"The future of design is female." So said curator and educator Jan Boelen at a talk Dezeen hosted at Dutch Design Week last October. He was referring to the fact that an increasing majority of students taking design courses are women.
The are two problems with the statement. First, it assumes that large numbers of women in schools will translate into large numbers of women employed in the architecture and design sector and, more importantly, that they will rise to positions where their talents can be effectively employed and fairly rewarded. So far, that is not happening fast enough.
The second problem is that the statement was made at a talk that had an all-male panel.
Dezeen organised the talk and in fairness to us, it was the only all-male discussion in a series of five. Working with Dutch Design Foundation, we strived – hard – for gender parity across the series. We didn't make it: in the end, one third of our speakers were women. The one all-male panel was an uncomfortable oversight.
Weinstein and #MeToo have changed culture
But since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, and the resulting #MeToo movement gathered strength, all-male panels have gone from being the unremarked norm, to being an embarrassment. The culture has changed.
This shift means that things that many of us used to take for granted – such as design conferences where the vast majority of speakers are white males, or major prizes that go to men year after year, or overwhelmingly male awards juries, or senior management tiers at large architectural firms that do not contain a single woman – are no longer acceptable.
Make women more visible
Conferences, awards juries, prizes and boardrooms are among the most visible symbols of male dominance in our sector. If women were better represented, it would send a strong symbol of change. It would Move the Needle on more equal gender representation and, more importantly, start to shift the balance of power.
That is why, all this week, we will draw attention to gender inequality in these areas, and work with event organisers, institutions and companies to make change start now. Read all our Move the Needle stories here.
If you want to commit to Move the Needle in your own organisation this year, add a comment below or email us at [email protected].
Free tickets for Dezeen and RIBA's Must do Better: Improving Gender Diversity in Architecture event, being held at RIBA in London on Tuesday 6 March, are still available.