Last year, I self initiated a project to illustrate 100 inspiring women from different backgrounds. Of course, this included influential women in design and tech such as Margaret Hamilton, Cher Wang and Zaha Hadid. But during my research for this project, I came across an interesting (or rather disappointing) trend. Google “famous graphic designers” or “famous coders” and among an array of male designers and coders, there’s only a handful of women.
My undergraduate illustration programme had a good balance of male and female students and there are a number of statistics that show that a majority of the students on design courses are female, so where are all the women in the industry? Why is the ratio of men and women in the field in stark contrast with the classroom ratio?
“Pretending like the diversity problem in tech and digital design doesn’t exist won’t make it go away.” — Cancino & Rozen
Addressing the Glass Ceiling
In an industry where over half of emerging graduates are female, the lack of more women in design and tech gives rise to the consideration of the existence of an invisible glass ceiling.
A number of people, baffled by the statistics, have tried to make sense of the situation. John Mindiola III, a full-time faculty member at the School of Technology and Design at Rasmussen College in Brooklyn Park, MN, discusses the perceptions, cultural conditions and the existing state of affairs that contribute to the gender disparities in the design and tech fields. Rebecca Wright, programme director of graphic communication design at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London weighs in with her opinion on the the ratio of girls with design degrees vs. those in the industry.
A popular opinion was that one of the reasons for the lack of women in the industry is because women find it difficult to self-promote. This is of course linked to the cultural conditioning that Minidola discusses in his article and is one of the contributing factors to the glass ceiling.
Social Media is changing the Discussion
While there are a number of debates regarding the pros and cons of social media, it is an unarguable truth that social media has the ability to connect people from all over the world and build strong online communities. This characteristic of social platforms has given rise to spaces where women can connect and share their experiences.
Over the past few years, hashtags have become an important element that that have helped create spaces for women to support and promote each other online. Hashtags are a way for women to find the guidance and support that they need and build a community of diverse women. Social media hashtags such as #WomenInSTEM, #WomeninTech, #AddWomen, #VisibleWomen and #ChangeTheRatio have successfully provided a platform for women to celebrate their achievements and help start conversations about the need to tackle the unconscious bias against women in tech and design.
A study by Delloite showed that women’s choices impact up to 85% of purchasing decisions. Research has also showed that women are the leading consumers of digital movies, music and games. In a digital market where women form the majority of consumers, it can be said for certain that the design and tech industry would benefit from a female perspective.
Hashtags such as #WomenInSTEM, #VisibleWomen and #ChangeTheRatio have been the first step in highlighting the need for more women in the design and tech industry and have, no doubt, acted as a driving force behind a conversation about the need for more diversity.