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Where Are All the Female Web Designers?

Harvest is growing and we’re looking to bring on some good, talented folks to join our team in New York City. We’re going through the recruiting process and will have a lot of thoughts and observations to share in the coming weeks.

One of the most perplexing question I have so far, as I’m going through all the applications: where are all the female web designers?

This much we know about the web: we (women and men) are banking, chatting, reading and watching movies and television shows on the web; and many of us are doing work through web-based applications, which will sooner or later overtake traditional desktop software. Like it or not, our dependence on the web for our everyday activities will only increase. So, for all the women and men out there: would you be happy to depend on an internet designed mostly by men?

I know I’m not. It disappoints me to see only two out of every twenty job applications from women. I don’t enjoy going to conferences and panels where the speakers are mostly (white) men. I see plenty of female students at design schools, but rarely do I see women web designers at a web agency or start up. Where are all of the female web designers? Why are there more women designers for print than for web? How is our industry’s lack of diversity affecting our ability to design for a diverse audience?

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This was posted in Recruiting.
  • Here’s my sexist theory:

    I wonder if women are less likely to stay designers because of the demands of designing.. everyone has an idea how something should look, and I wonder if women are more apt to be discouraged by the dynamic, and move into seo and project management instead of seeing their design get changed.

    Women aim to please, and don’t defend their ideas and designs in the ways men do?

    Earlier in my career, I could have taken on more of the web design at work, but didn’t want to get involved in the debate. I took the front-end programming route instead.

  • This question puzzled me for years. I traveled around for Startup Weekends and everywhere, NYC, LA or Athens, had a <20% participation of women. We surveyed a ton of people and came to the conclusion that an invite needs to happen.

    I just wrote a post while thinking about this. http://andrewhy.de/women-in-tech/

    Keep up the good work!

  • They are out getting laid while you write blog posts.

    Women don’t care about cool startups. They want a job that gives them a good and interesting social life.

  • As a woman who started my own web design and development business, I too notice that most of the other web designers and developers in the field are typically guys. (And I have yet to meet a female programmer!)

    I am hopeful that this industry will eventually see more females — much like some of the other industries that used to be very male-dominated. For example, most of my (girl) friends’ careers are in high-level finance or accounting, which definitely used to be typically considered a man’s job. I’m not sure how or when that stereotype began to fade, but I hope it will soon be the same for web design, development and programming.

  • Just to weigh in on another viewpoint, I used to work and live in Silicon Valley. A sizable number of our web designers were female. And most of the managers and directors of the design organization were female too, including the VP.

    There were a few female developers too, though it was a small percentage.

    Overall though, the web field in Silicon Valley still skews male. But within the web designer role, it’s a much healthier balance – moreso than it sounds like in NYC.

  • As a female web developer In Denver, I have two comments: All the female web workers I know own their own companies (including me).

    We work quietly and happily behind the scenes, so you don’t see us going to job interviews. But you will see us at conferences and seminars.

    Secondly, I can tell you from personal experience that females are discouraged from thinking in terms of solving problems.

    Many times when I am tutoring a female, I have to guide her beyond limiting concepts, such as: “I don’t know anything about computers,” “I’ve never been good at this stuff” and so on. These are actual comments I’ve heard from women. However, once they get the idea of how something works, they are often eager to learn more.

    I think females receive subtle social cues to “get permission” before trying anything new.

    Personally I find web development very exciting and I love learning new techniques. But what I really love is making things happen with code and seeing my clients (and myself) profit because of it.

  • There was an article on PBS.org recently that discussed this. “Are There No Women in Web Design?” article. http://twurl.nl/2a3amn

    I was just named Executive Interactive Creative Director of my agency. A title like that only comes after many, many years of understanding both the traditional and interactive sides of the business. And it helps that I started designing for interactive back in 1994 and have grown along with the industry. I am grateful that I have made it this far, but it hasn’t been an easy road. It takes a strong person to make it this far without getting burned out in web design. I’ve seen a lot of my peers drop off as the years and demands on their careers became even greater. It’s no wonder there aren’t more women designers when you they expected to work a minimum of 10-12 hour days over the span of 20 years. There isn’t much room for having a life and a family when you are expected to stay on top of your game day in and day out. From an agency’s point of view, there’s always some younger, cheaper hybrid designer/developer waiting in the wings. I’d say agency life, or lack thereof, is the number one reason women don’t stick with their careers long enough to get recognition.

  • Another self-employed female programmer here.

    I was amazed at the lack of female students in my classes while getting my IT degree. It seemed the further I got in my coursework, there were fewer and fewer women – almost like they gave up. Unfortunately, I think this was partially due to the attitude of one professor who said flat out, “Women don’t make good programmers.” He’s since been fired, but I can’t imagine how many women he discouraged from completing their IT degrees.

    Even when I went to a Microsoft conference last year, the women seemed to stand out in the programming crowd. I was one of maybe 10-15 ladies in a room of 400 Microsoft geeks.

    Then again, one of my first jobs out of college had a good mix of male and female programmers (about 50/50). In truth, I always thought the women did a better job – they seemed to be more thorough and understood client requirements faster than the guys.

    Still, I wonder why there are so few lady programmers and developers. I wonder if men really do (biologically) excel in the sciences or if it’s an imaginary hurdle that we still need to jump.

    To answer the original question – no, I would not be happy to depend on an internet designed mostly by men. I completely agree that diversity (both gender and otherwise) is what will continue to push the limits of the internet and Information Technology overall.

  • “They are out getting laid while you write blog posts.”
    :)

  • Female web developer here.

    I think Shere above hit the nail on the head. Women are often discouraged from spatial and problem solving applications. I was an engineering major before I made the switch to design and the ratio was, of course, even worse in that field.

    Women are great problem solvers when we don’t limit ourselves. I think to be successful in ANY application you have to exhibit curiosity and and constant passion to learn. This is especially true in web development where the technology is exceptionally fluid.

    My female colleagues are often intimidated by this and in the end, choose the easiest path. Web development is rewarding and I wish more women saw this as a career option.

  • Wow, I read through these thoughtful, well considered and well written comments and my eyebrows shot up into my hair line.

    I’m a female programmer and while I do meet some sexism in the industry, I actually read near as much here in these posts – though generally well intended – than I’ve ever met from clients or any workplace.

    We are out there, us female coders, and we’re doing some great things. I think younger generations of women (and men) are becoming more confident with computers and the web because they are more ubiquitous to the world of the young – growing up in a time that’s always had cell phones is just different. I think we’ll begin to see more balance as time goes on.

    In the mean time, I’m going to continue to write great code AND continue to go out and get laid, if you’ll pardon my vulgarity.

  • While I will say that the place I work has mostly male employees in the creative department, I think we have some solid females working here. We have two female copy writers that are awesome. We have 1 female designer and 1 female art director that just left. Our creative department is only 15 people or so, so 3 in 15 isn’t terrible, but I agree its not great. Also! One of our best flash developers is a 22 yr old female.

    I think that the big issue with the lack of females in the web design/dev roles is that for a lot of web design and dev roles a lot of people came from a childhood of video games and a love for technology. Because of this there are many girls that weren’t into that kind of stuff growing up and until recently there just weren’t that many females that grew up in a way that lead them to find these web roles desirable.

    I think past the web designer and developer issue, its technology in general. What’s the ratio of male to female for technology related jobs? I’d imagine it leans pretty heavily in the male direction. I do however believe this is changing. Technology is no longer something for the geeks and nerds. Its becoming a part of every day life. Little kids (girls and boys) are growing up playing with their parents iPhones and car navigation systems. Boys and girls have much more exposure to technology and because of it I think we’re going to see more females in technology related work. Or perhaps we’ll just see more tech jobs and the ratio will barely change. Who knows? I think we’ll see more of a blur between gender roles in the coming years. Tech will no longer be a “guy thing.” Especially when the girls realize that most guys dig a girl that knows her tech.

  • I have to admit confusion about the path to getting into web design might be an factor.

    I studied Graphic Design at the Savannah College of Art & Design, which included only one cursory course on the web and one on Flash. There was a major titled “Interactive Design & Game Development” that might have been more applicable, but the Game Development meant that department was populated with sweaty boys who played Warcraft and thought it was homework. (Not to mention that the part of the title that includes Game Development interested me nil.)

    Web Design is so multi-faceted, involving Development, Design, & Programmming, that I still don’t know what course of study or background prepares you for it.

    I also admit that these profusion of starting points make it hard for someone like me to get started in learning more about web design. Should I be thinking like a print designer? is it a problem I only know HTML/CSS? What is PHP? What do I REALLY need to know how to do? The awnsers aren’t always clear to me, and learning by myself in a bubble, without a mentor, is truly difficult.

    Is it a failing in the education system that web design is lumped in “Computer Arts” or “Interactive Design” in a way that makes it unappealing to women? Or is it that young women don’t understand what web design truly means?

  • The web/programming world can be very unfriendly to women. Other avenues, print, sales, project management can be more welcoming.

    In college, I had men refuse to give me the homework assignment unless i would date them. I had a professor tell me to “act pretty” to get good grades, another professor would not answer my questions (so pointedly it bothered even the guys). In the corporate world, resources weren’t made available to me, a supervisor checked my solutions with a much less experienced men (who wondered why half the time).

    So, with much tenacity i kept going and, like other posters, own my own successgul business.

    If you want more women, and it is nice to see that you do, consider supporting internships, mentoring and other options to provide an encouraging place for young women to learn.

    The insidiousness of industry misogyny can sap your spirit.

    And, due to the sleight of hand methods (forgetting to invite you to meetings, jokes at your expense in front of people in authority) many men refuse to see/believe that women are discriminated against at all.

  • I was thinking about this very subject the other day while driving. The icy street seemed treacherous to me, yet my spouse remarked, “Have you ever just slammed on the brakes just to see how far your car would skid on a road like this?”

    I had to admit, I’ve never done that. But then I realized that every men I’ve ever known could not resist this kind of boundary pushing.

    And also, none of the women I’ve ever known has done such a thing in my presence.

    I think this demonstrates a fundamental difference between female and male wiring. Men can’t resist pushing the limits, while women are mostly content knowing they are safe within reasonable conditions. Perhaps this comes from anatomical differences, perhaps hormonal.

    At any rate, I agree with Laura that we need diversity of thought to develop the internet’s greatest potential.

    I think of the internet as a mass projection of the “mind of mankind” which is both masculine and feminine.

  • I agree with Shere – I think I’ve said some of those things along the way! In my own business, I sometimes find myself convincing clients to select a technology that I am already comfortable with, so I can avoid something I just don’t know anything about. Maybe it’s wrong, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s just bad for my development…?

    In the meantime, I still learn new things every day and enjoy the job. I do wish freelancing was more profitable though; maybe I have yet to find my niche. I think women web designers who freelance are discouraged, because by definition, you do need some coding skill. And you’re all right – women tend to shy away from programming. I’m not sure why.

    That said, I have a female programmer friend and we are working on a great project right now–and for a male client :-).

  • Meryl – I agree – the route makes no sense. Do you need a degree? Do you not need one? I think the Internet just hit us all by surprise, and people scrambled to enhance it and make a living from it. Some people came from Print, others from Programming, and yet others from nowhere (like me who took two courses at Noble Desktop in NYC – great place – http://www.nobledesktop.com). Sometimes, the best support systems are on the web itself – forums, how-to videos on YouTube, tutorials on blogs, etc. And yes, we are competing with those genius college kids who create online software in their dorm rooms. I wish the whole system made more sense – and that there was a clear path, as in most professions. Also, there are so many different technologies out there that clients can’t even price-shop among designers. So estimates become a total free-for-all, with no price structure or accepted industry range. So many unknowns, we women may prefer to stick to more organized fields that can guarantee a path and an income.

  • Barbara Saunders on December 15, 2009

    It’s funny how these discussions tend to take for granted that if women avoid a field, it is the women who “can’t cut” the long hours, aggressive environment, or what have you. If (and that’s a big if) that’s true, I don’t know if I think that’s bad. Maybe it isn’t that women “can’t cut it” but that men are more willing to put up with c*** that they shouldn’t!

  • @Meryl
    I definitely see the lack of women in this field, but please don’t blame unfoundedly.

    I also graduated from SCAD. I was one of the first people to graduate with an Interactive Design and Game Development degree, and I’m a girl.

    Almost all of the professors in that department were women. Including the head of the department. I’ve since run into a few them in the field as well (one is working at Smart Design, another running her own design firm, and others frequent conferences etc.). Game design was not about warcraft, it was about the theories of engagement and play. If you’d like, I’d be glad to chat more about the program at SCAD, and about web design.

    -Leslie Chicoine (experience designer -previously of getsatisfaction.com and now at adaptivepath.com)

  • i’m a web [and print] designing woman!

    i’m only 30 but i must say it’s been tough for me to juggle my own business and fit 2 kids in there at the same time before my body clock ticked away…!

    i can see how it all gets way too hard for some women to pull away from their demanding, heady web work, then have kids and then try and get back into such a fast paced industry where technology changes so much, all after having a dose of baby brain!

    for me, i found the css revolution took over while i had my first baby, so getting back into work meant some re-training and a lot of brushing up on old skills….

    in any case, thanks to a very supportive family, it’s now getting a bit easier to balance work, kids and play!

    but i do wonder myself sometimes where all the rest of the girls are?!?!

    claire
    freo, western australia
    :-)

  • Our company has also been going through the recruitment process, and I do have to say that there has been a good mix of both women and men – almost 50/50. And, out of all these candidates, only two stuck out to me the most and they were both women.

    As a woman in web design, I have always been the minority, working with developers, company owners and designers who were all men. Someone mentioned earlier that women feel like they have to “ask permission” before starting something, or contributing something new. I have never felt like that, rather I find myself competing even harder against the males I work with. I always design with clear reasoning behind something I created, and always stood up for my work.

    Having been in the whole recruitment process for several weeks now, my question isn’t where all the girls are, its “where are all the talented, non-template purchasing, skilled web designers as a whole?”

  • If you are interested in being proactive about recruiting women, one way to do so would be to seek them out. For example, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology has a LinkedIn group (just search groups for ‘Anita Borg’) that has a job board. (They also have a facebook page but I don’t use it and don’t know if it has a jobs feature.)

    Any interested woman or man can joined the LinkedIn group and post jobs there.

    The ABI also holds an annual conference, well attended by many undergraduate and graduate Computer Science students, where many companies recruit. ABI does seem to attract relatively hardcore CS types as opposed to designers or software-business types, but it IS a community of technical women that you could try networking through.

  • I started in interaction design for the studios in Hollywood in 1997. By the time I started designing UI for Web-based applications in around ’99, there were very few designers, male or female, in that field. When I joined an IBM team as a contract UI designer in ’99-2000, I was the only woman, and the team had to stop having their staff meetings at a strip club (& were none too happy about it.) I worked as a consultant designer in NYC & London in 2001 & for sure noticed I worked mostly with men. But I did find, when moving to Silicon Valley, that there are more women in the UI field. We are not “Web designers” per se but there are many female interaction, UI, & UX designers in software today.

    I’m sure that having a male-sounding name has probably helped get my foot in some doors initially, but in the end, you have to prove your worth like everyone else. And I think women designers in software are doing just that.

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