What to Do About the Womenfolk

Dylan Lathrop’s article on GOOD yesterday, Why We Can’t Let Design Become a Boys Club, has a lot of people all hot and bothered about gender in the design community. The article criticizes a supposed lack of equal gender representation in projects and events, targeting specifically Momentus and Weapons of Mass Creation Fest.

At the risk of making this issue a bigger deal than it needs to be, I’d like to add a female voice to the commentary that has followed the original article. In short, I have some major beef with the article.

While I most certainly notice when there are no female names attributed to a project, event, or leadership group, I agree with the hordes who say that no person should be included merely for affirmative action, as it devalues our honest-to-goodness talents. As damaging to the demonstration of our abilities is Dylan’s suggestion to boycott events with homogeneous participants.

Greatest among my annoyances with the original article is that the author carries a big stick but offers no viable solution to the apparent lack of visible women in the design community.

Don’t settle for what you know

Dylan Lathrop says of his conversation with Evan Stremke, the organizer of the all-male Momentus project, “He wanted to work with his friends and didn’t realize that gender imbalance would be an issue.” Evan is entirely entitled to run his project however he wants, and if he wants to just make cool stuff with the people he knows, that is his prerogative. For projects and events that seek specifically to engage the design community at large, however, designers need to quit being lazy. Instead of filling our rosters with the trendiest names we know, let’s take the time to search outside of our niche circles.

While conferences do need a big name or two to sell, speaking events in particular benefit from new voices. I was at an event earlier this year that included several speakers. One speaker, a mega-popular design figure, presented an uninspired speech that was likely tweaked and re-used across the country. A fellow speaker, who had never given such a presentation before, regaled us all with a genuinely delivered life story—clearly, it pays to give a wider range of talented people the opportunity to lead. Searching for new voices will likely carry the side-benefit of including women, “minorities,” international faces. But the goal is so much better than that: let’s hear, see, do something new and exciting.

Be your own hero

It doesn’t benefit women to complain that we are not given fair chances. While it is true that history has built invisible discrimination into many systems (whole new story there), what serves us is to focus our energies on being truly awesome designers. If we want female design heroes, we need to do good work and—this is key—make sure it is seen. Be engaged. Get noticed if you think you deserve it.

That is the only way to “solve” this “problem.” Ladies, give people a reason to include you. Designers at large: be curious. Thanks for your support, Dylan, but we can manage.

Edit: Because of Treacherous Internet Reasons (really not that dramatic, but that sounds fun), the original comments on this post have regrettably been lost. Also, the last sentence of this post is quite the clincher, but Dylan is a rad dude.