Where are all the women in design?
How should we encourage equality in creativity?
In the world of internationally respected design agencies, Pentagram stands head and shoulders above others, yet despite its much admired conceptual and creative foundations, of its twenty-one international partners: only four of them are female.
According to the recent publication: Graphic Designers Surveyed, female graduates outnumber men in graphic design, yet, there are few women in senior positions in the industry.
Pentagram is the grandfather of independent agencies, it is the largest internationally, and since it’s beginnings in 1970’s London, it has worked with many global brands. It’s small, but stella list of female partners includes, honoured US graphic artist Paula Scher and British graphic designer and filmmaker, Marina Willer, best known for her work on the Tate Modern brand.
The World Economic Forum recently predicted that it will be another 117 years before the gender gap is removed and women and men co-operate equally: that’s in 2133.
Globally the number of men and women is more or less equal. Women drive 70-80% of all consumer spending. So there are human as well as business benefits in men and women working closely together – bringing diverse insights to the creative process. One thing is certain: we need women at the top.
So how can we achieve parity for women in design?
The theme of International Women’s Day this year is: ‘Pledge For Parity’ – in honour of this we asked a number of high profile, female, senior graphic designers for their thoughts and advice for women getting ahead in the graphic design and creative industries.
A common view from female senior designers and agency owners is understanding the importance, particularly for young women, of confidence, communication and negotiation skills as much as design talent and that this should be taught as part of design education so that women learn how to explain, defend and promote their work.
This thread is further borne out in the Graphic Designers Surveyed report, which revealed that in the field men were more confident, they generally thought their work better than others, they were very comfortable promoting it and happy to speak publicly about it, whilst, women were much less so.
The book unveiled a few more unsightly home truths, despite being thought of as a progressive, open-minded industry, women graphic designers are paid less than their male colleagues; in the UK, women were one and a half times more likely to be earning less than £20k and six times less likely to be earning over £60k.
Morag Myerscough, of Studio Myerscough and design collective, Super Group London, believes that a strong sense of drive is essential to success:
“I have always strived for equality and I hope in some way I have added a little bit to this. When I left the Royal College in 1988 there were only 3 girls and 14 boys in my year. I felt very strongly then that I wanted to be successful and better than the boys, which I must admit did drive me on. I did not think anything was going to stop me just my own drive and ability.”
Morag Myerscough, photos by: Luke Morgan
Emmi Salonen, Founder and Creative Director of Studio Emmi has this advice:
“In graphics it’s vital to network, to be inquisitive and bravely curious in order to go forward. Enquire, be affirmative, find out and explore how everything works from getting work, designing, and the whole print process. Sharing information, learnings, new styles, fonts, resources – it’s all such a vital part of the profession.”
Lynne Elvins, Design Strategist, Director and Founder of Design Rally and former Vice-Chair of the West of England Design Forum believes there is good news:
“I genuinely believe that we are seeing a shift to a more entrepreneurial, creative and innovative style of business. Evidence points out that emotional intelligence, collaboration and ‘soft skills’ (which are more female) are valuable. Diversity and inclusivity are also highly positive for workplaces. I feel very encouraged that young men and women already know this so it is, hopefully, only a matter of time before we see design teams change.”
This change is taking place from the ground up, momentum is beginning to really pick up especially with events like WOW, Women of the World, Festival which is taking place in London this month, which will be seeking to honour and celebrate women who are: ‘breaking the mould and leading the way across the creative sector’.
Meanwhile, working at the grassroots of education is, The Girlhood, a project created by former teacher Natalie Rodden and Kati Russell – previously a senior programme manager at D&AD, which introduces girls (11-24yrs) from low socio-economic backgrounds to the skills they will need to get ahead in creative industries. Their aim is to bring a richer mix of females into the creative sector and feedback into the industry the insights, learning and values discovered through this project along the way. The Girlhood motto: ‘Fearless Females Pioneer Change’, should ultimately be the maxim for us all and through this belief we will inspire, promote and bring about equality in creativity far faster than the WEF will have us believe.
Environmental graphics for Grey Group building, New York, 2010. Design: Paula Scher, Andrew Freeman/Pentagram. © Peter Mauss/Esto
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