Women in Design World

This subject is a hot topic at the moment but I want some advice from everyone and maybe this will help others who are just starting out. I am the only woman designer where I work there are 10+ others (all men) there are no females in design leadership roles. Naturally I am feeling like a minority. I feel like I cannot act emotional at all like AT ALL, I can’t get frustrated when i’m having a hard time with CAD (i’m supposed to ask for help) I was told i’m not the most technical so I don’t get assigned on a lot of projects that involve this , I get assigned research and cmf (which I think are traditionally women design roles). I even learned an entirely new CAD program to keep up with everyone so now I am the only designer that can use two CAD programs, yet this feels like no one notices. I just don’t really know what else to do working in an all male environment. Does anyone else have this problem or am I crazy?

I think it is totally understandable you would feel that way. Do you have any mentors at the company? Perhaps there is someone in design leadership that will have coffee with you every couple of weeks? Also, perhaps there is a female leader in another function like marketing that could be a mentor?

Have you read this discussion: WOMEN IN INDUSTRIAL DESIGN Might be some useful nuggets in there.

My other advice would be, first, it’s OK to express your frustrations. Don’t allow other people’s definition of you define your path. I recommend you talk with some folks in leadership in a way that is open and also constructive. Bring them the problem you stated above and also bring them some solutions (IE, assign me to a more technical project, engage other male designers in research and CMF…). The next step I would take is I would get my assigned work done (research/cmf) but also take on a more technical project, just insert into one or create one for yourself.

Sorry you are going through this. Let me know if you want to connect to some female design leaders outside your company and would be happy to connect you.

[ Deleted ]

I totally understand the OPs frustration and have also seen this happen.
I find Keno’s examples while not pretty, quite realistic… and in truth I might have been guilty of the same strain of thought.

When push comes to shove, it is reasonable that one might gravitate towards co-workers that are the easiest to connect with. Often this has to do with gender, which should surprise no one.
However, as a design leader, it is important to unify the team and help the designers communicate their value. In the end when it comes to high pressure situations, the right designer by your side will always trump the most fun designer.
In this case, it doesn’t sound like the OP is even getting the chance to do that.

While interviewing at a fancy consultancy in Sweden, I was actually told after I showed my work that, were I a woman, I could name my price and they would hire me on the spot.
It was in the interest of the company to actively seek out talented female ID in order to diversify the workforce and not have it turn into a male dominated boys club with a narrow perspective.
But they also explained that it is very very hard to find them as it is such a male dominated profession.

I still named my price though I am man and they passed :wink:

Have you brought up this subject to your boss? Make your boss aware of your concerns and lack of challenging projects. Hopefully he will make the necessary modifications.
Sexism, racism, favoritism…all the 'isms are still very present. If nothing changes then start looking somewhere else. I don’t believe in forcing change in a person or company. If they make changes against their will, they will probably resent you and then it wouldn’t be a comfortable place to work at.
Good luck.

Wow Keno, I find your examples terrible to be frank. I’m pretty offended at the examples given. Why are the women working on a dress and the guys working on a Sony product? C’mon, you’re better than that.Unless you are just trying to make a point? It doesn’t read well though.

Personally I always gravitate to whomever I think can work with me the best and is the most skilled. Who can push me, make me better, round me out. Nothing else really matters to me. I’ve worked with some great female designers, marketers, and engineers over the years, sometimes in some very intense get it done make or break situations. Ability, merit and a collaborative spirit trumps any other factor.

[ Deleted ]

So questions for the OP.

  1. How are your technical skills compared to the other 9 males?
  2. How are the other males’ skills at research and CMF compared to you?
  3. Have you asked to be given different responsibilities?

If you haven’t asked then ask. Maybe spend some time formulating the following arguments:

  1. Why are you not satisfied with your current responsibilities
  2. What projects/tasks you would like to be involved in
    Try not to use the words “I feel” or “I think” but rather present some actionable arguments. Also, try not to imply that it’s because you are a woman (even if it is) because then it will turn into a discussion “with a woman designer” not with just another designer trying to expand her skills and work tasks.
    If you are being treated differently because you are a woman and you won’t be given other responsibilities because of this, then it’s a bigger issue.

Unfortunately I feel that the topic of women in design goes a lot deeper than what we will probably be able to solve in this thread and I think the cold reality is that there generally are more males in the profession. Perhaps we could all do a little more in spreading the design gospel to those younger than us by reaching out to local schools etc?

Anyway, back on point - you are in a way lucky that you are in a field that to obtain employment requires you to submit a body of your work as a representation of your “worth” compared to most other jobs that need a sheet of paper with a list of credentials. If you look through the countless “how do I get a job” threads on this board the two things that most say they look for are “do you have a kickass portfolio” and “can I get on with you as a person”.

But to reiterate my first point usually most firms big or small only have one vacancy in a hiring period with hundreds of applications they have to whittle down to the magic one. Male or female you need to be the right person that fits with the workload and vibe of the company, sadly there are likely to be more males in that list than females.

I wouldn’t feel as though you cannot get emotional when a task frustrates you - we have all had times when CAD isn’t playing ball and you want nothing more than to bash your head against a keyboard. Your colleagues should know and appreciate this, if not coming against it themselves on a daily basis. This goes for any design task ranging from screwing up a sketch by picking up the wrong shade of gray to incorrectly cutting too much material away for a model.

I would sincerely hope that your colleagues wouldn’t view any sign of frustrations being down to “just another emotional woman” and if that is the culture they are promoting then there is something seriously wrong here. If you also have a 10 person design team this sounds like a reasonable sized operation that should have some sort of HR department taking note of such behavior and swiftly stopping it.

Personally, all the females I have worked with have been some of the most badass designers I have come across, granted they were few and far between but their gender never came in to play as they were great at what they did and their personalities made them a pleasure to work with. Actually one of them cut their teeth at the same small firm that our forum regular Mr DiTullo got his foot in the door at so you know she must be good :wink:

To you current frustrations, a good manager should know where their teams strengths and weaknesses lie and perhaps you are just generally good at research and CMF compared to your colleagues. I can’t exactly comment on this without seeing any of your work but I will say FH13 has some solid advice for moving your work to the direction you desire.

As mentioned, it sounds like you are in a decent sized company so there should be the usual workplace necessities inplace, by this I mean there should be someone you are able to talk to about how to enhance your career and what goals you would like to achieve. It could be HR or your direct supervisor - which ever one it is I would schedule a meeting with them and talk about being given more tasks in the areas you feel unfulfilled in.

This doesn’t need to be a bad thing. In the contrary, I think you got a leg up on the competition!
To reiterate my point from earlier, I have encountered studios that were specifically looking for female designers to diversify the team.

Playing to your strength is important and I am not sure trying to be “one of the other guys” is the right way to do it.
Lending a female perspective can be very valuable in a design team, dominated my men.
Good managers and design directors know this.

Why pretend that we are all the same?

Grammers, I was in a very similar situation few years ago. My team consisted of 4 ID guys and I was the only women in our team for a year or two.

I was not directly told that I’m not technical, but it was of course a given situation considering my colleagues were assigned to more mechanically complex projects, where as I was assigned to designing lesser mechanical products and lead more research tasks related to consumer insights, etc… I still struggle to be “mechanically savvy” and it’s an ongoing battle.

It sounds like you’re with a great company. Being the only women in your team may feel lonely at times but remember that team members & jobs come and go, and your opportunity to soak up as much as possible from 10+guys(with ton of experiences, I’m sure) is pretty rare, and surely they’re wanting to see you grow in your position.

Few things I always remind myself when frustrated & CAD/mechanical issues: always ask questions no matter how embarrassing it may be. Regularly watch handful of YT video related to CAD & physics. Take interest in other people’s projects at work and learn from it much as you can–this is free resource!

I feel like I can’t get emotional at work either, but I’m a guy. I think that’s an office thing.

The comments about technical stuff are interesting. I feel bad that I always give the most technical work to the women in my team. They are better at it!

Must have been a drive-by poster. She’s been pretty quiet for being such a hot issue.
Talked to my wife this weekend. She’s a mechanical engineer (now program manager) for a large engineering company. She never came home feeling discriminated against for being young & female (specially in a field dominated by older white males) but she would once in a while mention things co-workers or clients would say in reference to her being a female, nothing disrespectful but enough for her to notice. Anyways, she knew it was the male/female dynamics and didn’t think twice about it. She did mention that as a female you get questioned more but then she said it also comes with the personality. If you’re not assertive and voice your opinions/concerns then you’ll get run over by your co-workers, bosses, management; doesn’t matter if you are female, male or a different ethnicity.
I still make fun of her when she takes work phone calls at home and switches to her big girl voice and tone.

Super sorry I haven’t responded yet. I would like to thank everyone for their comments/advice. They are extremely helpful.

I have taken most of your advice and in fact recently had a year review with a manager and told them I want them to teach me to be more technical because I felt I was lacking. Obliviously our conversation was more in detail but that was a huge part of it. I also would like to say that any comment’s that said speaking up or asking any questions you have does not make you look stupid because its better to speak up than the sit quietly. I also have been doing extra things outside of work to make myself more knowledgeable i.e. looking up CAD videos while on my commute or writing down CAD problems I have in a sketchbook to search later or ask a coworker.

Unfortunately after thinking about it for a while I have come to the conclusion that this subject is a huge social problem. It runs deeper than the industrial design world. It’s something that starts when we are in primary school, we are indirectly put into categories. I was never encouraged to go into more technical fields as a child and have a feeling that if I were and had more practice I would probably be more technical. I also think that design school is slightly to blame, I was never encouraged to figure things out fully. Maybe there should have been a class about designing for injection molding and less classes about research or emotive problems. (not that there is anything wrong with that)

Maybe so.

But the individual is perfectly free to reject any category. I know I am not the only person to reject “engineering” and pursue “art” instead.

Glad you’re getting some answers and clarifying the problem. Unfortunately it is true. It is a huge social problem and it starts from childhood. ID is tough because there are so many branches/fields/areas of expertise that you cannot be thought everything in depth. If you like technical challenges then get some books or google your injection molding questions online…its basically formulas and ratios related to wall thickness and tooling design.
Keep at it and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I think most of us have at some time not been clear about something in a meeting and afraid to ask just to find out that other co-workers were also not sure and had questions. It’s better to clarify than to proceed in doubt.

Design education is always lacking in one area or another, but I do wish that schools put less time to heavy research and more on getting stuff made. I do think the desig thinking fad is fading as most people realized they went into design to make things, not build powerpoints.

That said, there is always lots of blame to go around. Focus on what you will do about it in three key areas:

  1. Improve: your situation and achieve your personal goals
  2. educate: your peers and management to show you can do anything
  3. mentor: then next generation. Share your story, teach, reach out to students, post on here.

If you do all three of these things you will effect reach change and be a part of something larger than your current situation.

An inspiring and an eye-opening video of Debbie Sterling, founder of Goldie Blox, at TED.

Her point about girls have underdeveloped spatial skills are dead on. I wish I can go back to my childhood and play more with Legos :wink:

Then on the other hand, as a manager, I play to people’s strengths and not their weaknesses.

Not to say the OP has an inherent weakness with technical matters, I have no idea, but there may also people on her team that are better at one thing over another as she may better in a different area. As a manager, I want the best results.

For example, I know at least 6 mopes I would never allow to interact with a customer. Never. They have the amazing ability to piss off a customer (usually with their arrogance) in under 5 minutes. No matter how much they may want to go into the field, it ain’t gonna happen. But they have other much needed and appreciated skills.

Could they be trained to go into the field? Perhaps. But now I need to invest time and money into that training, which in many cases I am happy to do. I need a wifm. An employee asking for benevolence from me is the wrong way to go about it.