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Why Are We Losing So Many Talented Women In The Irish Design Industry?

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Struck by the stark gender imbalance in the Irish design industry, Kim Mackenzie-Doyle used her position as President of the IDI to try to answer that question.
With the launch of WhyDesign, a volunteer led project by members of the Irish creative community, she set out to address that imbalance by showcasing female creative role models and hosting events to inspire a new generation.  

 

I was the first female designer hired in Design Partners (Ireland’s leading product design consultancy): it was a difficult transition for me, and, I think, them. I was by my nature a ‘sore thumb’, it was my dream job though and there was nothing else on the horizon for me. I immediately saw the opportunities of having a different perspective; it enriched team projects. 

Being the only female designer there for a number of years, I was invited in to a lot of projects which gave me a wealth of experience but also gave the clients a better outcome. 

 

Aoife Dooley Your One Nikita WhyDesign
Aoife Dooley, Illustrator, graphic from ‘Your One Nikita’, WhyDesign

 

During my term as President of the Institute of Designers Ireland (IDI) I was in a position to address the gender imbalance in the industry and call it out, and so WhyDesign began.

The website www.whydesign.ie is aimed at aspiring second level female creatives, their parents, teachers and guidance counsellors. Answering the question ‘Why Design? It also has a national overview of creative courses across the country and is the first initiative of its kind in Ireland.

 

The number of female creative directors in this country is 11%. My mind is blown at that number every time I look at it.

 

Why do you believe the gender imbalance in the design industry in Ireland is so stark?  

25 female:75 male is the average across all the creative disciplines in Ireland.

What’s worse is the number of female creative directors in the country, which is 11%. My mind is blown at that number every time I look at it.

In the more technical areas of design it’s worse, with 5% of females practicing industrial design. I believe there are lots of reasons for this; women tend to not promote themselves as much as men do (it’s a fact), and they don’t apply for the jobs unless they fit 100% of the criteria.

Most job adverts are written for men, for example ‘heavy weight designer’ – what do you imagine when you see that – a big guy who is a super hero who works 27 hours a day. I would not apply for that job.

 

Interview panels are male heavy, because 89% of men are in the senior positions.

 

Interview panels are male heavy, because 89% of men are in the senior positions. The unconscious bias they may hold naturally leans them towards the men they understand.

Female CV’s are more critically reviewed than the same CV with a male’s name attached (as recent studies have proven). Women use the word ‘we’ giving credit to others while men use ‘I’ taking the credit. The more successful females among us are less liked than our male counterparts a very infuriating study revealed a couple of years ago.

 

Emma Manley, Fashion Designer, WhyDesign
Emma Manley, Fashion Designer, WhyDesign

 

Then there is the whole stigma around maternity leave, employers ponder on the potential of children and maternity leave impacting their businesses. It’s massively frustrating.

By the way, this is not in any way meant to male bash, some of the most ardent feminists I know are male. Women start from a back foot in the industry and its time to change that. 

 

Consultancy/studio life tends not to be 9-5, its 9 till deadline. Employers need to shift mindset on the quality of hours rather than the quantity of hours.

 

At what point – and for what reasons – are women leaving the industry, or are there not enough women entering it in the first place? 

Very interestingly there are lots of females studying creative courses across the country, many of the classes are 50:50. But there is a fall off after college and as yet we are not 100% sure where they go and why. We are in the process of working to find out the answer to this with the team and our third level college network. 

As for women progressing in their careers; consultancy/studio life is not the most family friendly. It tends not to be 9-5, its 9 till deadline. Men tend to be more flexible but if you have kids to get home to, you need to leave.

Taking on added responsibility is sometimes not possible if it means extra hours. Employers need to shift mindset on the quality of hours rather than the quantity of hours. Partners need to become true partners, dividing the child care responsibilities 50:50. Women tend to do three times more of the child care.

 

I waited outside in the car park for him to arrive and when he did I escorted him to my project, talking to him for about half an hour about design and why he should hire me.

 

Can you tell us about your own career journey in the sector – how did you get your first break?

Before the days of Google I basically stalked the directors of Design Partners and invited them (multiple times) to my degree show.

Word got around one of the Directors was coming, and obviously everyone was very excited as they were hiring for a junior designer position. Back then (nearly 20 years ago) there weren’t many product design consultancies around; Design Partners was the biggest and most successful so I aimed high.

On my presentation boards I stated that I wanted to be a design consultant at Design Partners. I waited outside in the car park for him to arrive and when he did I escorted him to my project, talking to him for about half an hour about design and why he should hire me.

 

I was once asked to pose next to an airplane host/hostess trolley: after I jokingly replied ‘tribunal’ they got the hint.

 

Luckily enough my lecturers had good things to say about me and I got an interview. I had no car and pretty much zero money as my parents had moved back to Scotland at the time.

I was living in Carlow and the interview was at the DP studio in Bray. The only person I knew with a car was my new boyfriends’ mother (awkward much). She kindly offered to drive me and it was the first time I met her (I think the drive up was the harder interview).

 

Chupi Sweetman, Jewellery Designer, WhyDesign
Chupi Sweetman, Jewellery Designer, WhyDesign

I was worried about the traffic so we left early, 6am for a 9am interview. We landed at 7.20am and waited for quite a while until the CEO Brian Stephens arrived at 8am. He was intrigued by two women waiting outside in a car and came over, the start of interview number two. He showed us around the gardens and studio and then it was time for the official interview. Needless to say I got the job. That was the start of my Design career and I loved every minute of it. 

 

I have experienced ‘he’ who shouts loudest gets the cool projects.

 

Did you ever experience gender discrimination or inequality of opportunity first hand?

I was never as ambitious as my male counterparts. I never asked for a raise, I would be brought in and given one. I was once asked to pose next to an airplane host/hostess trolley: after I jokingly replied ‘tribunal’ they got the hint.

I have experienced ‘he’ who shouts loudest gets the cool projects. I have felt the overbearing testosterone in the room, the men having to have the last word or interrupt what I have to say, or repeat what I said and get a reaction from the others in the room. 

I always felt I had to be a little different or add something extra to get on in my career. I guess I have always felt I had something to prove.

In a startup I once worked in it was certainly much harder in the management team once things got heated. The male voices in the room were all consuming and it was difficult to be heard. I do find it hard to promote myself in a workplace environment and I am much more comfortable promoting others. 

 

We would like the 89% of male creative directors in the country to understand that having balanced teams is simply better business.

 

What are your aims for WhyDesign this year?

We want to make more of an impact, inspire more females to get into the creative industries. We want to communicate with parents, teachers & guidance counsellors about the range of disciplines and the benefits and opportunities of having a creative career.

We would like to encourage practicing female designers to take a step up the ladder as we need more female leaders in the industry.

We would like the 89% of male creative directors in the country to understand that having balanced teams is simply better business. 

 

We would like to challenge the Irish creative community to make a positive change; we are keeping diversity high on the agenda.

 

We have a lot of aspirations around WhyDesign and we will be announcing the objectives of 2019/2020 on March 8th.

On International women’s day we are welcoming Natasha Jen, Partner of Pentagram New York, and Theirry Brunfaut, Co-founder of Base design, to talk about the benefits of balanced teams and in leadership.

Through this event we would like to challenge the Irish creative community to make a positive change; we are keeping diversity high on the agenda.

Click here to find out more about the event and book tickets.

www.whydesign.ie

@WhyDesignDotIE

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