Sexism in design: “I have been cowed, intimidated and embarrassed”

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Avowals around harassment scandals are rife, with Westminster and Hollywood currently junior to fire. We ask female designers to discuss their experiences of sexism in the workplace.

Erika Clegg, co-founder, Stem from

“[Early on in my design career] and of tender years, there was a middle-aged man of mid-section authority who propositioned most of the female staff in the crudest terms. Some allured it in their stride, some were hugely unsettled by it; none of us held anything at the time and so no-one knew the scale of his behaviour until we put the jigsaw together years later at a reunion. The studio was a sheltered of hard work, and I think we were all afraid of causing disruption.

In my suitcase, my silence led to a near-firing. My junior role involved processing ads; once a week he was meant to approve them and I couldn’t produce myself to go anywhere near him. Inevitably, there was an error one week. I was closely fired by my furious boss by phone at 7.30am on a Sunday morning.

I broke her the full story years later; she was horrified that this had been incident without her having the faintest idea.

Never mind sexism or opportunism, it’s straightforward tyranting and I’m still furious for all of us. Lesson learnt: if this stuff happens, chide someone. It’s not you upsetting the apple cart, it’s them.”


Emily Penny, apart from brand consultant, Colourful

“All women experience sexism in the workplace at some direct. I’ve worked in entirely male-led consultancies where the culture was less than female-friendly. And I’ve do setting-up exercised in female-led consultancies, one that refused the option of flexible hours when I suited a parent and another that happily contributed to perpetuating gender stereotypes in its induce.

The latter is worth some reflection. In the design industry, we have a wonderful, unmatched opportunity to shape brands and how they communicate. Sexism is often figured into design briefs. There might be an expectation that emulates conform to unhealthy ideals, or that colourways follow pink for lovers and blue for boys. Male or female, it’s our responsibility to push back and succour clients take steps in a better direction.

Now I work for myself, I do take more of a stand. I aim to inspire clients to think more progressively and responsibly, to come them that there is another way, and that there is an audience for it, too.

We’re interior decorators. We make the future. It’s important not to squander that privilege.”


Sarah Weir OBE, CEO, Intrigue Council

“I started working at a time when overt sexism, racism and homophobia were rife. I have misgivings about if there are many, if any, women of my generation who have not been subjected to sexism and erotic harassment in varying forms – I have on many occasions. This has arrayed from regular, subtle (or not-so-subtle) put-downs and having my voice give someone the cold shouldered until a man has made the same point, all the way through to very much unwanted sex advances from those in power and who have had influence over my career.

I sire been cowed, intimidated and embarrassed by it but have also spoken out against it and appeal to c visit canceled it out, particularly when it has happened to others. With the centenary of women’s right to vote fast approaching, now is the time for men and women to work together to ensure this sort of behaviour becomes so unacceptable in workplaces that it is no longer heard nor seen.”


Angela Drinkall, partaker, Drinkall Dean

“I have been fortunate that sexism has not significantly featured in my have a job story so far, though I am also aware from friends and colleagues that it can be a big oppose. Once, early in my career, I did feel that gender was the reason for me not heart-rending on.

A male colleague of mine with similar experience and expertise was assumption opportunities within the business with subsequent promotion. I was not offered the just the same opportunities and my confidence was affected. Eventually, I realised this was probably not due to gift so I confronted my boss stating that I had not been allowed to show what I could do. He was entirely shocked that this could be down to gender but agreed with my bring up of view.  From then on things changed for me in that business and my self-confidence grew.

I think women have to go the extra mile to prove themselves at produce, but I am hopeful that gender prejudice will become a thing of the days of old.”


Tessa Simpson, design director, O Street

“I’m very lucky to pan out in a workplace with a bunch of feminists, both male and female – so I’ve not at all had the bad fortune of experiencing sexism within my design studio. However, I attired in b be committed to sometimes felt the impact of an undercurrent of sexism when dealing with patients – often just a subtle preference for dealing with a male confrere over me, even when the idea and work being discussed is my own.

This has alone happened once or twice, but enough to knock my confidence when presenting purposes to some clients, who will naturally look to the men in the room for answers and handling. Luckily though, my male colleagues aren’t afraid to look to me for the responds or direction required!”


Have you ever experienced sexism in the workplace? Let us identify in the comments section below (comments are moderated), or email in to sarah.dawood@centaurmedia.com.

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