Challenging gender disparity in design at the BDF

Birmingham Design Festival is a relatively new fixture in the design world, yet even in its infancy it has already made a statement in the UK design scene with 10,000 tickets sold.

Set over three days, the festival offers a wealth of inspiration and insight by way of screenings, talks and tours, each centred around celebrating local, national and international design. As well as the successes in the industry that need celebrating, the BDF create space to discuss the areas that still need change.

Our partner programme Kerning the Gap stepped into this space and curated a panel; opening up the discussion of gender disparity within design with some of the industry’s experts. Our CEO Merle Hall steered the discussion and she looks back on some of the key takeaways:

1. Behaviours within the workplace

Expectation weighs heavily on behaviour, especially when this comes to gender and an individual’s position within business. While this is commonplace, it’s a substantial limiter, ‘Essentially what we find with behaviours is that they’re perceived differently as a man or a woman, when did you last hear a man described as bossy. As Cheryl Sandburg states, you’ve got women who are being promoted on achievement and men who are being promoted on potential.’

2. Connected diversity

Equality doesn’t, or shouldn’t, live in a silo. We need to champion all kinds of diversity, not just that of gender, to allow individuals to go further, ‘Everything is cause and effect and it all plays a part. We used talk about diversity of thought and that absolutely sits next to diversity of culture, neurodiversity and many other factors. We’ll learn more by bringing it all to the table.’

3. Businesses need to lead the change

It’s essential for companies to take ownership and share the responsibility for change. Companies need to own the to drive impactful change, ‘We need to ensure that businesses are leaning in,  and that responsibility doesn’t just fall on individuals. There needs to be consistent opportunities for the best people to rise through the ranks, without having to adopt an alpha persona.’

4. Bring everyone to the table

While Kerning the Gap sets out to create an even playing field for women, the conversation needs to be between both men and women. ‘Getting men involved is hugely important. They’re running the majority of the businesses. For KTG, one facet is about empowerment and building confidence and the other, around businesses and how to do things differently.’

5. The future of equality within design

While the conversation sought to find answers from those in senior positions within design, it may well be the clients who instigate the change in the not too distant future, ‘It will be the clients that push us into this (to change), not our industry…Some clients have already started looking at diversity quotas and what that looks like in their partner agencies as well as their own businesses. The importance of culture, purpose and businesses which are representative of the society in which we live has never been so important. Let’s hope that tipping point is close.’

Find out more?

Get in touch with Sorrell Walsh, our Communications and Events Manager