The gender pay gap exists in virtually every profession across the UK. While it has been accepted anecdotally for decades despite the Suffrage movement of the early 20th century, huge strides have been made in gender equality over the last two years, sparked by the explosive #metoo movement that began in October 2017 and saw women worldwide take to social media to speak about sexual harassment.
An investigation into the gender pay gap happened that same year, and many companies were hung out to dry when it was made compulsory under the UK’s Equality Act for businesses with more than 250 employees to publish their figures.
Where are all the female creative directors?
Some of the biggest offenders of pay disparity were indeed design-led companies, with tech giant Apple revealing that nearly three quarters of its top-earning employees were men, according to The Guardian.
Despite a high number of women taking art and design courses at university, the creative industries are also perpetrators of a hefty promotion gap, with data showing that women generally drop out of the industry as they increase in experience, while men continue to prosper.
Research from Kerning the Gap, a non-profit which promotes gender equality in design, previously found that despite 70% of graphic design students in the UK being women, only 11% made it to creative director level.
Men dominate higher pay grades
More recent research conducted by Design Week, as part of a wider survey looking at the demographic of the UK design industry, confirmed several major disparities — of 2,410 respondents, a 20% pay gap was found in 2017-2018, while two thirds of designers earning more than £40,000 per year are male.
Our research also concurred that men dominate senior roles, with two thirds of design owners and partners being men, and nearly two thirds of junior designers being female.
Does unconscious bias play a part?
None of this is particularly surprising, given the pressures placed on employees in a demanding industry like design — expectations to work long hours, the instability of freelance and competitiveness of jobs are not conducive conditions for those with a family or on maternity leave, for instance. We only need to read the experiences of working mother designers to realise how uncompromising employment conditions can take their toll on those juggling home and work life.
Then of course, regardless of whether they have children or not, there’s the “old boys’ club” mentality that can impact women’s ability to climb the job ladder, not to mention many other demographics. Unconscious bias has been found to play a major part in lack of diversity in the workplace, with employers often steering towards other people like themselves — and as 89% of creative directors are male, this does not place women in good stead.
Design Week and Kerning the Gap partner up
In light of all this, Design Week is working with Kerning the Gap on a gender pay gap campaign; we will be shedding light on the issues women face in the industry through exclusive data, news stories and features, interviews with women in leadership positions, panel discussions and more, with the hope of encouraging design businesses across the UK to channel gender equality in the workplace.
Alongside this, we will be celebrating the achievements of both up-and-coming and established female designers.
And what better day to launch this than International Women’s Day 2019 — to kickstart the campaign, Nat Maher, founder at Kerning the Gap, has written a piece challenging outdated gender stereotypes, while we have interviewed 23-year-old, prolific graphic designer, Simoul Alva about her impressive career trajectory.
Watch this space as we launch more content in the coming months.