There are fewer women then men leading design consultancies. Last week Designer Breakfasts met to discuss the underrepresentation of women in design and asked, ‘Where are the women?’ What do you think can be done to address the gender imbalance?
‘Let’s stop looking at unmarried 30 year olds as baby machines waiting to get going.
Let’s get over maternity leave as a necessary evil – we’ve got 9 months to prepare – more notice than most departing clients!
Let’s not introduce quotas or discriminatory processes; we want jobs on equal terms.
Let’s create more flexibility in work patterns–they make for invariably more productive staff.
Let’s create jobs that women actually want to come back to – they had a baby not a lobotomy.
Let’s have more mentoring.
Let’s stop measuring commitment by hours put in – for all our sakes – presenteeism and quality are two different things.Let’s get Dads home on time.
Let’s acknowledge that men and women, if primary carers, cannot abandon that responsibility for a night in the pub. Teamwork can be demonstrated in other ways.
Let’s accept that working part-time doesn’t require you to use only half your brain.
Let’s accept that working from home makes sense and shouldn’t be an earned right!
Let’s acknowledge that men and women are equal but not the same – sorry if that’s come as a shock!
Let’s accept that men, having been a numerical majority, have shaped the culture of our business.
Let’s accept that we change the culture of our business –a shift towards family-friendly policies would be a start.
Let’s make it more acceptable for couples to parent together sharing child-care responsibilities as they think is necessary.
Let’s be aware that sex discrimination claims are on the up as are unequal pay claims.
Let’s also be aware that failure to encourage gender diversity in our businesses and the statistical make up of senior employees in terms of gender would likely be used as evidence of a sex discriminatory environment.’
Deborah Dawton, chief executive, Design Business Association
‘I’ve never hit any barriers purely because I’m female but the hours are pretty macho. And for an industry that’s all about innovation, what success looks like – big, since you ask – is surprisingly conventional. Design thinking is now creating better services and processes. So it’s time we turned that expertise to our own business model and working practices. If we can get it right, it won’t just be good for retaining talented women: blokes will be able to breathe out too.’
Lydia Thornley, founder, Lydia Thornley Design
‘While I don’t subscribe to the view that men are exclusively from Mars and women are only from Venus, I have noticed that the more I get involved with design projects which do good for society, the more I get to collaborate with talented, driven women. As the emerging role of design in social innovation is embraced, the more demand there will be for such talents, and this will naturally create next-generation design organisations more evenly led by women and men.’
Mat Hunter, chief design officer, the Design Council
‘There are not enough women at the top, this is true. We need design businesses to take positive steps to change this. What can be done? A paradigm shift change is necessary to allow environments which encourage women to be able to lead these companies. But first steps: It’s a given that there are excellent female creatives but often they’re not in a business but working independently by senior levels. Better flexibility in working hours would enable women to remain involved. Businesses tend to get set up by friends from art college. Women are traditionally more risk averse. There’s an opportunity to further encourage entrepreneurship at graduate level which encourages women to feel empowered to do their own thing when they want to.’
Rhiannon James, director of education & professional development, D&AD
‘The bottom line is that tax deductible childcare is a policy decision that could make a material difference to the underrepresentation of women in all sectors not only design. In design we need to improve our profile and perceived value as a sector, in doing so we could increase salaries and benefits creating more realistic working conditions for women at the top of their game with families to support. I have two children and a third on the way. The post tax cost of full time, quality childcare – and if you’re that way inclined, private education – far exceeds the average salary of even directors in the design sector. I think this is the reason we loose so many fantastic female designers. Add to this the female trait of self-depreciation (not asking to be paid what they are worth!) and guilt (feeling they should be the one putting baby first) and the only ones left are those with considerably bigger balls than the boys!’
Georgia Fendley, creative director, Construct
‘In my experience it has always been the case that there are more male designers than female at all levels so inevitably more men will grow into senior roles. The reason for this isn’t clear to me as I honestly can’t think of any barriers to dissuade women from choosing design as a career path if that’s what they want to pursue. Of course it’s far better that senior posts reflect a balance I firmly believe that the people doing the role should be there on merit not quota so would impulsively resist any initiatives to promote more representation. In my mind if you are driven to do the job then nothing should be able to stop you. I believe there will always be hurdles to overcome for both men and women but undoubtedly the most challenging would be for women in balancing their career and family. Whilst great strides have been made with flexible working for returning mums I still think there is a perception that senior players need to ‘be there’ all the time thus sometimes negating consideration for senior posts.’
Clare Styles, creative director, The Brand Union
I look across at my peers and yes there are more lads than lasses working in design. I’m not totally convinced that there is this fabled ‘glass ceiling’. I believe that capitalism is the only route to take, so if you’re good enough to cut it at the top then you’ll make it to the board-room, regardless of gender. If as a businessowner I falsely engineer who we employ then we’ll quickly find ourselves out of business. We promote talent.
Paul Mellor, design director, Mellor&Scott Design
Where are the women? Well, there are certainly many female creative directors across the design industry. With that in mind, perhaps it’s a question of changing perceptions rather than addressing an imbalance. If we could make our female role-models more visible, it might help reflect a more balanced picture.
Daniela Nunzi-Mihranian, Creative director, JKR