There’s a weird phenomenon going on in the creative industries. While the number of women studying art and design continues to greatly outweigh the amount of men, in industry, the figure is completely turned on its head. Men dominate the creative industry workplace — and not by a slight margin either.
Our annual Salary Survey statistics consistently highlight a difference, with women only amounting to 41% of our candidates in 2021, and only 30% in 2020. In fact, since 2016 our applications have consistently been male dominated.
When we took a closer look at these statistics, we found that our data reflects that of an entire industry. In the UK, the creative and design workforce is 78% male — even though research suggests that 7 out of 10 students taking design at A-Level are women. Additionally, data from HESSA suggested that 65% of students who enrolled in creative arts and design courses in 2018/19 were women.
We want to know what is going on here. In an industry that is supposed to be based on merit, and is so highly occupied by women in education, why do they only make up 22% of the workforce?
In an attempt to find some actual answers, we’ve spoken to numerous people from the creative industries to uncover their thoughts. All of our research has led us to now, where we’ve compiled some possible reasons for the imbalance.
Are women too compliant?
Studies examining the personality differences between men and women have found that women tend to be more compliant than men. A recent study from LinkedIn showed that women apply for 20% fewer roles than men because they will only apply for the role if they feel like they meet 100% of the criteria. In contrast, most men said they will apply if they meet 60% of the criteria. With this in mind, it’s possible that womens compliance is stopping them from applying for industry jobs.
The same study found that most women were confident that they could complete the job, but because they didn’t meet all of the requirements they felt like applying wasn’t a good use of their time.
Tash Willcocks, head of Learning Design at Snook explained “I don’t think the bias is coming from companies, I think it’s the women editing themselves out and this is becoming ingrained before we’ve even get to them in education.
“When women are applying for jobs they follow the instructions but then think ‘Oh no I don’t have that skill so I’m stepping out.”
Tash believes that the idea of following all of the rules and feeling like you have to have every skill is something that stems from childhood, but needs to be addressed throughout education by teaching students more about their soft skills.
Research from Danielle Gaucher, Justin Friesen, and Aaron C. Kay suggests that the language typically used in job adverts lends itself to a male audience, therefore subconsciously making them more likely to apply than women.
These findings inspired the Gender Decoder — a tool that analyses job adverts and highlights whether they are written in “male coded language” or “female coded language”.
According to the gender decoder, male coded words include decisive and objective whereas female coded words include commit and understand.
This is an interesting concept to consider when writing job adverts. For companies experiencing a notable lack of female applications, it may be worth experimenting with the language you use to see if the applications you receive are different.
Confidence and bravado
There are a lot of misconceptions that women are less confident than men. When we researched this topic we found a lot of evidence to suggest that women are just as confident as men and it’s unlikely that this is a reason for the massive drop off rate.
However, Darren Raven, the course leader of Graphic Design at Salford University, observed that the way male students act may make them come across as more confident. He said “Northern male students can sometimes have a lot more bravado even when, in my academic opinion, their work could be a lot stronger.”
He explained how, in a group session, men are likely to offer an opinion first whereas “female students tend to reflect and think more deeply before commenting, which might come across as a little less confident.”
It is possible that in situations like networking, or job interviews, women may appear less confident than they actually are.
Is the job interview process where the women are lost?
In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Robin Mamlet, an experienced interviewer, noted that during interviews some women are a lot more modest than men. He observed that women are less likely to take full credit for work they have created — often devolving responsibility to their team members, whereas men tend to be happy to take the credit that is due.
One possible reason for this is known as the Backlash Effect, whereby women feel like they have to act stereotypically “female” because they are fearful of how they will be perceived if they don’t.
The research suggests that some women would be more wary of being assertive in case they are labelled as “bossy, which has negative connotations, even though being assertive in a job is typically considered a positive trait.
Rachel Thomas, the president and founder of LeanIn.org, a not-for-profit organisation designed to help women achieve their goals, explained this process as “If you assert yourself, you’re less well liked and if you don’t assert yourself enough, you’re not seen as competent.”
According to studies on The Backlash Effect, these ideologies are part of the reason why women are more weary of self promotion, and may not always project themselves as well as they could.
“It’s like women in interviews feel like they have to be more demeure” explained Tash “they go into an interview and turn into a Disney Princess.” This “Disney princess” effect could be part of the reason why women are also self monitoring their responses more, in order to be perceived in a positive way.
Pregnancy and family life
Pregnancy is definitely a factor that can hold women back from progressing in their careers. Darren noted how starting a family has impeded his wife’s career, explaining: “In my experience in education, the time off offered to fathers was two weeks. It’s been a challenge to be an equal partner in bringing up my two children and my wife’s career has been interrupted and hindered as a result.
“Many design studios are SME’s and probably quite young. The first time people start having babies could be quite a shock to the studio and not all of them always manage the situation effectively to support those involved.”
The expectation of childcare, and unforgiving work schedule in design jobs, doesn’t lend itself to mothers and, with only 11% of leadership roles in design being held by women, it is likely that pregnancy plays a part in these figures.
However, when we hone in on our candidates specifically, 72% had no dependents.
It is definitely something that could be an issue in womens careers, but doesn’t fully explain why so many females are not even getting into the industry in the first place. Unless women or businesses are pre-empting having children and making hiring and career decisions based on this.
Lack of meaningful role models
Another hypothesis for the small ratio of women in design is the lack of visibility.
In a study exploring the impact of instructors’ gender on female students, it was found that female students are more likely to choose a major in STEM when assigned a female teacher rather than a male one. There are also studies to suggest that when women see other women in a specific role, they are more likely to put themselves forward for something similar. With this in mind, it is possible that the distinct lack of women to look up to is stopping younger women from following their aspirations.
This apparent lack of visibility is something that Darren is trying to address. He noted: “I try to recruit female designers as well as designers of colour to try and address the balance. We have run second year modules looking at gender issues that are solely run by female tutors who are also successfully self-employed Manchester based designers.”
Lack of visibility is also a massive issue for Kitty Turwell, the executive producer of the animation production studio Strange Beast. Since coming under Kitty’s control, the studio has curated a completely gender balanced roster.
Kitty explained “To begin with, getting a balance was quite straightforward because there are some amazing female creatives and directors who hadn’t been signed yet.”
She continued: “Then it became trickier because the drop off rate in creative roles is just so steep so then it became more of a case of trying to nurture and work with young women and give them a space to grow and tell the stories they want to tell.”
Kitty explained how she still sees it as a meritocracy: “I’m still looking for the best possible talent” she said “but sometimes you can’t take a reel at face value. You have to look at peoples potential. There are people with more work on their reel but that doesn’t make them better.
“It’s exciting to see so much untapped potential in people and if you have such a narrow pool then your output will be narrow because of it.”
Speaking from personal experience as a female creative she believes that the impact of having somebody to look up to is often underestimated.
“It’s so helpful to see somebody like you who has overcome their own self doubt and gone on a similar journey — it’s nice to see a path trodden out.” Said Kitty.
She affirmed “Self doubt is the patriarchy’s most insidious weapon.”
What does the future hold?
The figures presented about the amount of women in creative design are undeniably bleak, but it does appear to be gradually getting slightly better. In 2016 only 31% of our candidates were female as opposed to 41% this year. This could be due to more awareness of the issue and action taken by businesses to try and nurture more creative talent.
Tash also believes that there are a lot more young and exuberant women taking charge now. She said: “I was at an event recently and it was amazing as there were so many women who got on stage, took control, and said ‘right I’m doing this’ — I think there’s a slightly different breed of woman coming through today.”
Despite this, there still definitely needs to be more work done to diversify the design industries — whether that’s changing educational content to get students to recognise their soft skills or looking deeper to try and find untapped potential.
While researching this topic we found lots of different possibilities and heard many different opinions — but we didn’t manage to find any conclusive reason for why the imbalance is so stark. We really want to open up a discourse around this issue and would love to hear your thoughts, opinions, or personal experiences. Why do you think this is the case and, more importantly, what do you think the industry can do to help? Get in touch on Twitter.
Originally published at https://www.orchard.co.uk.