A WORD FROM OUR CD
People are calling this the female century. More women are in education, and are either starting a business or are in a leadership position. Women are no longer just understood as the family starters; no longer restricted to a life in the home. Instead, we are now the champions of campaigns that put our own aspirations, passions, and experiences front and centre.
Then why is it that 70% of graphic design students are women but only 11% are Creative Directors? And why is it that in the UK, the design workforce is only 22% female?
From where I’m standing, it looks like there are quite a few reasons why this shift might be the case. However, I want to touch on a few in particular. Women should feel confident in challenging the pay gap, balancing family life, and standing up to the mens’ clubs that can form in a design studio. Equality is not only a problem for women, it’s an industry drawback and it’s keeping design from diversifying. Having a more diverse pool is a huge benefit, the more diverse the more understanding we have of our client’s target audience; making for rounder and richer design.
Young women are 33% more likely to go to university than men.
CONFIDENCE IS KEY
Early on in my design career I was given the opportunity to speak at a networking event. To me, these ten minutes may as well have been ten hours. Ten minutes, exposed, baring my soul… So, I’m being dramatic but I was nervous. If I remember correctly there were about 30 people in the room, one – maybe two – women. As the event carried on, many people commented on how engaging and exciting my business sounded. Naturally, I was chuffed. Coming to the end of the meeting, one of the male attendees commented on the talk positively but ended it with “and you were nice to look at for ten minutes”. Straight away I was embarrassed, self-conscious and mortified, even. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t want to create an awkward situation in a public place that really did have very positive vibes. However, in my mind I had been undermined and disrespected. So what did I do? I thanked him… eeek.
It is one of those moments in life that you look back on and insert every other response you could have given. This man meant no harm, in fact, he honestly thought it was a big compliment. But that’s the problem.
A FEW NUGGETS FROM MY EXPERIENCE
• Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Make them confidentially and learn from them quickly. They make you wise.
• If you are labelled ‘ditsy’ or ‘bossy’ don’t despair. Don’t be afraid to speak up. These are stereotypes, they’re not you as an individual.
• The biggest part of life is just showing up. If we’re not showing up, standing up and speaking up, how can we expect things to change?
• Use your female point of difference as an advantage. You’re more memorable because of it!
GET INVOLVED AND WHEN YOU DO, DON'T BE AFRAID TO BE YOURSELF
Trying to be someone else, particularly someone of the male species, is totally transparent and will lead to far more nerves, sleepless nights and anxiety. Showing up as ‘you’ allows you to be present. When you don’t have to concentrate on wearing your mask you can think faster on the spot and when you’re in flow, creativity flourishes.
To this day, when I get that nervous ‘should I or shouldn’t I do this?’ feeling in my tummy, I instantly know it is something I should and have to do. I believe anxiety is the emotion for growth and once you harness it in a positive way, it can be a very powerful tool.
MIND THE ‘PAY’ GAP
Women need to ask for more money more often and from the very start of their careers. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and so the pay gap begins. Be tenacious and be formidable. These are positive characteristics, not negative. A little nugget of wisdom my mum always told me was that “people only treat you as you allow them to”. This is still one of the truest statements I know.
When starting a family, in many cases, the person with the larger salary continues to work, while the other takes time out. This, in many instances is the man. With design being a fairly underpaid industry the amount you need to earn to make it worth returning to work with childcare comes into question. We can’t let starting a family become a ‘choice’. Leading nicely onto the next point…
THAT GOD DAMN BIOLOGICAL CLOCK
It’s a fact of life, us women, we have a clock. A small window in the grand scheme of things to have a family. This time in our lives seems to, almost on purpose, appear just when we are at a very important tipping point in our careers. Unfair? I think so!
However, fear not. Since becoming a mama, I feel (after the initial ‘What the f*$%k do I do’ moment) it has made me a better businesswoman and creative director. I’m only seven months in and I’m sure far more mums have more stories to tell, but I can only go on my experience so far. I have never been as efficient or focused since having a baby. Time is no longer a luxury, mama has to get shit done and fast! This I see as a huge strength and positive to being a working mum and a benefit to changing my approach.
I believe the way design studios work is archaic. We could learn a lot from tech companies and startups about flexible working. I didn’t believe it was possible to run a studio and have a newborn, especially combined with face to face meetings with clients in the UK and putting your baby to bed in Ireland. Now there is a challenge! I am happy to say my disbelief has been disproven. With the aid of a laptop, a constant video stream, a supportive team and many, many air miles (if only Ryanair did air miles) it is not only possible but flourishing. I am more driven than before; being a mum has changed my approach but in an amazing way.
IT’S A MANS WOR…KPLACE
At White Bear, we are an almost entirely female team of honest thinkers and brave doers. We take pride in what makes us different and refuse to see gender as a defining factor in design.
It is everyone’s responsibility to encourage diversity in the creative sphere. Men need to support women and women need to support men. Gender stereotypes are outdated and we need a fresh approach. My husband helps me to be the best mum, woman and business owner I can be and in return, I try my best to return the favour. In short, humans need a supportive community to thrive and work environments have a responsibility to provide that.
To summarise, Emma Watson spoke to the United Nations and I think it is imperative that we don’t forget the things she said. “Men don’t have the benefits of equality either. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.”
I’d love to meet all of those business women and men out there and hear your stories. Why do you think the design industry, or many other industries in fact, are unfairly balanced?
Get in touch with your thoughts: kelly@