How Women’s Place in Design Is Still Defined by Gender
From crash-test dummies that assume men will be the driver to speech recognition software that can only understand male voices, we’re designing a man’s world. That has to change.
Bringing women into leadership roles in design can allow their diverse situated knowledge to percolate through the process. And that can be the first step toward a more equitable future.
1. The Number of Women in Design Is Increasing
The number of women in the design industry has increased over the years. This is a good sign as it shows that the industry is becoming more inclusive and diverse. In addition, more women are getting into leadership positions within the industry. For example, the percentage of female creative directors has doubled over the past decade. This is a positive sign as it indicates that there are more women in the industry who have the power to influence change.
However, there are still many challenges in the design industry for women. For example, it is often difficult for women to find work that fits their lifestyles. In addition, there are often fewer projects that focus on women’s issues. This is because designers tend to have a male-oriented worldview and lack empathy towards women. For example, they may not understand that medical devices designed for surgeons are usually unsuitable for home carers. This is a problem that needs to be addressed in order to ensure that women are not excluded from the design process.
2. The Number of Women in Leadership Positions Is Increasing
Although women have made significant strides in working their way through the ranks and now represent more than half of the design workforce, they are lagging behind in leadership positions. This is a problem because leadership positions drive decision-making and are the source of advancement opportunity.
Many of the factors that limit or dissuade women from reaching leadership positions are invisible. A culture that expects men to be results oriented and women to be people oriented can restrict the participation of women in key projects and may keep them from advancing.
This issue can also be exacerbated by a lack of supportive work practices. For example, participants noted that a workplace culture that doesn’t accommodate a flexible schedule can discourage women with family responsibilities from seeking out leadership positions. Ultimately, if companies continue to ignore gender equity in leadership, they’ll risk losing current women leaders as well as the next generation. The best way to attract and retain these women is by providing a culture that enables them to achieve their career goals while also meeting the needs of their families.
3. The Number of Women in Graphic Design Is Increasing
We may still be a long way from equality in the design industry, but we are making progress. It is encouraging to see that women make up the majority of graduate students graduating with graphic design degrees, and that more than half of the members of the professional design organization AIGA are female.
Unfortunately, those numbers taper off as we move up the ranks, and there is a clear need to focus on creating a more balanced workplace. When women in leadership positions lead by example, it can help to counteract the gender bias that exists throughout the entire design process.
After all, without a diverse set of inputs and perspectives, the designs we create will always be biased toward one side or another. We need to ensure that we are leveraging the full range of human experiences in our work, so that our designs are truly useful for everyone. This starts at the top, and it’s essential that organizations prioritize focusing on empowering their women designers to rise to leadership positions.
4. The Number of Women in Industrial Design Is Increasing
In a profession where industrial design is all about the products that people use, it seems odd that women only make up 19% of practicing industrial designers. Perhaps the answer lies in communication power dynamics, which have been found to play a key role in why so many women drop out of the field.
Kellie Walters has studied the communication styles of female industrial design students and found that when women work with masculine communicator-style leaders, they tend to retreat from the table and speak less. This is probably a familiar feeling to most women who have been shunned or interrupted in professional settings. Fortunately, there are plenty of women fighting to change this. Creative Equals, for example, runs courses in London and New York to help women who have been out of the industry for “all sorts of reasons” (like family commitments, illness or caring breaks) to get up to speed with current trends in the field.