Design Museum research finds “shocking” lack of women in design

Just one in five designers in the UK are women, according to new research by the Design Museum.


The survey found that women make up just 22 per cent of the design workforce, even though seven out of 10 students taking design at A level are women.

“This uptake does not feed through to the design workforce where women continue to remain underrepresented,” the Design Museum said.

The percentage of women working in design has risen just four per cent since 2004 and women are under-represented in all design disciplines, including architecture, civil engineering, town planning, software design, fashion and product design.

“Failure to draw on all the talents out there”

The survey, conducted by the Office for National Statistics, was issued to coincide with the centenary of women being allowed to vote in UK elections.

The museum said the survey “reveals shocking gender imbalance in the design industry”.

“As we mark 100 years since the first UK general election in which a percentage of women were permitted to vote, these figures show just how far we have to go – in many spheres – in order to reach equality,” said Design Museum co-director Alice Black.

“The fact that the percentage of women working in the design workforce has remained virtually unchanged since 2004 shows a real failure to draw on all the talents out there, and promote inclusiveness in our industry.”

Women Design event at museum this week

Later this week the London museum hosts Women Design, a two-day programme of talks highlighting women in the industry.

In addition, the museum’s Designers in Residence programme, which starts on 8 December, will this year feature an all-female line up.

“We must take this moment to commit to work together to improve gender diversity in all sectors of the workforce,” said Black. “In the design industry, this means encouraging girls who take design-related subjects in schools to become product designers and civil engineers.”

Designers Hester Buck, Ella Bulley, Legrand Jäger and Helga Schmid will take part in the seven-month residency, which will explore the relationship between design and home.

Black said: “At the museum we are committed to finding new ways to make women more visible in the design industry and inspire change, and I am delighted that we have a cohort of talented women designers in the Designers in Residence project this year.”

“An impoverished future for design”

The Women Design talks take place on 7 and 8 December, and features architects Farshid Moussavi and Odile Decq, sociologist Saskia Sissen and graphic designers Marina Willer and Frith Kerr.

“While we might think that women’s voices are echoing around the world right now through the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, in design publications, conferences, judging panels and other public realms, women designers tend to be outnumbered by their male counterparts,” said curator Libby Sellers, who is hosting Women Design.

“Whatever the rationale behind the gender bias, it has already eliminated or repressed an overwhelming majority of talent in the industry. To continue without championing a balance, would only encourage an impoverished future for design as a result,” she added.

“Perhaps, as we will do through Women Design, by highlighting some of the historical injustices and also seeking out and celebrating role models we might be able to create a discernible difference.”

Last year, Dezeen’s survey of the 100 biggest architecture firms in the world found a “quite shocking” lack of women in senior positions. Just one in 10 high-level staff were women, while only three of the 100 firms were headed by a woman.

Photograph of the Designers in Residence is by Felix Speller.

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