of Birdwatching
A postcard from the launch of Birdwatching with a quote from Pentagram’s Marian Bantjes

And this inequality is not just an issue that affects senior positions in design. In last year’s Design Week Rising Stars supplement, published in October 2010, only one of our 14 stars – nominated by industry experts and peers – was female.

Design Week features editor Emily Pacey commented at the time, ‘The nominators put [that lack of women represented in the supplement] down to the great number of women who leave design early on in their careers, proving yet again that the industry has a long way to go to accommodate women’s professional requirements and to keep valuable talent feeding the beating heart of design.’

Rising Star Valeria Hedman, the winner of the interiors category, told London-based organisation Birdwatching, ‘That women are less visible in the industry I believe is a complex mix of lack of recognition, entrepreneurship and self-promotion – in that order.

‘So women do need to support each other and give encouragement to strengthen their position (this can also happen with support from men) and speak with the same voice to get the same recognition (and earning power) for equally good work.’

Birdwatching itself launched last year to discuss the issues affecting women in the industry as well as giving recognition to talented practitioners. It provides a creative network, website and programme of talks and exhibitions that promote and celebrate the work of female graphic designers and creators around the globe.

So, lack of recognition, not enough energy spent accommodating women’s professional requirements or a reluctance to ruthlessly promote themselves – what do you think the issues are for women in the design industry? Whatever your sex, we’re keen to hear your views.

Hide Comments (13)Show Comments (13)
  • jacqueline cornforth November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Lack of recognition is a big factor, as we are still in a predominantly male dominated enviroment. I have 30 years experience, and have had my own company for 17 of those years. The people who realy appreciate me are my clients many of whom have been with me for over 20 years. Thats recognition. But you rarely get any recognition from within the industries we work in/with.

  • Shirley Gibson November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    First off I’m female and I’m 30.

    I graduated in 2005 and like all new graduates, male and female, I’ve had to work really, really hard to build a portfolio of work and keep a job.

    I more than often feel like I am not being taken seriously, which is quite frustrating. I have also worked in an environment that was overly ‘ladish’ and one colleague in particular spoke to me in a patronising manner or he would sometimes laugh at me for ‘no reason’. His relationship with the male designers was completely different.

    However, I have also had difficulty working with an established female design director. I was given a lecture on how to dress and a set of rules for my outfit each day and when I made mistakes I was deemed a ‘silly girl’.

  • Dave Hoffman November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I am astounded every day at the number of brilliant female designers I go to school with, and I hope they go on to meet success in the industry. If they went around doing the things in Marian’s quote, I would be all the more impressed. Especially if they slept with Ents.

  • Alison Bates November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Actually I never noticed gender inequalities, that is until after I had kids. The ad industry in London where I worked as an art director is quite appreciative of young and eager females. (No surprise there). Working full time is a financial no-no now, and networking around school hours is what you’d call ‘a challenge’. I work for myself and am twice as creative and productive hour on hour, than when I was fully employed. Thank God for social networking, Skype and broadband and flexible days, at least I get out there ‘virtually’! Must dash, children need bathing and I have an ad deadline for the morning.

  • Rachel Jane Patrick November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    As a student in my final year, it’s the girls that are making names for themselves not the boys. We’re slightly more organised and have realised the lack of recognition that women get in the industry so have banded together to support each other in our endeavours during and after college. This year so far I’ve done a few placements and the most inspirational one was Story UK as most of the heads of department were female. This confirmed for me that my bragging, fist-fights etc. aren’t in vain and one day, I will be a creative director.

  • Jinny November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I don’t think it’s lack of self-promotion. I think it’s a case that the industry is dominated by men, and men are more likely to promote their fellow men than they are women. It’s very difficult to break into an already established male dominated industry. In some areas of design, particularly graphic and web design, it feels very much like a boys club.

    There are a few respected female designers but they have to be exceptional to get noticed. Whereas there are plenty of average male designers who automatically seem to get respect and recognition just on the basis of their sex. A woman just doesn’t get that head start in this industry.

    For change to happen, it has to come from both sides. Women need more recognition in the industry from men but they also need to promote themselves effectively. Women need to become more competitive and to establish themselves, like men do, as experts in the industry.

  • Matt Baxter November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Interesting that you refer to “…more traditionally-minded professions” in your blog piece, Laura.

    Sadly, I think the design industry is as traditionally minded as any other, despite the veneer of forward-thinking right-on-ness. The industry still adheres to an anachronistic working model forged in the 80s by ad agencies run by blokes.

    Once we’ve figured out a way to move on from these inflexible, old fashioned ways of working, I think we’ll leave this white-male design industry monoculture behind. Speaking as a white male Creative Director, I’m looking forward to it.


  • EKB November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    From my experience in creative industries i think that is actually harder for women to transcend boundaries of gender expectation in the art world. For instance, graphic design is still a male-dominated industry. Crafts are female-dominated but less marketable, visible and valued. As long as the power positions are still predominantly male, the contracts and specs will remain ultimately with male tastes in mind. I feel that there is less inclination in general to help women develop to their full potential and there is no really good reason for that.

  • Cas November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I think as a woman you have to work even harder at your job, work longer hours and accept worse pay. And god forbid, if you actually want children, home-life and hobbies. I find that the stereotypical designer (white, male, 40+) and there were many at the Intersections event last week, wouldn’t know the community they were in, if it bit them on the bottom. They probably eat, work, sleep with fellow designers…

    NB The above graphic should perhaps read ‘THREE MEN’? Tree men, that is so embarrassing!

  • Amy Fox (Twizzlebird) November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Women, even now, can feel they have to think and act like men to do well in business. But that should be thrown out with your power-suit! Have a look at my blog on a successful woman’s approach to networking and let me know what you think http://twizzlebird.co.uk/blog/?p=433

  • Jenn November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I am in my early 30s, and I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am in my career as a web designer/developer, with nearly 14 years of experience.

    Despite working very hard and enjoying the work I do, I feel that I am also not taken seriously. I’ve had men ask me a technical question, did not believe my answer, and then ask a male colleague in front of me. (My male colleague produced the same answer as I did.)

    I also am finding it impossible to move to a more senior level role, despite having much more years of experience in my field than my colleagues and past bosses/team leads. In most companies, I have been over-qualified for my role and unchallenged, and I get bored easily and have moved on because of it.

    I am not married, and I’d actually put off having children until a lot later in life because I feel that this will hurt my career.

    In my experience, there is no gender equality in the workplace. I have worked at many companies. I’m not satisfied. I work hard and often harder than my male counterparts with a lot more experience, but I often feel that I am not getting anywhere.

  • GraphicDesignBoss November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I’ve worked with many, many talented women.

    I found the opposite to be true, I’ve worked with more women than men usually in the design firms I’ve worked for. That is until they have children then they change and become part time for good reason.

    I think we sometimes avoid the biological fact that women have children and sometimes make other choices to do other things with their life.

    Design isn’t the be all and end all!

  • Sara November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Went to a lecture today about breaking into the design industry. There were 4 guest speakers, all who work in high-profile agencies. One student asked how many women worked for them. They all said ‘zero’. That blew my mind. The college student audience was predominantly women so many of us laughed out loud .

    One of the speakers commented that perhaps men are more aggressive which is what gets them jobs and thus gets them noticed. “Try to be less shy.” Was his tip to us.

    Interesting reasoning. He hires men because women are too shy. I am starting to think that design is a boys club. I am excited for our new generation to shake it up a bit.

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