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Gender Inequality & The Role of Women Within Graphic Design

Rachel Irwin ITC Report

Gender inequality & the role of women within graphic design.

This report is investigating the reasons why there is a lack of recognition of female graphic designers in the UK, also exploring if there is a shift occurring as more women graduate in graphic design.

Contents 2

Women & the Workplace


The Graphic Design Workplace


Women in Mangerial Roles


Lack of Confidence


History of Women in Graphic Design


Recognition Within the Industry


Education and Role Models


The Changing Demographic


The Future





‘Women in full-time work in the UK are paid, on average, 17.2 per cent less than men.’ Times Online

Women & the Workplace

It is important to understand the role of women in the workplace as a general grounding before focusing on the role of women in graphic design, along with the phenomenon of the 20th and 21st century of women having careers and working in the same jobs as men. Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1970 ‘women in full-time work in the UK are paid, on average, 17.2 per cent less than men.’ (Times Online, 2008) This problem occurs across all careers, and is often blamed on the fact that two thirds of women take a career break at some point in their life, often to raise a family. Some would argue that this penalty against those who choose to have children leaves women at a disadvantage and is not due to free choice, but rather that women are forced to take on part time, low paid jobs once they have a family, especially since the role of parental care traditionally fall upon the mother.


But the 2003 legislation about flexitime, which

but I want it part-time.’ (Scher, 1993)

gives parents with children in the UK the right

It seems as if women in general tend to lack

to request flexible working arrangements from

confidence more than their male counterparts.

their employer (, 2009), has caused

They are less likely to ask for more money or a

people to question why some employees would


find working mothers an attractive option. As

‘Women are not always paid as much as men.

handbag designer Anya Hindmarch said ‘If we

Sometimes the cause falls at the feet of the

are not careful (and I speak as a mother and

women. They simply do not ask for as much

an employer), maternity leave and benefits will

money. This may be caused by a lack of security

become too biased towards the mother and

or lack of aggressive negotiation skills.’ (Goldfarb,

not considerate enough for the employer. In

2002, P.150-1)

which case, it can start to work against women as it becomes too complicated and expensive

It seems women are getting to a certain stage

to employ them. To me, it shouts of shooting

in their career and then realising they have to

ourselves in the foot.’ (Shulman, 2009). It seems

make a choice; between choosing to have the

very hard to get the balance right, so that the

top job or having a family life, and most women

system is fair towards mothers and to employers.

end up picking the latter. Some women see the

Others argue that women have put up with

opportunity to start a family as a chance to

inconvenience of inflexible working for too long

remember they can work to live instead of living

and that it is time for change, Paula Scher said

to work.

in the early 1990’s ‘for too long women have been trading down skills for flexibility, and have

In this way women have an opportunity that

been willing to take on jobs for which they are

men aren’t given, while it is socially acceptable

overqualified and paid less. They’ve not had the

for a women to take a career break to bring

confidence to say I want the same job as before

up children, unfortunately for most men it just


‘Women are not always paid as much as men. Sometimes the cause falls at the feet of the women. They simply do not ask for as much money.’ Roz Goldfarb

isn’t deemed professional to take months off for

Unfortunately this equality in parenting is not

paternity leave. Research shows that half of all

reflected in business, with Scandinavian countries

new fathers don’t take the two weeks paternity

having between only 27.7- 31.6% of managers

leave they are entitled to, and 40% do not ask

who are women. Compared to the US, with

for flexible working hours because they believe

42.7%, Australia with 37.1% and the UK with

it could jeopardise their job prospects (Bennett,

34.4%, all of which have shorter paid maternity

R, 2009). This differs to the more progressive

leave than the Nordic countries or nothing at all.

Scandinavian approach, they have some of the

(Ellicott, C, 2009)

most generous paternity and maternity rights. For example; Icelandic parents can take nine months of paid leave for childcare: three for the mother, three for the father and the rest divided up by couples as they see fit. Alternatively, consider the situation in Denmark, where new parents can share one year of paid leave. (Aurora, 2007)


‘This is not a women’s issue. It is a design issue. The need for flexible work schedules, family leave and feasible childcare, affects both male and female designers but are particularly critical to women who have traditionally been the caregivers.’ Moira Cullen

The Graphic Design Workplace During the 1990’s there was a surge in the publications debating the lack of flexible working in jobs in general and specifically in the creative industries. Publications such as Communications Arts brought the issue to the light; ‘This is not a women’s issue. It is a design issue. The need for flexible work schedules, family leave and feasible child-care, affects both male and female designers but are particularly critical to women who have traditionally been the caregivers.’ (Cullen, 1993, p.27) And even more recently this same issue is still being debated: ‘So I don’t think it’s a question of women not wanting to get back to working at a senior level, but rather the demands of senior-level design jobs are actively preventing them from doing so’ (Lindon, 2008)


The traditional concept of working late into the

take the time to develop relationships with work

night to get a project finished for a deadline,

colleagues that extend beyond the day-to-day

is a demand that is an integral part of some

working relationships.’

creative jobs, especially advertising. For women who often still maintain the role as caregiver to

These types of attitudes could lead to those

a family, this demand cannot fit into their lives.

with other commitments being perceived as less

This forces some women to change their priorities

dedicated members of the business which could

and they realise that working part time or lower

hinder their progress and pay within a company.

down the ranks of a company means they don’t have to put up with unsociable working hours

There is a demand for a shift in the graphic

and be in a high-pressured work environment.

design industry to adjust its working style

But the British custom of going to the pub after

to accommodate the modern family as ‘New

work and socialising with colleagues out of hours

mothers are frequently forced to take low-paid

doesn’t fit in with the lifestyle of someone who

jobs for which they are hugely overqualified

needs to leave work on time or has flexible

because they cannot find better part-time work.’

hours. This can end up being left out of office

(Daily Mail, 2009)

knowledge and feeling out of the loop and some people view this out of office socialising as a

With the graphic design industry being and

vital part of business, such as Julian Acquari,

becoming overwhelmingly female (Goldfarb,

managing director of Monster, who says ‘Even

2002) they will need to make adjustments as the

if you aren’t based in the office, or have heavy

book Careers by Design: A Business Guide for

out-of-work commitments, it is important to

Graphic Designers says:


Employers will need to accommodate women who want a family and a career. While there is a slow movement towards flexible hours (flexitime) and maternity leave (for men too), at the time of writing this it is strictly token. Talented women will not want to accept positions not offering maternity leave. Several have indicated the desire for four-day workweeks. (Goldfarb, 2002, p.150-1) The problem that has occurred in the graphic design industry doesn’t seem to be a lack of women; they are there, it’s more an issue of a lack of recognition and women not being in top end jobs. These are two very separate issues, which shall be tackled individually.

‘For reasons not completely clear, Graphic Design is overwhelmingly female for those under forty years old. Employers will need to accommodate women who want a family and a career.’ Roz Goldfarb


‘If a prospective client calls Pentagram and doesn’t ask for a partner by name, I see them thinking, Why did I get the woman? When I walk in. Even the women do it.’ Paula Scher

Why did I get the woman?!

Women in Managerial Roles Women not being in the top end jobs are down to

than others. ‘Women continue to make up

a mix between choices and barriers. Whilst some

approximately half the workforce but account

choose to take a back seat in their career when

for only 15.1% of managing directors or chief

they have a family others feel forced to step back

executives.’ (Brook, 2006) Sian Cook, co-founder

and take a lesser role.

of the Women’s Design and Research Unit and tutor at LCC thinks there are still very traditional

Recently it was suggested by Maureen Rice

old school ad agencies out there. Only 3 years

(2009) that the only people holding women back,

ago one of her female students went for an

were women themselves, they have been given

interview at one and was basically told women

more choices than ever before, with maternity

couldn’t do advertising. (Cook to Irwin, 2009)

leave and more part time working. The article

But with research showing that: ‘80 per cent


of all purchasing decisions in Britain are made by women; yet 83 per cent of all ‘creatives’ are

Women now are constructing a glass ceiling

men. This is worse than it was 30 years ago.’

above their own heads - because they want more

(Guardian, 2005) It seems as if the advertising

from life than just the grind of a very senior

world could be missing a step here, as who could

position and the cripplingly long hours that go

be better to have making the top decisions about

with it……If women aren’t running the country or

your adverts, than the women who are the main

big business, it’s mainly because we just don’t

consumers of the products.

want to. Any glass ceiling that’s in place these days isn’t an enemy to women, but our alibi.

Although advertising might be lacking women,

(Rice, 2009)

women in business and female approaches to business are an up and coming area. Women

The Advertising industry is probably one of

are working successfully from home thanks to

the areas suffering from a glass ceiling more

modern technology such as the internet allowing


them to be in contact with clients with greater

businesses and consumers ‘A lot of our projects

ease, and these so called ‘kitchen table tycoons’

now are to do with social issues and communities

have led to Women Business Centres being

and that kind of work, so it’s less about, we’re

trialled in the UK, after success in America, to

just about the women, we are about a feminist

help women entrepreneurs. (Barrow, 2007)

approach to design, which is also inclusive of men’ (Cook to Irwin, 2009)

It is said that men and women have different qualities when it comes to their business

This could be attributed to the fact that women

approach, with women preferring more inclusive

favour more nurturing care-giving roles, and

web-like organizations over the more traditional

this is not only limited to more ethical and social

male hierarchical systems (Cullen, 1993) and

design but women have also been a catalyst in

with more women setting up small design

the drive for green design and sustainability.

businesses in recent years, this female approach

The book Women In Green mentions ‘Because

to design is increasing too:

ecology teaches that all things are subtly

‘Women have created, perhaps inadvertently,

intertwined, a “right brain” disposition would

a parallel industry of accessible talent. Many

seem compatible with sustainable design, which

practice as independent designers operating

emphasizes relationships over things.’ (Gould and

out of their homes or sole proprietors of small

Hosey, 2007) With 15% of women more likely

firms often with one or two assistants. Others

to rate environmental issues as important than

tend to cluster at the production level in firms as

men, (Gould and Hoesey, 2007)

freelancers or on staff often delegated the work of ‘design bees’ (Cullen, 1993, p.26)

But business women and designers working in more traditional office situations, can often

Women also tend to be more interested in being

find themselves in a double blind situation as

involved in social and ethical design, gaining

there is ‘pressure to adopt a more masculine

recognition with awards such as The Triodos

management style at board level, but women

Women in Ethical Business Awards. These issues

who do so can find that this is judged as

are increasingly popular and important for both

inappropriate for a woman and counts against


them.’ (Sabattini, L, 2007) So if they are assertive they are perceived as bossy and if they are unassertive then they do not progress. A recent study found that women managers are more likely to discriminate against female employees, due to female rivalry in the workplace, know as “queen bee syndrome” and this may be as significant in holding back women’s careers as sexism. So unless women stop seeing others as a threat, then this maybe another obstacle contributing to holding women back. (Sunday Times, 2006)

‘Women have created, perhaps inadvertently, a parallel industry of accessible talent. Many practice as independent designers operating out of their homes or sole proprietors of small firms often with one or two assistants.’ Moira Cullen 12

‘Why don’t female creatives rise to the top? They get fed up with the dickheads, the heartbreaking choices, the insane juggling that makes you get up and vomit every morning from the stress ... until, finally, they say to hell with it.’ Carole Cadwalladr

Lack of Confidence Some women are undervaluing themselves

There are also psychological theories on the idea

and lacking confidence in their work, this was

that women have a lower self confidence in their

highlighted recently in an article about women

work than men, which in turn causes them to be

and money, the article mentions an advertising

less likely to push for a better job or higher pay:

agency who placed an ad in a paper for a creative position:

More women suffer from a lack of self-confidence

The salary was attractive but there was almost no responses from women candidates. Then a bright spark at the ad agency had the idea of re-advertising the exact same position but with a lower salary. Dozens of women immediately replied. (Kelsey, 2009) Which shows that in some cases it might be women not having the confidence and belief that they are worth higher positions. But with advertising it may be more than women not

than do men. Low self-confidence can hamper women’s career progression in several ways. Women are less likely than men to make speculative job applications for posts for which they do not consider themselves fully qualified; self-confidence is also a factor in the significantly lower salaries negotiated, on average, by women compared to men. Women are more likely than men to be averse to self-promotion, which also impacts negatively on progression and rewards. (Broughton and Miller, 2009)

wanting such hugely demanding jobs; advertising and a family do not seem compatible: Why don’t female creatives rise to the top? They get fed up with the dickheads, the heartbreaking choices, the insane juggling that makes you get up and vomit every morning from the stress ... until, finally, they say to hell with it. (Cadwalladr, 2005)


‘If you flick through the design history books, you’ll notice that pretty much all the “great designers” have something in common. They’re men.’ Alice Rawsthorn

History of Women in Graphic Design

‘If you flick through the design history books,

commercial gain, and had penetrated design

you’ll notice that pretty much all the “great

schools, workshops and professional training.

designers” have something in common. They’re

(Anscombe, 1984)

men.’ (Rawsthorn, 2009) Whilst women were key figures in the textiles and The Arts and Crafts movement in the 1890’s is

fashion industry, by the early 1980’s women were

responsible for women becoming involved in the

still few and far between in areas of design such

commercial side of design. Previously, women’s

as graphic design and architecture. (McQuiston,

traditional skills, such as cross-stitching, had

1988). Despite the role women played in the

been more a hobby. But during the Arts and

development of the design industry as a whole,

Craft movement women became involved in

women’s contributions to modern design seems

typography, calligraphy, illumination, illustration

to have been overlooked, creating a skewed

and bookbinding. (Lupton, 2000)

representation of what happened in twentieth century design. This could be partly due to the

By the end of the First World War, women had

fact that very few women at the time contributed

started to put their ‘traditional’ skills to use for

to theoretical writing on design. (Anscombe, 1984)


The feminist revolution of the 1970’s led to women

Women were becoming the not only facilitators of

centred pieces of activist design and places such

the design, but also the message, with women’s

as the Women’s Building in California to be set

issues becoming the central theme and the

up. With people such as Shelia DeBrettville in

message being communicated.

the 1970’s coining the phrase ‘graphic design feminism.’ She was a frontier in getting more women into the education of graphic design; I was the first and only woman on the Design school faculty at Cal Arts in 1970. When I said I wanted to use my two days teaching on a program for and with women, the Dean, Victor Papenek said it was not a good idea because then male students would have no woman teachers. i suggested that he hire more women. He said other things I would prefer not to publish but finally I was given permission to teach that Women’s Design program.

Culturally it seems that American Graphic Design adapted to the increase of women designer quicker than Britain. Changes in America were more dramatic, there was a sharp increase in female designers from 25-53% in 19801985 (McQuiston, 1988) and American female designers, such as Paula Scher, Deborah Sussman and April Greiman have become more internationally recognised, where in Britain it has been a more steady progression.

(DeBrettvile to Irwin, 2009)

Certain areas of design seem to have provided

This feminist revolution and artist groups such

example women have excelled in the area of book

as the Guerrilla Girls, who created bold graphic posters tackling feminist issues, such as their 1989 image of Ingres’s Odalisque wearing a gorilla mask, with the text: ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.’ (Allen, 2009)


more opportunities for women than others, for and magazine publishing. This is often attributed to the Arts and Crafts and the Arts and Crafts Society in Boston for example had many female designers among its active members as early as 1897. These women often ran small workshops and schools teaching the skills of bookbinding and illustration to young women.

The magazine industry has been a successful

In the 1980’s book cover design was being re

area for creative women for over 100 years;

shaped by women designers, such as Louise

this success could be attributed to the social

Fili, who bucked the trend for shiny and foiled

nature of women’s magazines, during World War

stamped mass-produced books and used matte,

Two magazines were at a distribution high as

laminated coatings, working historical type with

they were one of the few leisure activity aimed

modern colour palettes and compositions. Women

solely at women’s interests. This demand led

designers helped create a more flexible approach

to women taking on top roles in the industry,

to not only the cover design but also the interior

such as Cipe Pineles who became art director

of books with Muriel Cooper becoming one of the

of Glamour magazine in 1942 and Estelle Ellis

first designers to set the type using a computer.

becoming promotional director of Charm in 1944,

(Lupton, 2000)

she also then took an active role in working with women designers on advertising campaigns,

Whilst other areas of design have struggled

which was a new area for women to be involved

to build up a large female contribution, such

in (Lupton, 2000). The demand for magazines

astypography, with only 12.3% of the font

dropped during the 1950’s as television became

designers at Linotype being female and only 5 of

the entertainment form of choice, but even today

the 68 presenters at the Typo Berlin 2004 being

despite the rise of internet, women’s lifestyle and

women. (Hagmann, 2006)

fashion magazines are still very strong, especially in the US and the UK, because of this ‘Magazine publishing, more than many other fields, has long been a great career for women.’ (Fox, 2009)


‘Why do you — all three of you — suppose there are so few female graphic designers — or at least so few female ‘superstar’ graphic designers? Is there a glass ceiling in graphic design?’

Question to Milton Glaser

Recognition Within the Industry It is understandable that the early days of graphic design were male dominated, this was a time when women rarely worked, but from the second half of the 20th century until now, women have become more career orientated and yet their contribution to graphic design is hugely underrated. The issue of women and graphic design really came to head in the mid to late 1990’s, when organisations such as the WD+RU were established and articles such as The Hilary Factor and Women in Design- Revisited were published. This brought the debate to the table and since then it has been a sporadically occurring issue. At the Fuse95 typography talk Teal Triggs was looking around the room and noticed ‘all of the speakers were white middle class males with glasses and so I had to raise my hand and just

‘Unless something very dramatic happens to the nature of the human experience then it’s never going to change.’ Milton Glaser

ask Neville Brody who I know quite well and I just said “Neville I’m just making an observation, but where are the women?” ‘ (Triggs to Irwin, 2009)


Which led to Teal Triggs, Sian Cook and Liz

so few female ‘superstar’ graphic designers? Is

McQuiston setting up the Women and Design

there a glass ceiling in graphic design?’ (Bierut,

Research Unit (WD+RU) which is an organization


where the women could consolidate their ideas to raise awareness of women working in visual

The response from Glaser for the reason there

communications ‘A lot of our projects now are to

are so few female rock star graphic designers

do with social issues and communities and that


kind of work, so its less about, we’re just about

Women get pregnant, have children, go home

the women, we are about a feminist approach to

and take care of their children. And those

design, which is also inclusive of men.’ (Cook to

essential years that men are building their

Irwin, 2009)

careers and becoming visible are basically denied to women who choose to be at home.

It seems that design talks are a strong catalyst for noticing and debating the issue of men

He continued: ‘Unless something very dramatic

outnumbering women in graphic design for

happens to the nature of the human experience

example at the TypCon 2003 and 2004 having

then it’s never going to change.’

an average of 15 percent female speakers

This was posted on the Design Observer website

(Hagmann, 2006)

by Michael Bierut and causes an online debate about the issue, which received 189 responses

More recently at a design conference on The

and an online debate that lasted over a year.

Art of the Book: Behind the Covers in 2006, the following question was put to the three speakers

The lack of recognition of women graphic

Milton Glaser, Chip Kidd and Dave Eggers:

designers could be highly influenced by the

‘Why do you — all three of you — suppose there are so few female graphic designers — or at least


lack of women in the top design jobs, but some women have broken through the glass ceiling

and become top designers and successful businesswomen. But even today’s design industry related media, such as magazines, books, talks and awards tend to be male dominated. The industry is much more female saturated these days but women are still going unnoticed. This is something that women have noticed about design history, Sophie Matthews, from design agency Thomas Matthews said in an interview with Computer Arts magazine discussing if there is a lack of women in design: ‘It’s only when you start reading and finding out about the history of graphic design in particular that you realise just how male-dominated it’s been.’ (Matthews, 2008) Industry related media does not seem to be actively seeking out the women. Sian Cook of the WD+RU said this could just be down to lazy journalism, the people organising the events or writing the articles look for the most accessible people, the men, and don’t dig deeper to get to the women. (Cook to Irwin, 2009) Others argue that women do not seek out the self-gratification that men do. Whereas the

‘How I envy my male partners who are invited to speak based on their achievements and prestige as opposed to their sex. I cannot separate my own achievements from being a women.’

Paula Scher


women designers are just getting on with their

It is felt that the design industry should have

work, the men actively look for recognition, ‘Men

reached the stage where the women graphic

create the standards by which ads are judged

designers are asked to speak about their

and then go round handing out awards to each

achievements, not the fact that they are women.

other,’ says Alps.

Over 20 years ago Liz McQuiston spoke of how despite change happening one thing women

While women designers may want more

didn’t want was to be singled out for being

recognition, as Liz McQuiston has said,

a woman and just be asked to contribute to

‘Many women in the design field want to be

things because they are women in the industry

acknowledged for the ideas and work they

(McQuiston, 1988). Sophie Thomas, from

produce, as opposed to being singled out for

Thomas and Matthews, found this to be true for

the fact they happen to be women. (McQuiston,

her and her partner:

2009, P.7) Which are thoughts mirrored by

When we started up it was really unusual to have

Paula Scher, who says ‘How I envy my male

two female directors, and we were constantly

partners who are invited to speak based on their

being asked to come and talk about women in

achievements and prestige as opposed to their

design. We were never just asked about good

sex. I cannot separate my own achievements

design, but rather invited along as a female voice

from being a women’ (Scher, 2009) Recently

and female opinion on design. (Thomas, 2008)

Grafik magazine produced a special report on women graphic design heroines, but as Emmi

But some women designers have managed to

Salonen, who wrote a piece for the report said

use their tokenism as a female designer to an

‘My hope is that we won’t need special editions

advantage, by being a woman in a very male

for female designers of today’s generation in

environment, they have managed to stand out

tomorrow’s press.’(Grafik, 2008)

from the crowd. Dr Andrea Siodmok, completed


a PhD in virtual reality and found that not only

upon women in the general field of design. Most

did the course have more male students but

recently Women of Design by Armin Vit and

being a female in a profession that is male

Bryony Gomez-Palacio (2008) focused on women

dominated worked to her advantage:

in graphic design but this book is overwhelmingly

I probably had about 10 interviews when I first

made up of American women, there does

graduated, and lots of people said they were

not seem to be any publications which have

interviewing me because I was a female in the

highlighted the merits of British or European

industry. I certainly think it’s opened more doors

women graphic designers.

for me than ever held me back. (Siodmok, 2008) Another reason for men still being given more In books on graphic design history women are

acknowledgment than women could be that men

rarely mentioned, for example, the Dictionary of

seek recognition more than women, as Sian Cook

Graphic Design and Designers, which contains

has said:

information graphics from the 1840’s to the

I think it maybe is that thing about self-publicity,

present day mentions only 25 women designers

that if I did have to generalise I would have to

out of a total of 357.

say that a lot of women are less bothered about self-publicity. They just get on with it and do their

Over the past 30 years a few books have tried

job and they are not kind of attention seeking in

to counter balance the lack of notice given by

the same way. (Cook to Irwin, 2009)

design history to women, by showcasing a range of women in the industry. A Woman’s Touch: women in design from 1860 to the present day and Women in Design: A Contemporary View were both published in the 1980’s and touched


Education & Role Models

‘What happens to the women when they graduate? Because the percentage of female students to male is much higher, so there is that whole issue where do they go?’ Teal Triggs

It is obvious from the survey conducted to aid this research report that whilst most of the design students at LCC could think of male graphic designers most fail to think of any female graphic designers (Irwin, 2009). This leads on to the question, are design schools doing enough to promote women in design? Talks within the Faculty of Design at LCC show an obvious gender bias towards men, AIGA medallist winners are mainly male (AIGA, 2009) and D&AD is male dominated (Langridge, 1995). Design talks is another area which seems to be male dominated, within the school of graphic design at LCC the talking graphics lectures were overwhelming talks from male designers, with only 1 of the talks through the year being presently by a woman. In Australia, at a Future of Design Education meeting there were only 8 women speakers compared to 23 men and it was said ‘Women designers and design educators were seemingly invisible.’ (Calahan, 2007). Which seems to contrast highly with the 26

Australian census figures, which show that 6,000

Teal Triggs, Professor of Design Writing at LCC

of the 13,000 graphic designers in Australia are

and Co-Founder of the Women’s Design and

women. ‘In even starker contrast, 60% of the

Research Unit (WD+RU) believes the situation

105 undergraduate graphic design students at the

has got better over the past 10 years, with more

Tasmanian School of Art at Hobart in 1998 are

women tutors and lecturers working in the school

female and only 40% are male.’ (Calahan, 2007)

of Graphic Design, in LCC:

These figures compliment more recent figures

Since I have come back [to LCC from

for British universities with Kingston, Brighton,

Ravensbourne College] I think there has been a

Amersham and Wycombe and University of the

real strong shift in a lot more women, suitable

Arts London all having more female graduates than

candidates, you know it’s not just about them

male on their design courses, with 73% female

being women, it really is about the right people

students in some institutions. (Unisats, 2009)

for the job. (Triggs to Irwin, 2009)


These women provide model roles and prove to students that women are playing a vital role in the design industry. Whilst some argue that it shouldn’t matter if the designers showcased in the media are male or female, but if female design students don’t see women achieving in the industry it can heighten a lack of confidence. A thought that is echoed by Sharyn Thomson:

‘I never realised how important it was to see women who have successfully placed themselves in business, talk about how they got there. It is especially beneficial for foreign students who don’t get the chance to talk to other women designers in their own countries.’ Sharyn Thompson


‘Change doesn’t come in one great thump. It comes one by one, and it looks kind of funny and then it doesn’t.’ Paula Scher

The Changing Demographic

‘A profession that has been long dominated by men is changing. There are simply more women. There are more women who are terrific designers, more women running their own businesses, more women corporate executives, more women changing the scale of things and appearing out of scale in the process. There are also more underpaid women, more women juggling careers and motherhood, more women who feel squeezed out in a bad economy, more women going to art school and going nowhere afterwards, and more women who are resentful because of their lack of success “because they are women.” Change doesn’t come in one great thump. It comes one by one, and it looks kind of funny and then it doesn’t.’ (Scher, 2009)

‘Surely our vision of design for the future should incorporate both male and female viewpoints.’

Liz Mc Quiston


Design schools across the country are producing

percentage that just seem to disappear or

more female than male graduates. (Unistats,

whether they are just getting on with it in their

2009) In the past these women have graduated

studios.’ (Triggs to Irwin, 2009)

and then the majority seem to disappear once they get into the industry, as mentioned by

But maybe this is starting to change; Sian Cook

Sophie Thomas:

has noticed that the female graduates from her Graphic and Media Design course are now in

Generally in big art degrees it’s quite equal. You

the position where they have started offering

look at undergraduate classes and competitions

internships and work experience to her current

and awards, and the gender split is around 50-

students. (Cook to Irwin, 2009) Which means

50, but then suddenly you think, where are all

the course is creating its own pool of female role

those women going? They go into the industry

models and maybe it’s these small-scale changes

and then just fizzle out. (Thomas, 2008)

happening in and around design schools that are effective.

This echoes the thoughts of Teal Triggs, and she suggests looking at the reasons why these

The recent recession has been said to lead to

women are doing the courses in the first place:

a more feminine approach to business, with businesses becoming increasingly aware of their

‘Why are they coming to do the course? I

corporate responsibilities and understanding

don’t know, all reasons are valid but are they

the qualities of using more female “right brain”

less motivated in the sense of being career

approaches to business, such as teamwork, a

orientated, is it that they are making very

non–hierarchical web like business structure

conscious decisions to get married and have

and being more risk aware. This so called “Y

a family, again all of this absolutely ok. But I

generation” seems to be set to increase, as a

can’t put a handle on it, there is such a huge

recently commissioned piece of research by


Microsoft said that over the next 25 years in the UK, women will be dominating the workplace, which could cause a major business and social shift. (Craven, 2009) This female perspective of putting the process and communities of the design at the forefront rather than the more male outcome based way of looking as business seems to be a new way of working;

‘Women have a traditional and history of being the outsiders so, we see things differently. It’s not that we’re better or more ethical than men, but I think we ask new kinds of questions.’ Lemburg, 2003


‘I believe, now, the recognition is there if any of us women want it and work for having it.’ Sheila DeBrettville

The Future So, is there actually anything stopping women

will these women still be in the graphic design

graphic designers in the 21st century from

industry? Will they be in top designer jobs?

getting the recognition they deserve? Or is

Will they be receiving equal pay to their male

this an issue that is no longer relevant? Sheila

colleagues? And will they receive the recognition

DeBrettville recently said, ‘I believe, now, the

they deserve? Whilst their chances are stronger

recognition is there if any of us women want it

than the previous generation, only time will show

and work for having it.‘ (DeBrettville to Irwin,

if this issue has evened out.

2009) and she could have a valid point, with women seeming to not be as concerned with

There are still pockets of imbalance relating to

recognition as men and some purposely choosing

recognition and media with a lack of women

less senior roles than men, it could be said that

represented in books, magazines and lectures

women have chosen to take a less visible role in

on graphic design. Design schools could help

Graphic Design.

promote women graphic designers to their students more, most students can think of big

The 1990’s were the time when the severe lack

name male graphic designers, but struggle to

of visible female graphic designers was a major

think of any women, without these women role

problem (Cook to Irwin, 2009) but now in 2010

models, students may end up with a distorted

the issue has slowly been changing and with

view of women’s roles within the graphic design

more female graduates than ever, women could

industry. Journalists are not looking hard enough

end up dominating graphic design of the future.

to find women who are successfully working in

The BA Design for Graphic Communication course

graphic design and those organising lectures

is a living example of women outnumbering men

do not always dig deeper to find the women

in current Graphic Design education, as 22 of the

and instead fall back to high profile men. But

28 students are female. But in 10 years time

hopefully with the rise of blogs and online


‘Design is a profession that will ultimately be dominated by women. The numbers are there.’ Paula Scher

portfolios in recent years, women may start taking a more pro-active approach to promoting themselves and this could raise the profiles of women designers worldwide. Women also need to help each other out more by not seeing others women as a threat, supporting women managers and their management style. Also by helping to build on their confidence and fellow colleagues confidence they can start to stand up more and ask for pay rises or flexible working hours. By being bolder and louder women may start being noticed more. The graphic design workplace, along with many others is going to have to adapt to increasing laws allowing both men and women more flexible working hours, encouraging a more modern approach of co-parenting and moving away from traditional gender roles.

But essentially

the people with the top jobs are going to be the ones who put in the long unsocial hours and the demands that come with it. If women continue


to take on the main caregiver role, as many do, for both children and elderly relatives then it is unlikely that they are going to be able to balance having a highly demanding job and family responsibilities. Something has got to give, and in most cases it is the job. Overall issues of sexism, pay differences and an imbalance of women within the workplace are not unique to the graphic design industry and unless there is a dramatic change in the social roles of women, then it is unlikely that an equal balance of women in high roles within businesses and the pay packet to match will happen soon. But we are seeing more female approaches to business and design, along with a surge of women graduates, and this trickle up effect might slowly be changing the thinking and the people behind current and future graphic design.


Appendix Interview questions for Shelia DeBrettville

Interview Questions for Sian Cook & Teal Triggs

Please could you tell about your involvement in the Women’s Building and your role within the graphic design industry.

Please could you tell me more about the Women’s Design + Research Unit (WD+RU)

You coined the term feminist design; can you explain what this is?

Within the Faculty of Design do you think there is enough being done to promote female graphic designers? Both past and present.

Within Schools of Graphic Design do you think there is enough being done to promote(past and present) female graphic designers to the student?

Do you think that women bring different attributes and/or attitudes to graphic design? If so, what?

Do you think that women bring different attributes and/or attitudes to graphic design? If so, what?

Do female Graphic Designers get the recognition they deserve? For example are they underrepresented in industry events and media etc?

Do female Graphic Designers get the recognition they deserve? For example are they underrepresented in industry events and media etc? Following on from the pervious question, what are the barriers or choices to women Graphic Designers affecting them gaining wider recognition and kudos? With more female graphic design graduates emerging in recent years do you think this has or will affect industry? And how? How to you think the role of women in graphic design varies from different cultures and countries? How do you think feminist design has developed in the last 40 years? And what role does it have in today’s society?


Following on from the pervious question, what are the barriers to women Graphic Designers affecting them gaining wider recognition and kudos? With more female graphic design graduates emerging in recent years do you think this will affect industry? And how? Are there any designers, books or articles that you could recommend to assist my research?


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â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Well-behaved women seldom make history.â&#x20AC;&#x2122; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Gender Inequality and the Role of Women Within Graphic Design  
Gender Inequality and the Role of Women Within Graphic Design  

BA Design for Graphic Communication Report Project by Rachel Irwin, exploring the role women have had in the graphic design industry and gen...