- 8 March 2023
- Professor Teal Triggs
- 3 minutes
Professor Teal Triggs, Postgraduate Research Lead, School of Communication and founder member, Women’s Design + Research Unit (WD+RU), discusses Brave New Normal: Intergenerational Mentoring + Women in Graphic Design, a research project that offers new insights into nurturing the careers of women in graphic design.
- 8 March 2023
- Professor Teal Triggs
- 3 minutes
“How might intergenerational mentoring inform how women navigate graphic design careers in a post-Covid-19 world?”Postgraduate Research Lead, School of Communication
Women in graphic design
Women working in graphic design continue to suffer relatively worse pay and conditions than their male counterparts. Precarity remains a real problem, and women’s mental health is suffering.
The Covid-19 crisis only served to worsen things. The challenges of working from home (including child-care, home schooling and other kinds of domestic labour) meant lost contracts for freelancers and more stress. Professional lives were in turmoil with an unprecedented reliance on technology leading to screen fatigue and isolation.
Workforce experiences for women in graphic design needed to be addressed. This also meant reconsideration of the ways in which industry and academia interacted in support of women regarding training and development opportunities throughout their career. A pilot project was developed between Hidden Women of Design (HWoD), the Women’s Design + Research Unit (WD+RU) and the RCA, asking: how might intergenerational mentoring inform how women navigate graphic design careers in a post-Covid-19 world?
Producing new, collective knowledge
Our research project, 'Brave New Normal: Intergenerational Mentoring + Women in Graphic Design' started in 2019, pre-pandemic, but continued through the crisis and was therefore able to gather data and provide unique insights as it progressed.
As an action research study, the project was framed by a process of dialogic communication highlighting ‘mutual exchange’, ‘reciprocal interactions’ and ‘building relationships’, to share on the production of new, collective knowledge. The project questioned received narratives about career life cycles for women, while exploring how different kinds of knowledge are valued, to inform future working practices in the post-pandemic landscape. It defines intergenerational mentoring as a two-way dialogue – or 360-degree perspective – where both participants stand to benefit equally.
An initial advisory group was facilitated to scope the viability for the research inviting ten women from the organisers’ existing networks to reflect upon and share workplace experiences with a view to identifying salient questions. These included themes related to personal and professional circumstances (e.g., taking one day at a time, balance between career and life), career pathways (e.g., internships, freelancing, imposter syndrome) and strategies (e.g., embracing neurodiversity, issues around race and gender, looking for an exit strategy).
Semi-structured conversations informed the development of a participatory workshop where an additional eighteen women working across the sector were invited to critically engage and test the appetite for the development of an intergenerational model for women in graphic design.
A final phase of the project adopted a mixed methods approach including a quantitative online questionnaire with thirty-eight responses across early, mid- and senior or late career designers across a broad socio-demographic. This was followed by eight in-depth original interviews to deepen the analysis but to also understand the direct impact Covid-19 had for women in facing future career challenges.
A call to action
The project’s findings provided a rich and valuable resource for exploring key factors affecting women currently working in graphic design, the impact of COVID-19 upon life and work, and insights from women who had experience of mentoring programmes.
'Brave New Normal' offered a call to action, underpinned by a process of intergenerational mentoring:
- A need for education institutions and design studios to include the multiple perspectives of women in all creative outputs, including exhibitions and events
- A need for design organisations to challenge discrimination in all its manifestations
- Improved awareness training across the sector regarding gender equality, employment rights, disability and/or access needs
- Education and training programmes to be designed and delivered in consultation with women professionals from across the sector
- A promotion of diversity and inclusion within and across the sector, with increased opportunities for women in education and employment.
We may be some way from achieving an equitable industry where women graphic designers can, as a matter of course, hold positions as creative decision-makers and leaders and where the injustices of the workplace are rectified. The resilience and willingness of participants to share knowledge about their experiences professionally and through telling of their life histories, has led to new insights for developing a role for intergenerational mentoring.
“The project’s findings provided a rich and valuable resource for exploring key factors affecting women currently working in graphic design”Postgraduate Research Lead, School of Communication
Professor Teal Triggs, School of Communication, Royal College of Art, and founder member, Women’s Design + Research Unit (WD+RU)
Lorna Allan, Freelance Art Director and founder, Hidden Women of Design (HWoD)
Siân Cook, School of Design, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, and founder member, Women’s Design + Research Unit (WD+RU)
Susan Potter, Consultant, Arts Evaluation and Research