The most important issues for female designers in 2018 and how to address them

On International Women’s Day, we ask designers and industry figureheads what the biggest issues are for women in design and how we can begin to solve them.

Sarah Weir (OBE), chief executive, design council

“Today, the greatest issues facing female designers are a lack of pay and the lack of having their voices heard. 100 years ago, some women were given a voice through having the vote. However, only 50 years ago, an advert in a design magazine appeared calling for a man between the ages of 30-40 to fulfill an important job opportunity as an art director.

Conversely, in 2015, 78% of the design economy was male, compared to 53% across the whole working economy. The gender pay gap is very much alive and well today! Our own 2015 research noted the average salary was £635 per week, with the majority of women earning a whopping 68% less. We need to do better!

The answer is to provide more platforms to hear women in different areas of design and pay them equally with men.”

Nat Maher, CEO, Pollitt and Partners

“Women need to be asking for more money, and more often, and from the very start of their careers. The Guardian ran a piece last year revealing that there is a 20% gender pay gap in pocket money – with boys afforded more financial independence than girls. Our ‘accept what we’re given’ stance is deep in the psyche of women, and often means that young women and graduates rarely negotiate salaries from the get-go, and so the gap begins. I am embarrassed to say I didn’t negotiate a single salary until I was 29. Ask around, and you’ll hear that time and again.

Speak up. In all things, but especially this area. And seek out mentors you can talk to about how to develop these skills – there’s not a woman I know who hasn’t been through this struggle, and she’ll have much that she can share with you about how to develop the confidence surrounding your worth, and how to have the conversation in a positive way.”

Merle Hall, CEO, Kinneir Dufort

Male-dominated product design landscape:

“The Design Council quote average figures as low as 5% practising female product designers in consultancies. At Kinneir Dufort, we’re over 30%, still far from ideal. In my opinion, women bring an equilibrium to any working environment. At my consultancy, we work hard to create and maintain an atmosphere of respect, where everyone contributes, and where all views and perspectives are heard.

Lack of female leadership:

We still see too many examples of design businesses where patriarchal “design-asor” behaviours prevail and curtail opportunities for female designers. When I became CEO of Kinneir Dufort in 2016, it was immediately obvious to me there was a responsibility to ensure a clear path of progression for all. We have mixed teams at every level of leadership in our business. We also work closely with organisations such as Kerning the Gap, The Big Bang and TeenTech, encouraging our team to support the next generation of budding talent.

Maternity / flexible working:

As a business of 80 people, it’s easier for us to offer enhanced maternity (and paternity) for employees, which we do. It’s harder for smaller businesses, but we believe it’s worth it. We also have many of our team working flexibly, which we know our team value, and helps us secure world-class talent.”

Tessa Simpson, design director, O Street

“One of the biggest challenges we face is lack of women in visible leadership positions — the majority of design graduates are women, but only 11% of design business leaders are women. The idea of ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ could play a big part in changing that. In the past, female designers haven’t had the same profile as their male counterparts (just google ‘famous graphic designers’ to see what that looks like) and we’re at the point where we can really change that. It’s important for leading female designers to put themselves at the forefront — be vocal about their work, volunteer to give talks, get on judging panels and generally be seen in the industry.  Of course it’s not only women that can help address this, men have a role too — to help women get the opportunities, platforms and support needed for them to flourish and be seen.”

Jane Harwood, senior designer, Williams Murray Hamm

“There is a lack of role models – visibility of female designers above design director level is lacking. If you’re female and happen to be in an imbalanced workplace, it can feel like a boy’s club. You do begin to wonder, what will happen to my career when and if I reach that level? Where have all the women gone? I’m sure it’s not just a childcare issue. There’s a problem with investing confidence in women at leadership levels. Employers need to make sure we’re seeing women at the top. Equality is not just a female problem, it’s an industry problem.”

Paul Bailey, strategy director, We Launch

“The most important issue for female designers in 2018 is that the UK design industry continues to exist within the context of an inherently patriarchal society. As women are disadvantaged simply due to their gender, this is not an issue for women alone but for the whole of the design industry and wider society.”

Jenny Theolin, owner, Studio Theolin

“Tokenism. You are not a ‘female designer’, you are a designer. If anyone calls you that to your face, tell them to fuck off and explain why. If someone invites you to the stage as a ‘female designer’, and you have an audience, take it, and own it!”

Hide Comments (2)Show Comments (2)
  • Charlie Brown March 13, 2018 at 1:46 am

    Oh ffs…

  • Matt September 30, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    You should cite your exact sources and calculations because this is absolute nonsense. Women earn 68% less than men? Give me a break. If that were true, companies would only hire women, yet the design industry is 78% male? Smells like conjecture and biased opinions to me!

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