Design Diary,
March 07, 2019
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Today is International Women’s Day, a worldwide event to promote the role that women play in society. This year’s theme is “a balanced world” and the concept is that a balanced world is a better world.

When it comes to the creative industry, International Women’s Day poses a few interesting – and potentially – awkward questions.

Women in the design industry – particularly in senior roles – are, to be blunt, rather thin on the ground. This was the case when I started in this game many years ago – and it’s sadly the way things continue to be.

In the 22 years I’ve been in the industry, a quick tot up reveals that I’ve worked with over 30 male creatives across seven agencies – and only five female designers in the same amount of time.

Yet if we are to believe the stats, the majority of design graduates are female. A few years ago, I gave a lecture at MMU to around 50 design students to promote a work placement scheme at the agency I worked at the time. Five students signed up, all of whom were female, with one actually landing the job as junior designer – and she was the only woman in the studio.

Despite this, the industry is still dominated by men – a reported 78% according to the design economy in 2015.

So, what exactly is going on? Where are all these female graduates going? And what can we do to rectify it?

We’ve asked the Think team and some of our partners for their insights.

Paul Grogan, MD Think Design

Back in the 90’s, there was a definite laddish culture around agencies, particularly in Manchester where Think Design are based. It was work, booze, maybe sleep, and repeat. There was a real “old boys” network, which continues to this day in some areas. Even for the most confident of women, this often made for an intimidating environment and quite possibly contributed to the lack of women entering the industry.

Fortunately those days are behind us – and while there’s no disputing that us creatives still like a good time –  the dynamic has shifted. However, stereotypes are hard to shake, so maybe we need to work harder to show that we’re a pretty friendly bunch.

Marian Grogan, Director, Think

In all industries, there is much talk about the infamous glass ceiling.

At Think, we firmly believe that employees should be paid what they are worth regardless of gender. We also don’t believe in average salaries, so in reality, there shouldn’t be a glass ceiling for anyone. But in an industry that is creating more and more small agencies as big agencies split up, this itself creates an issue from an affordability perspective. We don’t have this particular situation, but if a team member was to go off on Mat leave could we afford to replace that person from a client continuity angle? Does this make a difference?

Likewise, most Creative Directors are male. Why? Is this again down to society and women pausing their career to have children? It shouldn’t be the case and maybe the industry could do more to mitigate this?

Grace Grieve, MD, Pink Labrador PR

I’ve worked in several creative teams – both in-house and in agencies – with some fantastic female designers. Then there comes a point where women start having babies – and young families and the creative industry just don’t mix. Pulling an all-nighter on an important pitch just isn’t an option with a young family, and, as a general rule of thumb, women are still the main carers in most cases. Even part time isn’t ideal – in this fast-paced industry, it’s easy to miss crucial developments while you are off on play-dates. I’ve seen several brilliant young female creatives climb the ladder so far, try their best to get back in the game after maternity leave – and quickly realise that life fast becomes very difficult. It’s a sad reality.

The industry has to change its attitude – but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Tom, Think Design

Female graduates joining their first agency are quite possibly starting on the back foot with the lack of a female role model.

They will usually have been interviewed by an older male Creative Director and let’s face it, some of these guys can be very intimidating. This can lead to a sense of disillusionment from the off. Somewhere, I would imagine that these bright young things subconsciously thinking “why bother – I’ll never get to the top in this industry”

On the flip side, should they even need a female role model? If we are thinking like this, then maybe it is a societal problem rather than a design industry specific problem.

Amelia Bramwell, Think Design

I’ve only worked in the industry for around a year and a half, and this is something I definitely experienced during my final year at University and my subsequent job applications.

Of my 8 tutors, only one was a woman, despite the course having a higher ratio of women studying (61% women, 39% men).

The gender gap for working creatives was apparent. We had a lot of speakers from the  industry over the three year course, yet only two of them were women compared to about 15 men.

In my final year, we had to call up design studios and enquire about work experience. I spoke to around 12 different design studios all over Leeds, not once did I speak to a woman over the phone or visit a studio where the creative director was a woman. Of the four studios I visited, only one had a female employee.

Fast forwarding to my time applying for jobs; I was using Indeed, emailing studios, calling studios, using recruiters – just about anything to try get my foot in the door. It took me around a month and a half to get my first interview, and I found the male interviewer rather rude and patronising. I sent hundreds of emails before getting my job here at Think over a 3-month period. Is this because I am a woman? Possibly.

It’s refreshing to see that women are now starting to push back despite this, with organisations such as www.womeninprint.uk and girlsintech.org helping to bridge the gap.

Alec Dudson, Editor, Intern Magazine

Diversity in the creative industries is vital for all parties. As audiences evolve, so too must authorship. If we truly want to see that change, we need to build from the ground up and support more women progressing into senior creative roles, so that the next generation can see that there’s a future in the industry for them. Conscious and unconscious bias present a huge obstacle to overcome, but we can shift the dial by keeping up pressure on businesses and government alike, demanding greater equality.

Until we move to make shared parental leave equal across both partners, women will still be discriminated against in male-dominated professional spaces.


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