Gender Reality – Emma Morris

GENDER REALITY – the perspective of a young female freelance graphic designer aiming for a future creative director position.

You really have to sit back and remind yourself frequently, as a female in business, just how far you have come. This may not apply to everyone but, particularly in the creative field, it’s so easy to compare your progress to those around you. Especially to those who are of the same gender to you.

Just a little background into who I am and what sort of experience I have as a graphic designer and illustrator. Hi, I’m Emma, a 20 year old, second year student studying at Teesside University. I am a volunteer graphic designer for Assist, I am a freelancer, student, full-time graphic design intern and I am also a part-time barista at my favourite local coffee shop. Ever since starting university I have been some what freelancing, taking on jobs here and there, but had only recently decided to take it seriously since lock down in the UK began.

Many of you reading this may have limited knowledge of the design field, some of you may have a lot more knowledge than I do, but I want to share my perspective of how much gender has an impact on both my current situation and my future. So here we go… Did you know that ’Approximately 60% of junior designers are female’ that ‘women currently in my field of graphic design are paid 0,6% more than men.’ And ‘70 per cent of graduates are women’ – great right? But then why are ‘Only 16% of creative directors female’?

In the design field it is paramount that you have the communication and network skills to be able to pitch ideas to clients, employers and creative directors. Is this where us women are failing? I can say loud and proud that I am no where near at the level of confidence I want to be by the time I graduate or land my first full time job. Yes I can pitch, yes I can network, and yes I have came a long way in such a short time with my communication skills but there is always that part of me that lacks the confidence because of the worry that I am going to crumble. From my own personal experience I know that women struggle a lot more than men do with public speaking, presentations, pitches and networking. I have experienced this first hand – both from myself and from also watching and speaking to other female designers of my age. Do we just not like talking about ourselves or our work? Are we just wanting to sit and take in what other people are saying rather than to speak ourselves? Or are we so used to ‘thinking’ that men can do a better job at talking than us?

I have only recently realised that I don’t compare myself to my male peers, many male designers or illustrators. I always seem to compare myself to females. Is this because I only see females as my ‘competitors’ – the ones who I will be comparing myself to when I apply for a full time job, or is it because I aspire to be more like them and I am continuously inspired by their successes as females in business. I really do think it is both – but until I have the opportunity to compete for a job against a male designer I don’t think I really will know why I never seem to want or have wanted to see the comparison.

In my near two years of freelancing, albeit not full time, I have worked with around 30 clients where only one has been male. Is this because I am a young female, is it because my design style (even though I don’t particularly feel that I have a distinctive style yet) is more desired by female businesses, is it because I network more with women, is it because I am recommended by women to other women? I really don’t currently know. But this has and always will stand out to me until I see a reason for it not to; “Every conversation that I have around gender balance is about women’s confidence, or lack thereof, and the belief in what they’re capable of” quoted by Natalie Maher. It keeps me questioning whether it is just my own mindset I need to change in terms of my ‘capabilities’ and ‘confidence’ or is it the mindset of women in general too?

The issue as to why women are dramatically falling behind in the creative director position is of course more complex than just the issue of confidence and comparison but to me and my current situation as a female aiming for those positions it is a hard hitting reality.

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