According to ‘The Design Economy’ (our study published in 2015 highlighting the makeup of the UK design industry), we found that the design workforce was made up by a 78:22 gender split (men versus women), whereas the wider workforce we analysed had a 53:47 gender split in favour of men versus women.

This research imbalance has made us consider what other imbalances exist across the industry and wider UK work force, and more crucially, does sexism in design exist, and if so what have women from the design industry as well as other industries experienced?

Allegations around harassment scandals are rife, with Westminster and Hollywood currently under fire. In an article originally published by Design Week on November 10 2017, they ask female designers to discuss their experiences of sexism in the workplace.

Erika Clegg, co-founder, Spring

Erika Clegg, co-founder, Spring

Erika Clegg

“[Early on in my design career] and of tender years, there was a middle-aged man of middling authority who propositioned most of the female staff in the crudest terms. Some took it in their stride, some were hugely unsettled by it; none of us said anything at the time and so no-one knew the scale of his behaviour until we put the jigsaw together years later at a reunion. The studio was a hothouse of hard work, and I think we were all afraid of causing disruption.

In my case, my silence led to a near-firing. My junior role involved processing ads; once a week he was meant to approve them and I couldn’t bring myself to go anywhere near him. Inevitably, there was an error one week. I was nearly fired by my furious boss by phone at 7.30am on a Sunday morning.

I told her the full story years later; she was horrified that this had been happening without her having the faintest idea.

Never mind sexism or opportunism, it’s straightforward bullying and I’m still furious for all of us. Lesson learnt: if this stuff happens, tell someone. It’s not you upsetting the apple cart, it’s them.”

Emily Penny, independent brand consultant, Colourful

Emily Penny

Emily Penny

“All women experience sexism in the workplace at some level. I’ve worked in entirely male-led consultancies where the culture was less than female-friendly. And I’ve worked in female-led consultancies, one that refused the option of flexible hours when I became a parent and another that happily contributed to perpetuating gender stereotypes in its work.

The latter is worth some reflection. In the design industry, we have a wonderful, unique opportunity to shape brands and how they communicate. Sexism is often built into design briefs. There might be an expectation that models conform to unhealthy ideals, or that colourways follow pink for girls and blue for boys. Male or female, it’s our responsibility to push back and help clients take steps in a better direction.

Now I work for myself, I do take more of a stand. I aim to inspire clients to think more progressively and responsibly, to show them that there is another way, and that there is an audience for it, too.

We’re designers. We make the future. It’s important not to squander that privilege.”

Sarah Weir OBE, CEO, Design Council

Sarah Weir

Sarah Weir

“I started working at a time when overt sexism, racism and homophobia were rife. I doubt if there are many, if any, women of my generation who have not been subjected to sexism and sexual harassment in varying forms – I have on many occasions. This has ranged from regular, subtle (or not-so-subtle) put-downs and having my voice ignored until a man has made the same point, all the way through to very much unwanted sexual advances from those in power and who have had influence over my career.

I have been cowed, intimidated and embarrassed by it but have also spoken out against it and called it out, particularly when it has happened to others. With the centenary of women’s suffrage fast approaching, now is the time for men and women to work together to ensure this type of behaviour becomes so unacceptable in workplaces that it is no longer heard nor seen.”

Angela Drinkall, partner, Drinkall Dean

Angela Drinkall

Angela Drinkall

“I have been fortunate that sexism has not significantly featured in my work story so far, though I am also aware from friends and colleagues that it can be a big issue. Once, early in my career, I did feel that gender was the reason for me not moving on. A male colleague of mine with similar experience and expertise was given opportunities within the business with subsequent promotion. I was not offered the same opportunities and my confidence was affected. Eventually, I realised this was probably not due to ability so I confronted my boss stating that I had not been allowed to show what I could do. He was totally shocked that this could be down to gender but agreed with my point of view. From then on things changed for me in that business and my confidence grew. I think women have to go the extra mile to prove themselves at work, but I am hopeful that gender prejudice will become a thing of the past.”

Tessa Simpson, design director, O Street

Tessa Simpson

Tessa Simpson

“I’m very lucky to work in a workplace with a bunch of feminists, both male and female – so I’ve never had the bad fortune of experiencing sexism within my design studio. However, I have sometimes felt the impact of an undercurrent of sexism when dealing with clients – often just a subtle preference for dealing with a male colleague over me, even when the idea and work being discussed is my own.

This has only happened once or twice, but enough to knock my confidence when presenting ideas to some clients, who will naturally look to the men in the room for answers and direction. Luckily though, my male colleagues aren’t afraid to look to me for the answers or direction required!”

Design Council are due to publish an updated research document in Spring/Summer 2018, to highlight the changes since our 2015 research into design, the economic contribution to the national economy, and wider impact on society.

Contact

For more information please contact:

Join our mailing list

Receive news and event updates from Design Council.

Sign up

News & opinion

Video: Sadie Morgan – The youngest president of the Architectural... Sadie Morgan is a founding director at award winning architecture practice dRMM. Sitting in the communal gardens at Trafalgar Place, Sadie reflects on how her upbringing in a commune has impacted the way she approaches design, and how public and communal spaces were key to the development of this... In our fourth Leading Women in Design story, we spoke to Sadie Morgan, founding director at award winning architecture practice dRMM.

Feature — 23/05/2018

Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh: The female designer fixing our lives Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh is the Irish mastermind behind Sugru – ‘the most exciting product since Sellotape’. Over a cup of tea in her company’s HQ in Hackney, east London, she shares her thoughts on reimagining education systems, diversity in design, dishwashers and funky clothes. In our fourth Leading Women in Design story, we spoke to Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, inventor of 'the most exciting product since Sellotape...

Feature — 25/04/2018

Rachel Skinner: ‘Best Woman Civil Engineer’ awardee 2017 In the third article in our Leading Women in Design series, Rachel Skinner gives us her view on what design means to her, and what engineering is doing to break down barriers and promote real opportunities for all. In our third Leading Women in Design article, Rachel Skinner tells us what engineering is doing to promote real opportunities for all.

Feature — 09/03/2018

Sarah Weir OBE: Design Council's first female CEO In the second article in our Leading Women in Design series, Design Council CEO Sarah Weir reflects on her experiences of diversity throughout her varied career. In the second Leading Women in Design article, Sarah Weir reflects on her experiences of diversity throughout her varied career.

Feature — 06/02/2018

Jo Arscott: Britain's first black female Creative Director In the first article in our Leading Women in Design series, Jo Arscott talks diversity in design and tells us what design means to her. In the first article in our Leading Women in Design series, Jo Arscott talks diversity in design and tells us what design means to her.

Feature — 31/01/2018

Celebrating Leading Women in Design A new series by Design Council marks the anniversary of women's suffrage by celebrating the achievements of leading women from within the world of design. A new series by Design Council to celebrate the anniversary of women's suffrage.

News — 30/01/2018