Cultivating A Community That Supports Women in Industrial Design
Industrial design is a male-dominated field. The statistics don’t lie; only 19% of all industrial designers identify as female. This is a problem that has far-reaching repercussions, affecting everyone from budding designers to active professionals to the consumers using our products. Having an unequal playing field isn’t good for anyone, and frankly, it’s bad for business. Studies have shown that improving gender equality has positive impacts just about everywhere, improving everything from GDP to job growth to working conditions.
Women as Design Leaders
At Interwoven Design, we’re working hard to change things. One of our main goals is to support women in design leadership. Although the number of women in design education and in academia has been growing over the past century, the percentage of women in leadership roles remains small. Across all industries, only 39% of executive roles are held by women, and a shocking 1% of all creative agencies are founded by women. These statistics speak to a larger problem of women being under represented in leadership roles, which has a critical impact on not only the products we are designing, but the world we are designing in.
Having more women in design and design leadership roles is not just a theoretical concept; it results in tangible, on-the-ground product design solutions. Take our HeroWear Apex exosuit as an example. While conducting initial research for it, our team noticed a lack of warehouse equipment designed with women’s bodies in mind. Today, the Apex exosuit is considered a breakthrough wearable technology product: the world’s first exosuit specifically designed with a fit for everyone. The contoured straps and modular components offer multiple opportunities to customize the suits for both the female and male bodies.
Fostering Healthy Environments
Promoting women in leadership roles is a key part of cultivating a healthy community of designers. Lack of mentorship and unsupportive learning or working environments are two major reasons why women are underrepresented as professional designers. A recent study observed differences in communication styles between male- and female-dominant groups, and found that male-dominant groups resulted in less collaboration and cooperative sketching than groups that were either equally mixed-gender or female-dominant. Furthermore, countless female designers have stories of textbook gender discrimination: being treated differently than their male peers, standing by while their less-qualified male counterparts were promoted or given raises, experiencing aggression or sexual harassment from management. Toxic and unsupportive environments that foster these kinds of behavior eventually lead to women being pushed out, changing jobs, or changing careers altogether.
“When design teams are diverse, they call for vast spheres of influences and life experiences.”
Interwoven uses every resource available to make industrial design a better, safer place for women. Interwoven’s founder, Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, was recently elected to the position of Northeastern District Representative for the Industrial Designer’s Society of America (IDSA), as part of their Women in Design Committee. This committee makes it their number one priority to support, mentor, and encourage participation among women industrial designers.
Interwoven makes an active effort to diversify our workplace and cultivate collaboration. Starting from the ground up, we are working hard to change the male-dominated paradigm and promote women at every level in design. Come meet our team! If you haven’t already, check out Part One of this two-part series to learn more about women as design pioneers.