Last week’s Designer Breakfast was a panel discussion, featuring Penny Baxter, Nat Hunter and others, which aimed to answer this very question, and our resulting voxpop has elicited some interesting, varied and passionate views on the issue (including a superb manifesto from Design Business Association chief Deborah Dawton).
The very same question also popped up from an audience member at the Alan Parker, David Puttnam and Bob Gill D&AD lecture a couple of weeks ago following some ribald and macho tales of ’60s japes from the trio. The panel seemed nonplussed, suggesting, ‘Things have changed now though haven’t they?’
Well, maybe on one level. Open discrimination seems to be largely (and thankfully) a thing of the past, and figures suggest a reasonably even gender divide in design – a 2010 Design Council survey shows a 60/40 male/female gender ratio in the industry – although crucially it’s unclear what the ratio is at more senior levels.
But anecdotally it’s clear that whatever the situation with open discrimination, a more invidious inequality is still rife, both in design and in other sectors.
One of the main issues is pay. A report from the Chartered Management Institute last year showed that, on average, male manager-level employees were paid more than £10 500 more than their female counterparts. It seems almost unthinkable that nearly 40 years after the Equal Pay Act came into force in the UK, the pay divide could be this wide.
Another key issue, addressed by many of our voxpop respondents, is maternity leave. As Deborah Dawton says, ‘Let’s stop looking at unmarried 30-year-olds as baby-machines waiting to get going.’
And when you see comments like the one from Wallpaper, Monocle and Winkreative founder Tyler Brûlé in a recent Observer interview – asked why he’s never set up a business in Scandinavia he replied, ‘Everything [in the Monocle offices] is from Scandinavia, but the maternity leave would kill us’ – it’s clear that this attitude is still embedded.
So where are all the women in design? The answer is that they’re everywhere, but this still seems to be in spite of the odds.