Why the gender gap in the design industry needs to end

The gender divide is a reality in the design world, says Sarah Parmenter, and discusses what we can do about it.

There’s a lot of talk right now around the gender divide in the industry. If you’re of the camp that thinks it only affects a few and boils down to isolated incidents, then I’m here to tell you that, unfortunately, you’re wrong and need to change your attitudes.

The fact remains: females are a minority in the creative industry. We don’t need to be reminded of this or given special treatment, and neither should a female be used at a conference to fill a quota.

It’s almost like the males can’t do anything right, and to a certain extent, I pity them as it would seem harder than ever to do the right thing by us. When you start to look at how incidents occur under a microscope, you start to see where our inclusive-on-the-outside industry starts to break at the seams: conferences.

What inclusivity means

Conferences are not geared up to attract females. The free T-shirts rarely come in any other size than large, the after-parties brand ‘free beer’ as an enticement, and don’t get me started on what happens on the back channel if a female speaker dares to wear a skirt.

Being inclusive means thinking about the small things that cause a divide, not just being able to cover your back with X-amount of female speakers on the roster.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been speaking in a foreign country and not had even as much as a check-in with the organiser until the day I speak. I’ve talked to attendees about what I’ve been doing in the days up to the conference, and seen them gasp when I tell them I’ve walked around notoriously dangerous parts of their city that “girls shouldn’t go to alone”.

Social media

For the most part we, as an industry, are fantastic. We’re leaps and bounds ahead of many other business worlds, but we can do better. We let ourselves down with the one thing that unites us: Twitter.

We need to learn how to conduct ourselves a little better on this medium, and that boils down to good old fashioned manners. That in itself, isn’t an industry problem – but it’s one we can all make a conscious effort to address on a day to day basis. Learn that by nature, women are more sensitive and might need a little more encouragement to, in their eyes, get up in front of a male-dominated, Twitter-trigger-happy audience and share what they’ve learnt with them. Some might scream “positive discrimination” without realising we’re facing enough everyday opposition from people outside of the industry, without our own making us feel like an anomaly as well.

“You do computer stuff? That’s unusual, you must be quite geeky – you don’t look geeky” echoes around family events and new situations enough, so yes – we might need a little encouragement, more than our male counterparts, in order to do things the guys take as a given – but that’s the only ‘special treatment’ we’re hoping for, I can assure you.

Words: Sarah Parmenter

Sarah Parmenter is a user interface designer, owner of You Know Who and co-host of Happy Monday Podcast.

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