Designers on International Women’s Day: “I have to unlearn what a leader ‘should’ look like”

For International Women’s Day 2022, we spoke to women in the design industry about their main challenges and opportunities in the workplace today.

“I strongly believe that challenges in the work environment are always going to be prevalent, for men and women alike, varying across different jobs and roles. As a woman in a highly male-dominated industry, I’ve observed a slow but sure change in the design sector compared to previous years. Today, there is certainly more awareness around gender equality, diversity and inclusion.

“I’ve been lucky that a lot of the heavy lifting has been done before my time by incredible women and supportive men, but I believe that a lot more can and should happen in both professional and educational spheres. It’s still surprising to see only a small percentage of women reaching leadership roles in the creative sector. There are many incredible women that have climbed the ladder and that can be a source of inspiration for younger generations. It would be great to see a changing attitude within the industry, allowing these women to be more visible and present.

“Education and family play a huge role in all this. It would be exciting to see children learning together all disciplines and tasks, may that be mechanics or sewing, regardless of their gender.
As a child, I grew up surrounded by boys. I’ve been playing with bikes, metal and wood from a young age. If I wasn’t familiar with that type of work and what is considered to be a ‘boys-only’ environment, it’s safe to say I would’ve struggled with my career choice.”

Sara Urasini, design and wearables consultant at Design Partners

“Following the pandemic, there is no doubt that we have been faced with more challenges in the workplace than ever before and despite us having more flexibility and time, working from home comes with many challenges, especially being a mother of two multitasking between motherhood and a career. Mothers are often judged for focusing on their career after having children, while fathers are expected to go to work to provide for their family. Working from home we naturally take on this guilt that we have to be perfect both as a mother and employee. While working at the office helped me separate the two worlds, I believe it is hugely important to have the balance between working from home and being in the office. Working at the office is key in building a company culture, where I can create visibility and understanding in balancing parenthood for men and women  and still have high ambitions.

“Remote working has opened up many opportunities to work with clients all over the world which has been brilliant for business. I work a lot with CMOs who are women or people who have a more feminine leadership style. This is something that we are seeing more of and is proving really beneficial for the industry. Female voices offer varying soft skills, people management and a sense of openness.”

Queenie Lo, CEO at UXUS

“As a younger agency owner – and I say ‘younger’ because, at 27, I still consider myself a baby in this industry with much to learn – I’m pretty sure there are many gender-based challenges ahead of me that I have yet to face. I feel lucky to say that aside from the typical challenges of running a start-up agency, I can’t pinpoint many that are directly related to my gender. But if I can offer some perspective to any young women coming up in this industry, the main challenge for me is getting out of my own way and really owning my position as a leader.

“My titles are CEO and creative director, and they require me to step out of my comfort zone and own a position not commonly held by women, even less so by women of colour. So I have to free myself from the shackles of doubt, unlearn what a leader ‘should’ look like, and not worry about being a likable people pleaser so that I can really be the boss that I am. It’s a lot easier said than done, but I trust that with time and experience, I will feel more and more comfortable and confident in the idea that I, a young Black woman, can and deserve to unapologetically hold a position of power.”

Ashley Phillips, co-founder and creative director at Six Cinquième

“While things were definitely different at the start of my career, I’m happy to say that I don’t face any challenges as a result of being a female in the industry today. If anything, I see greater opportunities.

“I feel lucky to have worked at Vault49 for the past eight years. The agency has always championed diversity, in every respect, and the fact that I’m female hasn’t affected me negatively here as I think it might have done if I’d been at a different agency.

“More and more we are receiving comments from our clients about how female-heavy our leadership team in New York is, and how refreshing it is for them to see. We’ve even had feedback implying that we have won work off the back of this, so it’s great to see how our clients and the industry as a whole are making a concerted effort to fight back against gender discrimination.

“I also feel that the pandemic has created a more level playing field for people with other responsibilities outside of the workplace – raising children, caring for elderly family members, whatever those might be. People and their employers are embracing the opportunity to improve the work/life balance in a way that works for them. It’s amazing how much more ‘life’ you can squeeze in when you don’t have a commute taking up 2 hours of your day. As a dog mom, I know it’s definitely helped me!”

Leigh Chandler, partner and creative director at Vault49 New York

Banner image is courtesy of Shutterstock

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