While International Women's Day is an opportunity to celebrate the fantastic contribution that women make in every discipline of design, the fact remains that there is still a disparity between the genders when it comes to wages, senior roles and representation.

At Design Council, we have long celebrated the exciting and successful female designers across the country. At the same time, we have also highlighted the inconsistencies within the design sector, most notably in last year’s Design Economy research. The report found the UK’s design workforce is 78% male, 22% female. When looking at specific sectors only 5% of design workers in product and industrial design are women, while 83% of workers in architecture and built environment are male. 

Take for example the clothing sector workforce, 68% of which are female, with the lowest median gross weekly salary within the design economy.

To take this a step further, our research suggests possible pay disparities between men and women across the design economy. Take for example the clothing sector workforce, 68% of which are female, with the lowest median gross weekly salary within the design economy, at £250 per week. Conversely, the product and industrial design sector has one of the highest weekly salaries at £712 per week, but the lowest proportion of female workers at just 5%.

Male designers seem to be concentrated in the highest paying sectors. 83% of the total male design workforce earns an average of £606 per week or more, which is above the national average.

When it comes to senior roles, particularly in disciplines such as product design, engineering, and  architecture, there is also a dearth of female representation. Design Council Cabe addressed this gender bias in its own ranks during its latest recruitment of Built Environment Experts (BEEs). It used an inclusive process and now 45% of its BEEs are women and we are working towards having every design review panel having a gender balance.

China has an engineering workforce where women make up 33% of the total, whereas in the UK it’s closer to 5%.

When analysing the problem and speaking to designers in the field, it appears that there are a number of challenges, and they mostly begin in childhood. One example is the way the internal divisions in design education reinforce old fashioned gender roles: textiles for girls, resistant materials for boys. Design is increasingly cross-disciplinary and agile, yet it still suffers from these 20th century hangovers.

In other countries and cultures, this problem of gender stereotyping careers isn’t as pervasive. For example, China has an engineering workforce where women make up 33% of the total, whereas in the UK it’s closer to 5%. We have to change that culture which says that 'girls don’t design jet engines'. 

Design Council programmes such as Spark, MedTechSouthEast and our 70 Ones to Watch consistently show that there is an equally impressive generation of female and male designers coming to the fore. All of these designers must be encouraged to keep designing, keep being inspired and keep inspiring each other, after all – good designers are good designers, male or female. 

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