Last Friday, the London Bears and I set off for the Emerald Isle to attend the WhyDesign 50/50 event. We had been working on the marketing and interior design for the event over the past few weeks so were very excited to see our work in situ. If you haven’t already read our previous blog on WhyDesign, here’s
a quick summary…
Created by Kim MacKenzie-Doyle and run by the Irish Designers Institute, WhyDesign has been set up to address the gender imbalance in the design industry across Ireland. With a design sector that is 75% male, the WhyDesign website aims to promote influential female designers across Ireland, whilst WhyDesign 50/50 and other events bring the gender discussion to wider audiences.
Through the support of some brilliant sponsors (including our modest selves), the 50/50 event was set to be a success the minute the line-up was announced. Thierry Brunfaut of Base Design, and Natasha Jen, partner at Pentagram discussed everything from work-life balance and agency structures to maternity leave and equal pay. For those of you unable to attend, we wanted to share a few of our favourite takeaways from the event:
No one has all the answers
Hands up, who knows the perfect solution to reaching gender equality in the next 10 years? *tumbleweed rolls past* Anyone? This is perhaps too broad a question, or perhaps it’s just too difficult? Thierry Brunfaut opened his talk with the admission that he was “not qualified” to be talking about gender equality. But are any of us?
Instead of dwelling on this and losing hope, Thierry had sent out an anonymous questionnaire to his team and was able to make some interesting discoveries:
Half of his team didn’t know if men and women were paid equally in the company (they are), and several felt they were treated differently because of their gender. His ‘customer research’ helped outline key issues and highlight solutions – he had effectively written a creative brief. His team have since gone on to create a number of side projects promoting the women in the studio, of which we can’t wait to see more. It takes an element of bravery to admit to not having the answers. However, Thierry taught us that by asking the right questions and collaborating with others we can get a step closer to the solution.
Creative Director, Founder, Base Design
How can an international agency with over 20 partners encourage autonomy? Natasha Jen, one of said partners at Pentagram, focussed her talk on how ownership and individuality play a huge part in creating a successful company. The business model of Pentagram, described by Natasha as a ‘necklace’ made of individual pieces, goes against the traditional pyramid structure typically associated with large agencies. Instead of passing instructions down a chain of command, and therefore creating a huge distance between the designers and the decision makers, Pentagram works in smaller, more collaborative teams. Not only does this allow individuals to shine, but it also creates a community feel where everyone works in partnership.
Thierry reiterated this point of individuality through an analogy of the Mr Men and Little Miss books. (Okay the name pronouns aren’t totally feminist in their thinking but after the recent addition of Little Miss Inventor I think they can be forgiven…). Thierry spoke about how each individual character has a role to play in the team and rather than trying to get each person to fit the same stereotype, it’s important to embrace their personality traits. For example, Little Miss Quiet has some brilliant ideas, so it’s important to give her a platform to speak. And Mr Forgetful is very efficient providing you leave lots of post it notes around. And Mr Bump might break everything but that means he’s also very good at fixing things… Okay I’ve gone too far with this metaphor, you get the idea.
The ratio of men to women in the Irish design sector
One key issue that was addressed at WhyDesign 50/50 was that of maternity leave. During the panel discussion, Susan Foxton, Head of Marketing at Vodafone Business Ireland, spoke about their brilliant equality programme. As well as supporting women in their return to work, Vodafone allows for flexible work hours and an initial 4 day working week (but paid for 5) to ease the transition.
This is a particularly relevant topic for White Bear Studio, as our Creative Director Kelly now has a one year old ‘baby bear’! Since returning to work, Kelly has had to manage her time between creative directing, meeting clients and nap time (Sonny’s, not hers!). It’s been a learning curve and as a team we are all still working out effective ways to ensure Kelly gets a good balance between work and family time. The conversation at WhyDesign reminded us how important it is to acknowledge the challenges of taking time away from work, and working together to support women when they return.
Keep the Conversation Going
After the talks the venue was buzzing with conversations around the subject of gender equality. Should maternity and paternity leave be split equally? Is it ok to refer to female colleagues as ‘girls’? How do we get more people engaged in equality campaigns? Each conversation raised an important issue and it was brilliant to hear lively, positive debate that will hopefully lead to creating more change.
As part of the WhyDesign mission, people working across the creative industry are pledging their commitment to supporting women in design. Our very own Esme Rees, Account Manager at White Bear, wrote the first pledge (see below). If you’d like to find out about writing your own pledge visit the
We’re incredibly proud to be sponsors of WhyDesign. It’s so important to bring the conversation of equality to the forefront, and promote the fantastic, influential women in our industry. Promoting conversation, encouraging individuality and asking others for help, are all ways we can work towards a more equal, and successful future.
We’re very proud to be sponsoring alongside: Vodafone Business, IDI, Deloitte Digital, Glasseye, US Embassy in Ireland, Bank of Ireland, InVision, Vision, Design Talent and Dublin City Council.