Why do women at the top still come as a surprise?

Lynda Relph-Knight

We shouldn’t be surprised to hear that Pentagram has made Jane Plüer an associate (see designweek.co.uk). She has, after all, been with the creative supergroup for some nine years, working mainly with partner John Rushworth, and any consultancy needs to bring on the next generation. What is remarkable is that she is a woman, possibly the first to scale the heights within Pentagram, and what is surprising is that we are surprised.

Plüer’s long-overdue promotion marks a key addition to the ranks of women holding senior ranks within design groups. Kate Shaw followed on from Allison Miguel at Ziggurat, and there are Sally Crabb at Imagination and Gillian Thomas, erstwhile managing creative director at The Partners, among others. But generally, unless they have their name over the door – like Mary Lewis at Lewis Moberly and Linda Morey Smith – or, like the female-led Together and Household – women designers don’t tend to figure at the top.

Ironically, this isn’t the case on the client-facing side of the business. Landor’s London chief executive Cheryl Giovannoni, Desirée Collier, managing director of Marsteller, and Coley Porter Bell managing director Vicky Bullen are among those proving that point.

And many clients employ women to head creative teams or to buy design. Sunita Yeomans at Argos, Jane Scherbaum at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Dee Cooper at Virgin Atlantic, Jenny Quillinan at BT… the list goes on.

Meanwhile, on the fringes of the consultancy business we have Deborah Dawton, a product designer by training, heading up the Design Business Association, Gwyn Miles as director of London’s Somerset House and accountant Amanda Merron at Willott Kingston Smith.

So why aren’t there more senior female designers? In advertising, a similar scenario is often attributed to the laddish culture, but in design it isn’t always like that. Is it that women are more reticent to seek fame and we simply don’t hear from them? Please let us know, ladies. We’d love to hear your side.

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