Evolution Of Women Entrepreneurs In Design World

70% of women professionals say that, until very recently, they had never worked with a female creative director or executive creative director

Given its ubiquitous presence today, it might be difficult to remember a time when UX/UI design, product design and, to some degree, graphic design wasn’t yet a concept in anyone’s mind. Until a couple of decades ago, design was generally associated with interior or fashion design. Commercial art, visual communication, fine art—the kind of creating that one did with one’s hands—wasn’t a viable career option until the 1990s. Even then, there were takers for commercial art and visual communication, as far back as the 1970s, and this was among both genders. Many women did go on to even work professionally in this field; not many of those jobs, however, converted into leadership roles.

Where Were the Women Leaders

While larger agencies that typically created their own sub-agencies for branding requirements were also mostly headed by male creative directors, there were only a handful of women that were able to shake the status quo.

Given the high number of women in this space, it is lamentable that this did not convert into more women in leadership roles even if we consider that there have been few who managed to break the glass ceiling. Consider this statistic: 70% of women professionals say that, until very recently, they had never worked with a female creative director or executive creative director. For a long time, young women in the business did not receive the right tools and advice from their fellow female contemporaries or predecessors, who often may have faced similar struggles as they climb the corporate ladder. And this is a detail we all need to take seriously; because studies show this points to a higher chance of them leaving the workplace after due to the work culture, marriage or childbirth.

The Rise Of Design Studios 

The silver lining is that this is changing, slowly, particularly in the tech sector. The presence and participation of women in design-led technology fields was further galvanised after 2000. The tech and start-up boom in India had opened up a big opportunity as an as-yet unexplored (possibly unnoticed) need for computer-literate designers grew. As the country became more mature, the awareness that design is an essential part of any brand or product has been established. That led to a ramping up of computer-centric design schools fed by young people excited to explore a new language of creativity—boys and girls both. More opportunities, more ways to access them through education and a changing society that has seen more women confidently stride into workspaces has led to a vast number of the female population joining the design workforce. This surge in demand for design (The design industry is growing at 23% to 25% annually in India as per Startup Talky) has led the way for young entrepreneurs to branch away from the corporate agency culture and open up their own design studios offering branding, packaging and UX/UI services.

In fact, as per a report from the Bureau of Labour, graphic design is expected to grow by 5% by 2026. The UI/UX industry is another avenue that has exploded in step with the start-up culture that has gripped the nation since 2008. Job site Indeed recently ranked ‘UX designer’ as the fifth most in-demand role in tech. In the last 12 to 14 years, women have taken, and continue to take, a huge bite of the professional design pie.

An Upward Curve 

A collaborative study between Open University and NASSCOM revealed that not only does India’s IT sector score over the UK and US in terms of recruiting women (35% as opposed to 17% in the UK and 20% in the US), it also outpaces the other two countries when it comes to women in leadership roles. What’s equally significant are women entrepreneurs in the design space. Today, more women have branched out and set up their independent studios in the last 6 to 10 years. These include established names such as Beyondesign, Thought Over Design, Please See, Sharpener to name a few. Many of them choose to hire only or predominantly women designers. Furthermore, dedicated platforms such as Women in Design are working tirelessly to spotlight, encourage and promote an ecosystem that offers support to women in the field, so that aspiring designers can find inspiration and women mentors to look up to and emulate.

There is no denying that increasing the presence of women in leadership roles is an uphill battle. And there is a lot of work to ensure that the small handful becomes a teeming uncountable mass. I hope that day arrives soon when successful, talented women entrepreneurs begin getting their due—finally. In my estimation, given the currents of change—in society and the design industry—and the sheer number of skilled women already in this field, it shouldn’t take too long.

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