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Where do the women go?

In early October every year the Design Business Association releases its Annual Survey Report. The report covers all areas of business – income, fee levels, salaries, utilisation rates, staff benefits, the lot. Only member agencies get the report and it is a highly valued benefit of membership. 

For the last two years we have asked members to give their gender breakdown for each of the 55 job types we ask for data on. We don’t analyse whether or not there is a pay gap – this is purely about percent of each gender in each role. The results throw up some important questions that the industry, and individual companies, need to ask themselves.

Firstly the data relates to DBA members. These are agencies that tend to be towards the upper end of the design sector. They include many of the larger well known agencies. The average DBA agency however has 11 staff with a fee income of almost £1m. They are at the effective end of the design industry.

DBA Annual Survey Report 2018
DBA Annual Survey Report 2018

The devil, as always, is in the detail. It seems that there are certain roles that women are dominant in – such as account management and new business (both 77% female) – and others with quite an even split – planning and strategy is made up of 48% women.

Digital, however, is 82% male (although that is an improvement on the 90% last year) and creative roles has a 61% male bias.

The key to all of these (not withstanding the general lack of women in digital roles) is the diminishing ratio of women as seniority increases. Women make up only 30% of agency management roles and of course the graph showing the change in creative roles tells it’s own story.

Bear in mind that the design sector in general has a far worse record that the DBA graph shows. Female creative directors make up only 11% of the whole. DBA members are positively progressive in comparison!

g-crescoli-468248-unsplash-1Social media is buzzing with questions of “How do we change this?” and there is no easy answer. The lack of gender diversity is just one element of a far wider diversity problem in the design sector. 

It is obvious where quite a few of the women go. Pointing out that they leave to have babies isn’t particularly helpful. A diverse workforce is good for business – so find ways of encouraging women to return. Make their role more flexible. Empower them. (Read some great advice from JourneyHR about this here.)

Small businesses without set processes are renowned for recruiting in their own image, the design industry is no different in that. Be aware of your bias when making staffing decisions.

Things are getting better. More women are taking the situation into their own hands and setting up their own agencies. There are many examples within the DBA membership.

If you really want to make a difference put policies in place to:

a) make sure women are not disadvantaged in the recruitment process

b) your agency is family friendly for whoever has childcare responsibilities, and

c) that women can progress up through your business.

The other thing you can do of course is join the DBA, if you’re not a member already. We are your trade association. We support you with running your business and represent you when it comes to lobbying government on issues affecting the industry (education and overseas recruitment being two of the hot issues of the moment).

Details at:

Read the full, unabridged version of this article here.

Image credits:

G. Crescoli | Unsplash


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