In honour of International Women's Day, we asked women to share their experiences and strategies for owning their place and voice in the design industry and to empower women to continue making space for themselves within the workplace.
As a creative leader, I volunteered to sit on an advisory committee for an art and design school. The topic of gender balance in the workplace was raised. Women make up 60-75% of students in art and design programs yet, compared to their male counterparts many do not get hired or promoted in the workplace. I voiced my frustrations at the prevalence of biases that exist in many corporate environments. As I was speaking, I heard snickering. Two male creative directors, well-known in the agency world, were accountable. I continued to speak with conviction, even though I felt angry. I wondered how often this type of behaviour (or worse) occurred at other tables. I felt shame, I wasn’t sure why. Later I realized they may have felt threatened. I was putting the truth in front of them – raw, unedited, honest. My shame came from years of not trusting my own voice. I unleashed my power and it made me feel uncomfortable. From this experience, I made the choice to trust myself – speak my truth, use my voice. Others don’t have to like it or agree with it. It’s my right to express it; no one can take this power from me.
— Vishu Mahajan, Creative Director at AltaML in Edmonton, AB
By getting out of your comfort zone and having the willingness to evolve as a designer, you will grow in versatility, relationships and new opportunities. This comes with practice through initiative, open-mindedness, handling criticism and proactive problem-solving. With a driven mindset, be encouraged by constant learning, be bold by experimenting and always maintain your curiosity.— Susan Yang RGD, Principal & Creative Director, Boldsquare Creative Studio in Toronto, ON
There are more women than men in graphic design, yet this isn’t reflected in the field’s high-profile, leadership positions. It can feel like the onus is on women to change who they are and how they communicate in order to be heard and valued equally. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s not necessary to adopt an uncomfortable business persona to succeed, but instead lean into who we are while setting clear boundaries. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re a soft-spoken communicator or more outgoing and direct: being confident in your value, rights, experience and knowledge promotes a practice where you’re doing work you’re proud of for people who value it.
At this stage in my career, I believe I have an obligation to do what I can to ensure that future generations see more equity and diversity at the highest levels of our industry in a manner that feels authentic to one’s identity. If you’re an emerging designer, find a mentor. If you’re an experienced designer, be a mentor. Help someone embrace who they are and stand firm in the industry. If more of us are willing to support one another in the field, we can make change happen.
— Fe Wyma RGD, Senior Creative Designer at Kapwa Communications in Southern ON
When a young woman designer works for a company that is run predominantly by male leaders, it can feel like you are trying to climb Mount Everest to make your voice heard. I am lucky enough to work for a company that has equal opportunity for both men and women. That being said, it's common to be unintentionally dismissed as a young female designer. I've seen male employees go and socialize with other male leaders after work, which can give them an overall advantage that women don’t have. I overcame this exact challenge by being intentionally vocal. I made up for socializing with the “head honchos” after work by consistently voicing my opinions and ideas to ensure they knew what I bring to the table.
— Alex Vranjesevic RGD, Graphic Design Manager, Thermor Ltd in Newmarket, ON
As a woman in the design industry, I've had to overcome many obstacles. I turned challenging situations into opportunities for growth by maintaining a positive outlook and pushing myself to be better. My advice for young women in design is to find your own unique voice, stay positive and have courage to stand up for yourself.
— Jennifer Weaymouth RGD, Creative Director at Weaymouth Creative in Toronto, ON
My own voice emerged more powerfully than I could have imagined once I learned to look for the respect and trust others had earned before working with, or for them. I used to give trust and respect blindly, particularly to those in leadership positions — assuming they know what they were doing simply because they were ‘the leaders’. With experience I’ve seen many people, men and women, at their most vulnerable, and realized that nobody has all the answers, and almost everyone can use additional help and insight if appropriately delivered. This basic understanding has led to amazing dialogues with people at all levels, where mutual respect is related to meaningful action.
— Kaye Puhlmann RGD, Design Director, Business Banking at RBC in Toronto, ON